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If Iran dominates Iraq, the regime (especially Ahmadinejad) will view it as the fulfillment of prophecy and a vindication of its End Times-based worldview, as expressed in its documentary, “The Coming is Upon Us.” Iraq plays a central role in Shiite Islamic prophecy. A senior Hezbollah official in Lebanon was not coy about what will follow a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. A “Shiite crescent” will form, bringing together 100 million people against Israel. Hundreds of thousands of “martyrs” will die and Israel will use nuclear weapons, but the Jewish state will be destroyed. There were two things stopping this, he said: The U.S. presence in Iraq and the potential overthrow of Bashar Assad in Syria. The U.S. withdrawal removes these two barriers.
Secretary of State Clinton warns Iran to not interpret the withdrawal as U.S. weakness. She points out that the U.S. still has bases and allies in the region. However, Turkey is far from a reliable ally now. Egypt, Yemen and Jordan are threatened with Muslim Brotherhood takeovers, which the Iranian regime also views as the fulfillment of prophecy. Qatar has moved into the Islamist camp, and Iran has the capability to massively retaliate against pro-American Arab regimes. Even if the pro-American Arab governments stand by the U.S. now, Iran will essentially have a border with Israel if it dominates Iraq and if a war commences, these states will be politically forced to side with Iran.
Many Iraqis now feel betrayed and fearful. In September 2010, when President Obama declared the end of combat operations, the New York Times learned that many Iraqis were shivering. One said it “makes us believe that America has sold us to Iran.” At the time, an Iraqi poll found that 53% opposed his decision and only one-fourth supported it. Nearly 42% said they felt that President Obama doesn’t care about what happens to their country.
These numbers have probably not changed since. Reporters are finding it easy to locate Iraqis that will express their worry, both Sunni and Shiite. “As an Iraqi citizen, I say to Mr. Obama, you will leave Iraq without accomplishing your mission,” said one. The leader of the largest Shiite tribes, who used to oppose the presence, said his mind has changed. Mithal al-Alusi, a secular Sunni whose sons were killed after he visited Israel, said, “The Iranians and their agents are celebrating.”
It is unlikely, but there is still time for President Obama to reverse course. In his speech, he said, “We will continue discussions on how we might help Iraq train and recruit its forces,” a task that would likely necessitate more U.S. troops on the ground. He invited Prime Minister al-Maliki to the White House in December. It is possible that al-Maliki will find a way to approve immunity at the last moment, or that an agreement will be reached in 2012 that sees the return of a small number of U.S. troops. The big determinant will be whether President Obama has the courage to face down his political base if such a request is made by the Iraqis.
Iraq has made immense progress since the days of Saddam Hussein and since its near-collapse in 2006. The security forces have improved in their ability to protect the country, and nearly 5,000 American soldiers have lost their lives to get Iraq to this point. If Iran steers the direction of Iraq, then it will have gone a long way in creating its Shiite crescent and the U.S. will have paid the cost for it to happen.
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