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The Iran Bits…

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There’s obviously much of interest in the Wikileaks Iraq release; for the moment the Iran stuff holds the bulk of my attention:

But the field reports disclosed by WikiLeaks, which were never intended to be made public, underscore the seriousness with which Iran’s role has been seen by the American military. The political struggle between the United States and Iran to influence events in Iraq still continues as Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has sought to assemble a coalition — that would include the anti-American cleric Moktada al-Sadr — that will allow him to remain in power. But much of the American’s military concern has revolved around Iran’s role in arming and assisting Shiite militias.

Citing the testimony of detainees, a captured militant’s diary and numerous uncovered weapons caches, among other intelligence, the field reports recount Iran’s role in providing Iraqi militia fighters with rockets, magnetic bombs that can be attached to the underside of cars, “explosively formed penetrators,” or E.F.P.’s, which are the most lethal type of roadside bomb in Iraq, and other weapons. Those include powerful .50-caliber rifles and the Misagh-1, an Iranian replica of a portable Chinese surface-to-air missile, which, according to the reports, was fired at American helicopters and downed one in east Baghdad in July 2007.

As the article notes, the release doesn’t provide conclusive evidence as to the extent of Iran’s role in Iraq over the past eight years (although I think that both the direct and circumstantial evidence of such involvement is exceedingly strong) because we don’t have Iranian or Iraqi documents; the release is simply the view of the US military. It does confirm, however, that US claims of Iranian influence weren’t simply strategic; the US military really believes that Iran has supported Iraqi militias, conducted operations based on such belief, and isn’t exclusively using such claims to either blame US failures or Iran or lay the foundation for military action against Iran.

This last part is particularly interesting, because as far as I can tell there has been relatively little support within the uniformed military for direct action against Iran. Almost all such calls have been made by hawkish civilians, and not through the channels that the military normally uses to make its views known. I don’t doubt that there are some within the military who believe that direct action within Iraq would be sensible, but there doesn’t seem to have been an institutional consensus to that effect. This is mildly surprising, because in other cases where an insurgency has derived support from actors across international borders (Taliban using Pakistani havens and receiving support from ISI, NLF and PAVN using Cambodian sanctuaries in the Vietnam War) military attitudes on the appropriateness of cross-border strikes have been rather strongly affirmative. Indeed, in a non-COIN case, civilian reluctance to escalate the Korean War across an international border provided the setting for one of the most dangerous civil-military conflicts in American history.

In this case, the military seems to have been resigned to fighting Iran within Iraq, in spite of the presence of a civilian faction strongly in support of direct attacks on Iran. I find that somewhat surprising; if there’s any evidence to the contrary (that the military did support cross-border operations against Iran), I’d like to see it.

…to be clear, while I’d be reluctant to suggest that Iran had a moral or legal right to intervene in Iraq, I consider it utterly unsurprising that Iran did so; attempting to manage the political situation in a neighboring country, while simultaneously weakening a potential enemy, is something that countries do.  Indignation about Iranian intervention is absurd.

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