Iraq Pullout Talk Makes Iran Uneasy

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Los Angeles Times
November 16, 2006
Pg. 1

Although officially opposed to the American presence, the Islamic Republic fears the repercussions of a dangerously unstable neighbor.
By Kim Murphy, Times Staff Writer
LONDON — Iran has consistently opposed the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq, but new prospects of a stepped-up American withdrawal are prompting growing unease in the Islamic Republic, where many fear the repercussions of a dangerously unstable neighbor.
Officially, Iran's policy remains flatly opposed to American troops in Iraq and characterizes them as a key contributor to the escalating violence. Iran's government says it wants the U.S. to withdraw at the earliest possible opportunity.
But the U.S. elections this month that swept in a Democratic majority to Congress and subsequent talk of a phased pullout have touched off a discussion in Tehran about the outright anarchy that could result.
On Tuesday night, Tehran's English-language news channel featured commentary from political scientist Pirouz Mojtahedzadeh, who called for the U.S. to remain in Iraq until it has established a strong, stable central government capable of providing adequate security.
"The Americans can't simply withdraw from Iraq, leaving the mess as it is," Mojtahedzadeh said in a telephone interview from the Iranian capital afterward. "Who's going to look for the safety of the Iraqis there? The Iranians can't do it. The Turks can't do it…. This is not a question of political rivalry between Iran and the West. It has to do with the fact that the society has to have a government structure in place."
Analysts familiar with official thinking say there is growing support for views like Mojtahedzadeh's within Iran's professional foreign policy establishment, if not within the hard-line circles closest to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a feeling that a drawn-out timetable for withdrawal would be preferable to a quick pullout.
"They've not said it directly and openly as an official policy line, that they'd like the U.S. to stay, but I think there's a sense among the Iranians that they understand that the U.S. cannot just leave immediately," said Hadi Semati, an Iranian political analyst who is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.
"If you're talking about the officials and the foreign policy establishment, I think they're more these days cognizant and aware of the possible dangers and repercussions of civil war and the collapse of what is left of Iraqi governance on Iran. The fact [is] that if the bloodshed gets out of hand, they might at some point feel compelled to intervene to support their Shiite co-religionists against extremists and death squads and mass killings," Semati said.
"At the same time, they don't want to be seen as the one that supports a U.S. occupation force. That's why they're conflicted," he said.
'Source of instability'
An official Iranian source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Iran's position was unchanged and continued to urge a quick U.S. withdrawal.
"We oppose the Western forces continuing the occupation there. As long as they are there, we think the violence in this situation will continue, and it does not help whatsoever the stability in the region," he said.
Another official source echoed that view. "Why would the U.S. think that their rapid withdrawal would be rejected by Iran? Do they think their presence is a help? Iran thinks it is not," he said.
"Some in the U.S. argue that Iran wants the U.S. to stay because it is a good target for Iran, and will every day face new problems there. But I think their presence also is a source of instability for the region, and Iran is rather a supporter of the Iraqi government and people and doesn't want to witness their daily pain."
Still, Mojtahedzadeh, who also operates a think tank in London, said the fact that he was invited to argue against a rapid U.S. withdrawal on Iranian television suggested some level of official sanction of the view.
"I think the official position is in agreement with this," he said. "It works very subtly, in ways that are not quite obvious.
"But someone like me being on the record on Iranian radio and TV saying it's not wise to push the U.S. out of Iraq because the aggressor, according to international laws, has the duty of putting things back in place, this tells you everything," he said.
Iranian analysts said senior officials would never vary from Iran's established line opposing U.S. intervention. And, they said, no one in Iran is in favor of a long-term U.S. presence in Iraq. There appears to be unanimity in the government that the upper Persian Gulf is Iran's domain and that there certainly should be no U.S. bases there.
But on the issue of the timing of a withdrawal, there are various constituencies to whom Iran must speak, said Ali Ansari, a professor of Iranian studies in Britain and author of "Confronting Iran: The Failure of American Foreign Policy and the Next Great Crisis in the Middle East."
"To the Arab Middle East, Iran says yes, the Americans are part of the problem, get out. But then there are the Iranians who say, 'When we say get out, we don't mean get out and leave it in a mess,' " Ansari said.
He said that although the official line of Ahmadinejad remains unchanged, "there's a strong class of bureaucratic thinkers, strategic thinkers in the Foreign Ministry, who think that actually it serves our interests better [if U.S. troops remain a bit longer]. Because let's face it, if the Americans leave, all this inside fighting in Iraq might turn on the Iranians. As long as the Americans are still there, they are acting as a lighting rod for that."
'A paradox'
The range of opinion also extends to hard-liners, analysts said, who oppose the occupation but relish seeing the U.S. bogged down and embarrassed in Iraq, and distracted from going after Iran's nuclear program.
"There are some in the hard-liners who say while the Americans are there, they're within reach [of Iranian missiles] if we need to retaliate," Ansari said.
The schizophrenic thinking on the issue was reflected in the recent visit of former reformist President Mohammad Khatami to the U.S., where he advised against a speedy exit from Iraq.
"We are at a paradox," he told an audience at the University of Virginia. "The occupation must end so there can be peace. But also, you can't leave the present Iraqi government at the mercy of the terrorists. If you ask me should the Americans leave tomorrow, I'd say, 'No, don't do it.' "
Kaveh Afrasiabi, author of "After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy," said a rapid U.S. pullout would jeopardize the two "pillars" of Iranian policy on Iraq: Iraq's "national unity" and territorial integrity, goals that are shared with the U.S. That has prompted some to recognize the need for "a more nuanced foreign policy balancing act."
Yet that stance is far from an about-face, he said. And some Iranian officials say privately that some in the U.S. appear to be using threats of a speedy pullout to push Iran to make concessions in other areas, namely its controversial nuclear program.
In the end, Semati said, Iran would be most happy if a solution was engineered by the U.S. and Iran in tandem, leading to a withdrawal of U.S. troops on the basis of "a shared success."
"They would like to see the U.S. succeed in stabilizing Iraq, but they would like to share in that success," he said. "They're the major player inside Iraq, they have lent their support to the Iraqi [democratic] transition, and they think the Americans have paid very little attention to their contribution," he said.
I can see their conflict...I mean, they've gone this far in fighting the West, and now they need the West because they're incapable of handling the situation by themselves.It'll be interesting to see how far they go with this before making a decision...Damned if they do, damned if they don't. If you ask me.
Hmmm, the enemy of my enemy is my friend... if Iran doesn't like it, then it must be the right thing. I think the real worry they have is that if we free up troops out of Iraq it makes it easier for us to stick it to them if the need arises. As long as were pinned down being slowly bled they are sitting pretty.