By Yassmine Mather
The re-election of George Bush was followed by a barrage of threats against Iran’s Islamic Republic. In December 2004 Donald Rumsfeld told reporters he often dreamt that he would wake up one morning to “regime change” in Iran. In the same week the Wall Street Journal urged the White House to support the “new referendum” movement (a coalition in Iran ranging from Royalists to former members of the current regime calling for a referendum on the Iranian constitution).
Soon after the publication of Seymour Hersh’s article in the New Yorker (“The United States has been conducting secret reconnaissance missions inside Iran to help identify potential nuclear, chemical and missile targets”) Condoleezza Rice and George Bush named Iran as a potential “recipient” of US plans to expand “democracy” in the Middle East.
So is the US likely to attack Iran, and how will Britain and the rest of the EU react to such a threat?
The current sabre rattling is a continuation of the long-standing policies of the neo-conservatives on Iran. However the timing of the new threats is significant. The US concern is over the role of Iran and the Shia clergy in the Iraqi elections.
The Iraqi election is very likely to result in victory for the “Sistani” list (known in Iraq as the Iran list). As one US analyst put it recently, it is a matter of simple mathematics. Not only do Shias constitute 62 per cent of the Iraqi population, security issues and calls for a boycott have further weakened the Sunni vote. Bar a major attempt at cheating, Iran’s preferred candidate Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, chairman of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), is likely to be the next prime minister of Iraq.
All the other parties and prominent figures in the “Sistani” list — the United Iraqi Alliance — are also considered “pro Iranian”: Ibrahim Jaafari of the Dawa Party, Ahmed Chalabi, Hussein Shahristani…
According to US administration officials, Iran spent millions of dollars in electoral propaganda in Shia strongholds such as Najaf and Karbala. The US originally opposed the “united” list presented by Sistani. An increasingly militant insurrection in the Sunni areas, and desperation over an exit strategy, has mellowed US attitudes regarding Shia/Iranian influence in Iraq.
Yet the Bush administration does not want an Iran-style theocracy in Iraq, and the current threats against Iran should be seen as part of strategy aimed at keeping the Iranian influence under control.
Over the last few weeks sections of the US media have reminded the administration that, following a costly war, democracy in Iraq is very likely to come up with the “wrong answer” as far as the administration is concerned.
Will the war, after its huge financial and human cost, only lead to an extension of the borders of USA’s main enemy in the region, Iran’s Islamic Republic? See the Washington Post Wednesday 8 December 2004 [‘The Iran Factor in Iraq’s Vote’] and the New York Times editorial, Wednesday 5 January 2005.
Given the quagmire in Iraq, and the reluctance of the UK government to support another military attack, an outright war against Iran is unlikely. But the US administration clearly must be seen to do something about Iran.
The history of Iran-US relations over the last 26 years (since the Islamic regime came to power) shows a level of familiarity between Republicans and senior Shia clerics in power in Iran. The US administration is well aware that as far as these “Islamists” are concerned, their bark should be considered far worse than their bite.
Republicans have a history of “negotiating” with powerful Shia clerics such as Ayatollah Rafsanjani in Iran as far back as Irangate (the 1986 events during which the Reagan administration was found to have been selling arms to the Islamic fundamentalist government in Iran in order to gain the release of American hostages in the Lebanon. The profits of the deal were then used to supply the Contra guerrillas in Nicaragua).
In the current strategy the US administration hopes to scare Iran into negotiation regarding details of a future constitution and government in Iraq.
Contrary to the exaltation of a section of the Iranian opposition, intoxicated by an increase in the Pentagon budget for Iranian opposition groups, as long as the Iraq situation is not resolved it is unlikely that the US would contemplate a military attack on Iran.
Of course this does not mean that Dick Cheney’s plan B, i.e., an attack on Iran’s nuclear plants by the Israeli air force, could be ruled out.
At the moment the main issue remains the future of Iraq and the bargaining will be directly related to Iran’s interference there.