SECRET IRANIAN CABLES REVEAL OBSESSION OVER US ROLE IN IRAQ
▶ Major intelligence leak suggests Tehran fears the return of American troops in response to turmoil
Leaked Iranian intelligence documents show that 16 years after the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, Tehran remains obsessed about American influence in Iraq.
The rivalry between the two countries has defined Iraq’s politics since the 2003 invasion that ended Saddam’s reign. A summary of the documents, which were leaked to The New York Times and The Intercept, show a lack of understanding in Tehran about US domestic politics and the rejection of any major troop presence on the ground.
A cable from an Iranian intelligence agent to his superiors in Tehran said atrocities committed in 2014 by an Iranbacked Shiite militia against Sunni civilians were an invitation to the US to come back.
Sunni militants who had fought US forces, the cable said, wished “that not only America, but even Israel, would enter Iraq and save Iraq from Iran’s clutches”.
After spending $2 trillion (Dh7.34tn) and losing 4,500 US soldiers, as well as the thousands of personnel who survived with horrific injuries, Washington has little desire to come back in a dominant role.
Former US vice president Joe Biden, Democratic front-runner for the 2020 presidential elections, caused controversy last month by saying he was against the invasion, although he was among the 77 senators who authorised it.
According to Pew Research Centre polling, US support for the use of military force in Iraq as the invasion began in March 2003 was at 71 per cent. By March last year, only 43 per cent of Americans said the invasion was the right decision.
Under the Barack Obama presidency, US forces pulled out in 2011, focusing in recent years on the fight against ISIS in a tacit alliance with Tehran, which, the documents show, spied on the US presence.
The US was also concerned about the Iranian influence and presence, seeking to prevent the return of members of the Badr Corps, an Iraqi militia based in Iran before the invasion.
The Badr Corps, later named the Badr Organisation, eventually became Iran’s main military tool in Iraq, playing a significant role in the crackdown on the current uprising.
But it was Iranian tutelage that became the target of protesters’ wrath in the Iraqi uprising that erupted on October 1. This month, the security forces killed at least one person among demonstrators who had tried to storm the Iranian consulate in Karbala.
In Najaf, demonstrators renamed Imam Al Khomeini Boulevard “Revolution Street”.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on several occasions that he deplored the crackdown, as well as the kidnapping of protesters.
But President Donald Trump thanked the Iraqi authorities for help in the raid that killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi last month.
Mr Trump did not refer to the crackdown in which the Iraqi authorities and Iranbacked militias killed more than 300 people and wounded thousands.
For US Democrats hoping to regain the presidency next year, Iraq was an unconstitutional war, and although it is not a top issue, Democratic candidates have used Mr Biden’s vote, when he was senator, for the invasion to undermine his foreign policy credentials.
Many Republicans regard the toppling of Saddam Hussein as being ideologically motivated, in contrast with the decades of pragmatic American foreign policy forged in the Cold War era.
In the run up to the 19901991 Gulf War, US president George H W Bush met Christine Helms, a veteran scholar specialising in Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Ms Helms conducted research in Iraq during the eightyear war with Iran, writing a book on Iraq and its geopolitical position as “the eastern flank of the Arab world”.
She said toppling Saddam would open a Pandora’s Box. Mr Bush listened to the advice of Ms Helms and others, and stopped short of regime change. Ms Helms kept to her position as George W Bush prepared to invade Iraq after the 9/11 attacks.
She was resented by, and in turn resented, Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi politician who organised the Iraqi opposition to Saddam and played a significant role in convincing the US to invade.
Once in power in Iraq, Chalabi wanted Iraq to have a balanced relationship between Washington and Tehran.
Chalabi saw himself as an Iraqi nationalist. A consummate interlocutor, he argued that Iraq needed the US for reconstruction and to become a prosperous democracy.
He understood that without any diplomatic effort to keep Iran at bay, Tehran could wreak havoc.
Chalabi said talking to the Syrian regime of Bashar Al Assad and Iran was vital to stop them destabilising Iraq.
His efforts helped convene a security meeting on Iraq in Damascus in 2007 with the participation of the US and Iran. Ultimately, attacks by Iran-backed Shiite militias on US forces strengthened the domestic rationale in the US to leave.
As Washington focused on ISIS and Iran became the dominant player on the Iraqi domestic scene, Chalabi died in Baghdad of a heart attack in his sleep. It was November 2015.
He dismissed accusations by his critics that he was an Iranian ally as an oversimplification. The balance that Chalabi said he had sought was never reached.
The rivalry between the US and Iran has defined Iraq’s politics since the 2003 invasion that ended Saddam’s reign