Iran’s Rising Influence

Pat Lang throws some cold water on the idea that all indicators are moving in the right direction at least on the military front in Iraq, citing reports that the Brits have failed in Basra.

In Basra the British have been defeated by the local interests of the several Iraqi Shia factions and their militias. Their assumption that southern Iraq was a reproduction of the counter-insurgency environment of Ireland has been proven wrong. The Shia militias are far stronger and more virulently anti-Western than “the boys” ever were. The depth of popular support for these militias is overwhelming. Those who are taking the Crystolian path of rejoicing in the success of the “surge” in central Iraq have little to say of how the US is going to cope with the British loss of southern Iraq to Shia militia control. In this situation of competition among Fadhila, the Maliki government, Dawa (to the extent that it is separate from Maliki), the Sadrists, and ISCI (SCIRI), Iran is doing well in a skilled game of playing off one group against another to ensure that there will not be a clear victor. This should be seen as reflective of a realistic analysis of Iranian state interests. In an idealized world Iran would seek only the victory of the Shia community without regard for its own future ability to manipulate the situation, but, this is not an idealized world. This is the other of the two worlds, the one in which countries still exist and have interests. The devotion of Iran to its state interests can also be seen in the willingness of Iran to give limited support to non-religious insurgent groups. For Iran the goal of helping these groups push America towards the door is sufficient to justify some strengthening of the enemies of the religious Shia community.

Iran’s influence in Afghanistan and Pakistan is also on the rise, as President Bush acknowledges.

President Bush warned Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday to be more suspicious of neighboring Iran, calling the Islamic republic a “destabilizing force” that should be isolated until it drops any nuclear aspirations and proves it can be a positive influence.

Capping a two-day visit at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Bush took issue with Karzai’s view that Iran “has been a helper” in Afghanistan, a rare point of divergence in a meeting intended to show solidarity in the battle with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The Bush administration has accused Iran of arming the Taliban, reports Karzai largely brushed aside before arriving.

“They’re not a force for good, as far as we can see,” Bush said of Iran, with Karzai at his side. “They’re a destabilizing influence wherever they are. Now, the president will have to talk to you about Afghanistan. But I would be very cautious about whether or not the Iranian influence there in Afghanistan is a positive force. And therefore, it’s going to be up to them to prove to us and prove to the government that they are.”

The burden will be high, indeed.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. M1EK says:

    Everybody without a partisan axe to grind acknowledges that Iran was a great help to us wrt Afghanistan in the early days of that war. You continue to shame yourself by simply reporting Bush’s lies without comment.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I continue to think that Col. Lang’s analysis is pretty solid. Note that he doesn’t make the error, as many do, of believing that Iraqi Shi’ite interests are identical to Iranian interests.

    His analysis of the situation in southern Iraq is the reason that I believe that the three state endgame is neither a stable nor tolerable solution. Quite to the contrary, I think that the Sunni Arabs in the west (possibly aided by the Saudis) will continue to stir up trouble, neither the Turks nor the Iranians will tolerate a separate Iraqi Kurdistan, and the Shi’ite Arabs in the south are more likely to fight it out with each other (possibly with the involvement of Iran) than they are to make common cause with Iran.

    As to Afghanistan, I don’t have any idea how helpful the Iranians have been or haven’t been and I don’t think anybody else reading this blog does, either. That Iranian influence is rising should be no surprise. They’re playing the hand they’ve got pretty well.

  3. Cernig says:

    As to Afghanistan, I don’t have any idea how helpful the Iranians have been or haven’t been and I don’t think anybody else reading this blog does, either. That Iranian influence is rising should be no surprise. They’re playing the hand they’ve got pretty well.

    Don’t you think Karzai does, though?

    Who is Karzai to believe, Bush or his own lying eyes?

    Regards, C

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    Cernig, do you really believe that Karzai has first-hand information on the contributions of Iran?

    I think you’re a little too willing to give Karzai the benefit of the doubt. I’m skeptical of both positions because I simply don’t know but I do know that if I were in Karzai’s shoes I’d probably be making nice with the Iranians. He’s not really sure that the Americans will be there next year but he’s pretty sure that the Iranians will.