Iraq's Dangerous New Friend


Last Sunday, George W. Bush's war against terror was turned upside down -- and this time the president might even notice. That's because when "our guys" in Iraq start firmly allying with an "axis of evil" nation, it's got to ring some warning bells, no?

I am referring to the joint declaration issued in Tehran by the leaders of Iraq and Iran: "Today, we need a double and common effort to confront terrorism that may spread in the region and the world," said Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, visiting Iran along with 10 of his ministers, following a similar visit from his defense minister. The statement he and his Iranian counterparts produced heralds mutual cooperation between the two neighbors, which will include a cross-border oil pipeline, joint security proposals and shared intelligence information.

Suddenly everyone's against terror!

I wish it were so. But it's not. Consider that while in Tehran, Jafari also paid tribute to the father of the Iranian theocracy, visiting the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. That the fanaticism of Khomeini is very much alive in today's Iran was clear from the election last month of one of his original Revolutionary Guards to be the country's new president.

In making a pilgrimage to Shiite Iran, the Shiite Iraqi government was also paying homage to the longtime refuge and supporter of Iraqi Shiite revolutionaries, including Jafari himself, who spent 10 years in exile there. Jafari also reiterated an earlier statement in which his government apologized for Iraq's role in the long war with Iran. (How awkward for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the U.S. envoy who carried a message of support to Saddam Hussein 20 years ago, when that war was considered by President Reagan's government as a convenient, if terribly bloody, way to distract and weaken Iran.)

Now, thanks to the U.S. invasion, a new alliance is being formed between Iran and Iraq that threatens to further destabilize the politics of the Mideast. It wasn't supposed to work out this way.

Forced democratization of Iraq, according to its neocon architects, was supposed to secure oil for the U.S., protect Israel, open markets to Western corporations and, oh yeah, maybe even decrease terrorism. After the invasion, however, the U.S., faced with decidedly more hostility and fewer flowers than expected, was loath to allow elections, because their outcome would probably not produce a pliant government.

Then Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Shiite religious leader, threatened to take his followers into the streets against the foreign occupation if one-person-one-vote elections were not allowed. And when it became clear the "wrong" guys might win the elections the U.S. was forced to hold, the Bush White House, according to an investigative article by Seymour Hersh in the current New Yorker, tried to buy the vote for former CIA asset Iyad Allawi.

When Allawi's slate was soundly defeated, what was Bush to do? With absolutely nothing having gone right in Iraq between the successful military invasion and the inspiring election nearly two years later, he had no choice but to embrace the winners -- mostly Shiite, mostly fundamentalists -- as the saviors of a free and democratic Iraq.

Sadly, they are nothing of the sort. In Basra, where they have been in power since the U.S. invasion, religious thugs are in de facto control, applying more oppressive theocratic rules over women's behavior and other basic human rights than neighboring Iran.

Even worse, their victory has fueled fierce Sunni resentment, and the accompanying insurgency has begun targeting Shiite civilians with the clear goal of fomenting ethnic war. Over the weekend, more than 100 people were killed by suicide bombers. Sistani himself denounced what he ominously said was now a "genocidal war."

Facing that hideous possibility, is it surprising to find the Iraqi government looking for help from powerful Iran? No, but it certainly poses a problem for the White House, which now finds itself putting American soldiers' lives on the line every day to prop up an active ally of the country that we claim, with some plausibility, funds anti-Israeli and other terror groups and is bent on making its own nuclear bomb.

Somewhere a guy named Osama bin Laden must be laughing.

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