Urging Caution on Iranian Machinations in Iraqi Politics

I have a short piece up at the excellent website Tehran Bureau, which is housed by PBS’s Frontline. I was a bit concerned when I opened up TB‘s daily round-up to find three articles promoting the view that Muqtada al-Sadr’s defection to Nuri al-Maliki’s camp in the Iraqi coalition struggle was an example of Iran pulling the strings in Iraq. Many commentators and analysts out there have been more cautious, and I thought the absence of their work made it seem like the ‘Iran calls the shots in Iraq’ perspective was a matter of fact.

I e-mailed the TB‘s founder, Kelly Niknejad, and expressed my doubts. She was gracious enough to ask me to contribute a short piece on my concerns.

You can read the whole thing at TB, but here’s an excerpt:

Though some on the right and left here in the United States have made this accusation [Iran pulls strings], there is little concrete evidence to support it. And there are accordingly many skeptics out there, among them on the right Fouad Ajami and Max Boot, and, on the left, Michael Hanna, whose Atlantic piece on the subject I covered for LobeLog.

Several other theories — and that’s what this talk of a “secret deal” describes: theories (using unnamed and even unidentified sources) — put forth reasons for Sadr’s move. One is that Sadr, after being outside the government for so long, is interested in being able to leverage his significant street power (and parliamentary seats) to gain access to state coffers. This means folding some of his militia into security forces and other things like access to powerful cabinet positions and the like.

In fact, none of the explanations of Iranian pressure have, as of yet, given a rationale for Sadr abandoning his pronounced Iraqi nationalist streak and acquiescing to Iranian demands. One reason for cutting the deal, however, could indicate that this instinct rages on: the alternate coalition often proposed by the press — the Allawi block — is not truly viable and would likely be unable to form a stable coalition to govern. Perhaps Sadr saw his opportunity to play kingmaker as a way to end the impasse that has been dogging Iraq, which would allow the government to truly get on with state business.

[…] It’s all very convoluted, and concrete facts are few and far between.

As I say, I offer nothing but theories and conjecture in this argument, and would note that those who have sealed the deal on Iranian occupation of Iraq do much the same thing. I’m only making a case for a balanced presentation of information that does not portray conjecture and hole-filled reporting as fact.

Thanks to Niknejad and the staff of TB for letting me express my dissent.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.