an interesting analysis - again with thanks to from Gerri Haines, PSR. best, f.
Subj: Iraq Eying Iran for Help Against US
Iraq Eying Iran for Help Against U.S.
2030 GMT, 020103
Iraq is concerned about possible U.S. attacks to the degree that it is
reaching out to an old enemy: Iran. Both nations are more worried about
U.S. military power than about each other, and Iran could make a U.S.
campaign against Baghdad much more difficult.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said Iraq would do its "utmost" to
improve ties with Iran, the Iranian Students' News Agency reported Dec.
31. Sabri said the two countries need to establish good neighborly
relations and that recent exchanges of prisoners of war would lay that
Iran and Iraq are old enemies, but the United States poses a common
threat that is much more pressing. Iraq is desperately looking for help
in case the U.S. attacks. Although Iran gave diplomatic support for the
U.S. campaign against the Taliban, it has more to gain by backing Iraq.
Tehran has several options, and it could complicate any U.S. plans for a
small-scale assault on Baghdad similar to that on Afghanistan.
Iran could not stop the U.S. from attacking Iraq. But it could force
Washington to commit to a more politically and economically expensive
military campaign than it might desire. This would sufficiently raise
the stakes to make the United States think twice about attacking Iraq.
Sabri isn't trying to fool the Iranians with cheap rhetoric: He's making
normalization of relations a state policy. Sabri spoke on Iraqi
television Dec. 27, expressing his desire to drop the baggage of the
Iran-Iraq war and bring the two nations closer together, the Islamic
Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.
His words were echoed by the visiting Hassan-Ali Ebrahimi, leader of the
Refugees Affairs Office of Iran's Interior Ministry, who said that
"Tehran and Baghdad are determined to do all within their capabilities
to secure the interests of both nations," according to IRNA. Sabri also
said he intends to visit Iran in January 2002.
Iraq, Terrorism and Geopolitics
It is no secret that a debate is continuing within the Bush
administration over whether to expand the anti-terror campaign from
Afghanistan to Iraq. Those advocating an attack on Baghdad were defeated
during the first round of planning, but they are renewing their
arguments following the recent Taliban withdrawals. They are also trying
to combine an Iraqi strategy with the model seen in Afghanistan.
Ever since the earliest planning for the response to Sept. 11, the Iraq
question has divided American strategic planners. On one side, elements
within the U.S. Defense Department, publicly led by Deputy Secretary of
Defense Paul Wolfowitz, have advocated a strategy that could be called
"the parallel solution." This plan argued that the Afghan campaign had
to be embedded within a broader strategy against not only al Qaeda but
also against all states that had cooperated with the group, chief among
Iraq's diplomatic efforts must overcome a lot of history. Baghdad and
Tehran are old adversaries, divided by religion, ideology and the mutual
desire to be the dominant power among Persian Gulf states. The two
fought a war from 1980 to 1988, which left hundreds of thousands dead
and both economies racked.
But the Iraqi government has a bigger problem now: the United States.
Besides imposing no-fly zones on about half of Iraq's airspace, the U.S.
government is actively and publicly considering military methods to
remove the Iraqi regime from power. Baghdad needs help, but it has few
allies. Russia has shown signs of backing away from its former client.
And an embryonic relationship with Syria will not bear the necessary
military and diplomatic fruit in time.
Sabri's initiative has support from above. President Saddam Hussein's
youngest son, Qusai, his political heir apparent, reportedly sponsored
Sabri's rise to power. Brought in to overhaul Iraqi diplomacy, Sabri has
spent months purging old blood from the Foreign Ministry.
But the key is how the Iranians will respond. Tehran was willing to let
the U.S. destroy the Taliban regime, and it gave limited support,
including offering to rescue U.S. pilots if they went down in Iranian
territory. But the Iraqi case is different, and Iran has a greater
interest in supporting Hussein's regime. There is no love lost between
Baghdad and Tehran, but both sides have an interest in containing U.S.
While Iranian military planners undoubtedly dream about the collapse of
the Iraqi regime, they are more concerned about the spread of U.S.
military power in the Middle East. The United States has tight alliances
with Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and several
Gulf States. And now Washington has a military presence in Afghanistan
(Iran's eastern border) and Central Asia.
The Bush administration is capitalizing on an enraged populace and a
broad definition of a "war on terror" to operate with unprecedented
impunity in the Middle East. With the U.S. government's influence
spreading, Iran does not want to see a U.S.-supported regime come to
power in Iraq. Such a regime could rebuild itself with oil revenues and
eventually challenge Tehran.
Iran would rather see Iraq maintain its struggling regime, which is
beset by internal challengers. The Iraqi army is nowhere near as
powerful as it was in the 1980s and is hardly capable of expeditionary
warfare against Iran. Nor is Iraq likely to rebuild itself into a
significant threat while under U.S. sanctions.
Supporting Iraq against the United States would also establish Iran's
status as the strongest power in the Middle East. For much of the past
decade, Iranian foreign policy has focused on reviving alliances and
relationships that dissolved during the early years of the Islamic
revolution. Iran's pitch has been to offer itself as the only credible
alternative to U.S. domination. This argument would be bolstered
significantly if Iran were able to keep the Iraqi regime afloat.
So what could Iran do to keep Hussein alive and the United States out of
Iraq? Diplomatic pressure is simple and relatively painless. With many
in the Middle East already susceptible to anti-U.S. propaganda, Iran
could easily make the case that Washington is trying systematically to
conquer the Muslim world.
Tehran could also refuse to support any U.S. military action against
Iraq. Although this would not stop a combined assault by Turkish forces
in the north and Kuwait-based U.S. forces in the south, it would put a
serious crimp in a plan floating through Washington.
Under this plan, first reported by the New Yorker, Iraqi resistance
groups based in Iran would draw the Iraqi army into open battle where
they would be attacked by U.S. air and armor. This strategy, similar to
that used in Afghanistan, hinges on the ability of opposition forces to
take advantage of Iraq's long border with Iran, which is much harder to
guard than the Kuwaiti border.
Another tactic Tehran could use would be to threaten to cease its
fledgling cooperation on anti-terrorism. Iran could very easily redeploy
its Revolutionary Guard military advisers to Lebanon, Bosnia and
elsewhere, after having pulled them from those areas after Sept. 11.
Tehran also could organize attacks on Israel by Lebanese Hezbollah
fighters and several Palestinian militant groups it influences.
If Iran wished to commit itself further, it could provide Iraq with
weapons and logistic support. Both nations use a great deal of
Soviet-style weaponry. Iran could provide a secure location to stockpile
weapons and supplies out of the range of U.S. aircraft. It could also
provide backup command and control systems, like communications and
radar facilities, which were key targets for U.S. bombers in the Persian
Gulf War. This wouldn't prevent Iraq's destruction, but it would make it
more expensive for the United States.
Iran would risk retaliation from Washington if it were to engage in such
overt military cooperation, but the United States is hardly willing to
attack both countries at once. Still, this option would be the most
provocative and is therefore the least likely one for Tehran.
Iran could not support the Iraqi regime against a full-scale U.S.
military assault. But it could multiply the difficulties for a limited
attack that used Iraqi opposition forces, forcing the United States to
decide if it wishes to commit to a larger Gulf War-style campaign.