Is the US preparing the way for a decisive pro-Shiite alliance with both the Iraqi Shiites and the incumbent Iranian regime? Or is it preparing the way for a confrontation with Iran?
By some accounts, Iraqi Shiites are currently facilitating a diplomatic opening between the US and Iran.
Stratfor offers the following interpretation of recent events:
Iraq’s most senior Shiite politician, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, was in Iran on May 21 to undergo medical treatment after being rushed to the United States for testing a few days earlier. But it is unlikely that his trip is actually health-related; rather, al-Hakim flew to Iran from the United States to deliver the U.S. response to Tehran’s proposed framework for negotiations at the first direct public U.S.-Iranian meeting over Iraq, to be held in Baghdad on May 28….
When Iran relayed its terms for the talks, it did so by having an Iranian official hand-deliver the proposal to U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker; this took place during a three-minute meeting on the sidelines of the May 4 international conference on Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. A version of that report was also leaked to a Saudi paper in an attempt to placate the Arab states (especially Saudi Arabia) that are wary of any U.S.-Iranian accommodation on Iraq. Because of the sensitive nature of U.S.-Iranian communications, the Bush administration chose to use al-Hakim as a conduit for transmitting its response.
The US-Iranian dialogue is, as noted by Stratfor, “sensitive” because Sunni Arab forces are wary of a US “tilt” toward a Shia Gulf.
Indeed, Sunni Arab suspicions seem to grow more pronounced with each passing day.
IraqSlogger has translated a recent interview with Saleh al-Mutlak, previously celebrated by Secretary of State Rice for taking positions that represented “considerable maturing of the Sunni political leadership.”
Mutlak seems to fear the US and Iran are already de facto allies in Iraq:
In general, US policy towards Iran is vague, and unclear, and there are those who believe that the controversy is agreed upon, and is not a real controversy.
And in the result that the goals that Iran seeks in Iraq, they are the same goals that America seeks. Iran wants a weak Iraq, and fragmented to a certain extent, and this is an American goal. And whether there is coordination on this matter or not, they are walking on the same path and (towards the same) goal.
At the same time, Mutlak is critical of Sunni Arab neighbors for abandoning Sunni Arab Iraq to Iranian political dominance.
Unfortunately, the Arab countries, and at the forefront of them the neighboring countries are remiss with regards to Iraq, as they, at least have even not moved to stop the Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs.
All of this suggests that the US is, indeed, tilting toward a Shia Gulf.
Nevertheless, it is unclear whether the Bush administration is united in its policies toward Iran.
According to a report by Simon Tisdall in the Guardian, some US officials–all anonymous–are still speaking in very hawkish terms about Iran and its role in Iraq.
“Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq and it’s a very dangerous course for them to be following. They are already committing daily acts of war against US and British forces,” a senior US official in Baghdad warned. “They [Iran] are behind a lot of high-profile attacks meant to undermine US will and British will, such as the rocket attacks on Basra palace and the Green Zone [in Baghdad]. The attacks are directed by the Revolutionary Guard who are connected right to the top [of the Iranian government].”
So, who are the remaining Iran hawks?
Right Zionists like Richard Perle remain quite hawkish about Iran and are very hostile toward dialogue with the Iranian regime, but do they have friends in the administration calling the shots on Iraq and Iran?
Cheney is the most likely ally, but he appears to be supporting the diplomatic discussions with Iran.
He recently explained his position to reporters:
QUESTION: Is it possible to both have a hard line on Iran, as you did on the aircraft carrier, and talk with them about Iraq? But are you still both going in different directions?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: They’re separate issues. The President made clear the conversations in Baghdad are between ambassadors — focused on the situation in Iraq and what we believe is Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of Iraq.
Not exactly the warmest words of greeting, but neither is it a critique of the diplomatic opening.
Moreover, Robin Wright at the Washington Post suggests that Cheney has been instrumental in facilitating the “medical care” for al-Hakim that has taken him to the US and Iran.
Vice President Cheney played a role in arranging for Hakim to see U.S. military doctors in Baghdad, who made the original diagnosis, and for the current medical treatment in Houston, the sources said.
If Cheney is facilitating dialogue between the US and Iran, then who is busy screaming about Iran to Simon Tisdall at the Guardian?
Steven Clemons suggests that “Bush is allowing Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Rice to play good cop, bad cop with the Iranians.”
So, which cop is bluffing?
Is this the start of a “beautiful relationship” between the US and Iran? Or is this the prelude to a policy of regime change?
Either way, my bet is that Cheney doesn’t leave office without trying to go beyond containment.