Turning a Cold Shoulder

Iraq announces it is seeking closer military ties to Iran.

Iraq has announced that it is seeking closer military ties to Iran. Citing profound historical, cultural and religious bonds between the two nations, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s declared that Iraq would soon expand military ties with Iran. According to Maliki, the creation of an Iraq-Iran alliance would serve to strengthen and ensure stability in the region. This Iraqi move is a grievous affront to those Americans killed and wounded at the hands of Iranian funded, armed and trained terrorist insurgents.

Maliki’s argument that Iran is a stabilizing force may mystify those thousands of Iraqis who since 2004 have been on the receiving end of sectarian violence unleashed on them by Iran’s terrorist proxies. In fact, despite Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s pledge to cut off such support, the Department of Defense continues to assert that there has been no “identified decrease in Iranian training and funding of illegal militias in Iraq.”

Of course, that fact hasn’t escaped Maliki, who himself in 2009 was accusing Iran of providing weapons -- including shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles -- to insurgent groups within Iraq. Most disturbingly, Iranian armaments have been used with devastating force against American and coalition forces, including IEDs and EFPs, the most deadly of weapons used by insurgent forces in Iraq.

Since 2003, 4,452 American military members have been killed and 32,102 wounded fighting for Iraqi freedom. The fact that most of those killed and wounded came at the hands of Iranian proxies makes Iraq’s announcement all the more reprehensible.

Unfortunately, Maliki’s announcement should cause little surprise as Iraq has been quite busy laying the groundwork for an economic and political partnership with the Islamist Republic. While it remains to be seen if Iraq ends up as just another Iranian proxy state, it certainly has taken the first tentative steps down that road.

For example, the two nations have signed a series of economic pacts, the most recent being a 5-year deal that calls for Iran to supply Iraq with 25 million cubic meters per day of natural gas. While on the international front, Iraq has parroted the Iranian foreign policy line, in particular in its condemnation of the Persian Gulf States and their crackdown on Shiite dissidents.

Not surprisingly, Iran feels bullish about its former enemy now turned close friend. That view was on display when Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a top Iranian lawmaker, said Iran and Iraq have “ample capacities for cultural, economic and political cooperation.”

For its part, the Iraqis have become so enamored by its Persian neighbor that Iraq’s Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was compelled to urge the entire Arab League to join in, saying they should “utilize Iran’s strengths through active cooperation and engagement.”

Unfortunately, Iraq’s flirtation with Iran comes as the US prepares to meet the December 2011 deadline for the complete withdrawal of its remaining 47,000 troops from Iraq. In addition to the military departure, America is also scheduled to pullout 63,000 contractors, close 100 bases and remove one million pieces of equipment by the same December deadline.

While Maliki has promised to discuss a possible extension with Iraq’s Parliament, he set the bar very high. To that end, he has repeatedly said he will not agree to an extension unless at least 70% of Iraq’s political parties and parliamentary blocs agree. Given that Iraqi public opinion strongly favors an uninterrupted American exit, it seems a US departure is now all but guaranteed.

This popular view holds despite a heavy increase in sectarian violence across Iraq, the specter of ethnic violence between Kurds and Arabs over disputed oil fields, and a belief by both Iraqi and US military commanders that Iraq’s security forces are not yet able to independently protect its borders from outside forces.

Ironically, that latter point has been the basis of one of the strongest arguments for a continued US military presence. Absent a significant US force, Iraq’s security forces remain unprepared to repel a conventional military, air or missile attack, most specifically one launched by Iran. Yet, the push to embrace Iran seems to indicate the Iraqis have little to fear from the Islamist Republic.

While that belief may well prove mistaken in the end, Iraqis certainly have something to fear presently from the al Qaeda insurgents operating within its borders. For months Iraq has been plagued by a series of insurgent bomb and gunfire attacks, assaults which have left scores killed and hundreds wounded. Last week six people were killed and 27 wounded in separate attacks in central and northern Iraq.  In Baghdad over one weekend, five car-bomb explosions killed 18 and wounded 77.

Furthermore American military bases and personnel in Iraq are also coming under increased attacks from mortar-fire and bombings. US forces faced 162 attacks in April, up from 128 in March and 93 in February. As one American army spokesman said, “Various extremist groups and illegal militias have said they will increase attacks against US forces and they are trying to do that to claim credit for driving out our forces.”

Unfortunately, the line of people advocating an America withdrawal extends beyond Iraq’s border. While the Obama administration has offered to leave up to 12,000 troops behind, it isn’t pressing the issue with the Iraqis. Moreover, an increasing number of US lawmakers from both parties are less than eager to see the United States stay beyond 2011.

Adding to American unease has been Iraq’s own indecision over the issue, which has clearly frustrated some once ardent supporters. Senator Lindsey Graham summed the feeling up best when he said last month, if we can’t “work with the Iraqis to have 10,000 to 15,000 American troops in Iraq in 2012, Iraq could go to hell.”

In fact, the advancement of Iraq into Iran’s orbit may only increase that feeling. It’s one certainly borne by a large segment of American taxpayers who have seen the United States drain its treasure in defense of Iraqi freedom. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the cost of Operation Iraqi Freedom was $709 billion for military and related activities, including training of Iraqi forces and diplomatic operations.

Yet far more important than the expenditure of tax dollars has been the cost in American blood. As Americans honor their service men and women on this Memorial Day, the meaning of those who made the ultimate sacrifice is not lost.

Unfortunately -- if Iraq’s recent actions are any indication -- the meaning of American sacrifice on its behalf is sadly lost on them.

Frank Crimi is a writer living in San Diego, California. You can read more of Frank's work at his blog, www.politicallyunbalanced.com.