The U.S. embassy and military command has once again started to raise accusations about Iranian “meddling” in Iraq. Of course, one man’s meddling is another man’s pursuit of national interests, but whatever you call it, there does indeed seem reason to believe that Iran has stepped up its power-play in Iraq as part of what you might call an “end-game” strategy.
Why end game? Because like everyone else, Iran has figured out that Barack Obama will be the next president, and they’re positioning themselves for what will be a struggle for power and influence in Baghdad. Among other things, as I was told often during my visit to Iran last spring, Tehran sees Iraq as kind of a bargaining chip in its relations with the United States.
Tehran’s main goals in Iraq have always been (1) to ensure that Iraq would remain a weak, fragmented state that cannot pose a threat to Iran, (2) to prevent the return to power of the powerfully anti-Iranian Sunni bloc, (3) to guarantee that Iran’s Shiite majority would maintain a grip on the levers of power in Baghdad, and (4) that the United States not use Iraq as a launching pad for a regime-change strategy toward Iran. By now, Iran is likely confident that it has secured all of those goals. Now it can use its influence in Iraq to leverage its relations with the new Obama administration.
Earlier this week, General Ray Odierno overtly accused Iran of trying to block the Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq. Said Odierno:
“Clearly, this is one they’re having a full court press on to try to ensure there’s never any bilateral agreement between the United States and Iraq. We know that there are many relationships with people here for many years going back to when Saddam was in charge, and I think they’re utilizing those contacts to attempt to influence the outcome of the potential vote in the council of representatives.”
He accused Iran of trying to “bribe” Iraq lawmakers to vote against SOFA, saying that “there are many intelligence reports [that Iranians are] coming in to pay off people to vote against it.”
There can’t really be any doubt that Iran is using all of its clout, behind the scenes, including cash payments, to undermine the US-Iraq accord, and probably successfully. And it starts at the top, with Prime Minister Maliki, many of whose personal security detail and the people who fly the Iraqi version of Air Force One are Iranians, according to confidential Iraqi sources.