▶ Ma­jor in­tel­li­gence leak sug­gests Tehran fears the re­turn of Amer­i­can troops in re­sponse to tur­moil

The National - News - - NEWS - KHALED YACOUB OWEIS Anal­y­sis

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

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