Observations on Iraq Hearings: Day One (Pt II)
Jim Fine, FCNL
Read Part I of these observations.
Distortions cropped up in the Petraeus-Crocker testimony in at least three critical areas: related to Iran, al-Qaeda, and the bilateral agreement the U.S. is currently negotiating with Iraq.
The “extent of Iran’s malign influence” was evident in the recent fighting in Basra, Ambassador Crocker told both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees. “Iran has fueled the violence in a particularly damaging way,” Gen. Petraeus said, by funding, arming, and directing what the U.S. calls the “special groups” formerly associated with Moqtada as-Sadr’s Mehdi Army. The special groups, Petraeus said, were responsible for shelling the Green Zone in recent weeks. Well, whether the shelling was done by the “special groups” or by other Shiite militia, it was done in retaliation for the U.S.-backed offensive that Prime Minister Maliki launched against, not the special groups, but as-Sadr’s Mehdi Army in Basra. And the “extent of Iran’s malign influence” was well illustrated by the central role that Iran played (in the person, so less, of the commander of the reviled Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) in brokering a ceasefire when Maliki’s Iraqi army troops lost ground to Sadr’s forces in Basra.
The greatest distortion of the reality in Iraq related to al-Qaeda was the frequency with which both Petraeus and Crocker invoked al-Qaeda as the reason to support the administration’s Iraq policy. Neither mentioned that there was no “AQI,” al-Qaeda in Iraq before the U.S. invaded, and both implied that the fight against AQI was the central battlefield in the “war on terror,” though Senator Joe Biden (DE) managed to get Ambassador Crocker to choose to Afghanistan and Pakistan “if the Lord Almighty came down and gave you the choice of wiping out al-Qaeda in Iraq or in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” But that was only, Crocker said, because the U.S. had already made so much progress against al-Qaeda in Iraq.
On the bilateral agreement the U.S. and Iraq are currently negotiating, it was the old shell game. There are more than 80 of these “status of forces” agreements, Ambassador Crocker said, and they don’t require congressional approval, despite the fact that the U.S.-Iraq agreement will contain certain “enhancements,” including authorization to carry out military operations in Iraq. But, the administration is arguing, authorization to fight is not an obligation to fight. The U.S. could always choose not to fight, so Iraq is not being offered a “security guarantee” that would require congressional consent. An executive agreement will suffice. But the agreement will not, Ambassador Croker assured the committees, include an authorization for permanent U.S. military bases in Iraq. In fact, he predicted, it may even expressly foreswear them, a point that offered little assurance to Sen. Jim Webb (VA) who said he was not sure what “no permanent bases” meant given the administration’s willingness to foreswear them despite its unwillingness to commit to withdrawal from Iraq
If you were looking for rays of sunshine breaking through the clouds you might have caught a few glints and glimmers escaping from the dark thunderheads gathering around Iran. The U.S., Ambassador Crocker took the trouble to note in his opening statement, did support negotiations between Iran and Iraq and intended to continue the conferences of neighboring states that include Iran. He did not contend that Iran’s sins to date had cast it irrevocably into outer darkness but said instead “Iran has a choice to make.” Gen. Petraeus echoed this sentiment, saying, “We should all watch Iranian movements closely in the weeks and months ahead” for signs of their intentions.
As for U.S. intentions, today’s hearings suggested signs of change are not likely to appear until after the November elections, but one of the most important changes to look for—and to work for—will be a change in the U.S. attitude to Iran. The U.S. and Iran are the most influential outside actors in Iraq. Cooperation between them is the surest way to bring stability and reconciliation to Iraq.