As US targets Iraq, key rebels balk
In rare interview, Iraqi opposition leader rejects the "Afghan model" of intervention.
(Page 2 of 2)
Afghanistan is also a sore point: "Iran had a bad experience at the end of the Afghan war," says Dodge. "They helped, but at the end, the US tried to foist a US-client state on Iran. They are not going to let that happen in Iraq."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
On the surface, the aims of SCIRI, Iran, and the US appear to coincide in Iraq. Few dislike Baghdad's rulers more than the Iranians. The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s was started by Saddam Hussein in the early days of Iran's Islamic Revolution.
Few who lived in Tehran at the time forget the rocketing of the capital. Few on the front lines forget how Iraq used chemical weapons against Iranian troops - the spur for Iran's own missile and chemical weapons production.
Still, Iran and SCIRI - which is overseen by Iranian security forces - are trying to gauge the impact of America's saber-rattling against Iraq, and weigh up their own interests. The bottom line: what is the endgame?
"They all wish to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but who will replace him?" says an Iranian analyst who asked not to be named. "The US wants a pro-US government there, but Iran wants a pro-Iran Islamic state and to have influence there."
Ayatollah al-Hakkim insists that SCIRI wants to create a democratic regime in Iraq that includes all its ethnic and religious groups. More than 60 percent of Iraqis share the Shia branch of Islam, along with Iran.
But that mix has caused anxiety in the past. Swift calculations by the US and Saudi Arabia at the end of the Gulf War in 1991 - when Kurdish peshmerga fighters captured all of northern Iraq and marched toward Baghdad, and Shia rebels swept up from the south - first raised hopes, and then dashed them.
President George Bush Sr. promised Iraqis that the US would support their uprising, but then appeared to change his mind when it was clear that chaos - and possibly a Shia-run state allied to Iran - could result. In a history-altering decision, US Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf permitted Iraqi helicopters to fly - ostensibly to collect Iraqi war wounded - and Baghdad brutally crushed the revolt. In another failed US mission, a CIA operation aimed at trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 1996 helped split Kurdish ranks, before it was mopped up by Iraqi troops.
Today the administration calls that legacy "unfinished business." Ayatollah al-Hakkim calls it a reason not to trust the Americans again: "The US in 1991 encouraged the regime to kill the people and stop this uprising," he says.
Complicating the issue further are Iran's views of US imperialism in its back yard. Since the Gulf War, Tehran has complained bitterly about the 20,000 or so US troops and sailors deployed in the Gulf region. The US Navy's Fifth fleet is based in Bahrain. With US forces in Afghanistan, too - and possibly one day in Iraq - they feel squeezed.
"Many Iranian journalists are writing that one of the main reasons the US went to Afghanistan is to check Iran's eastern border," says the Iranian analyst. "They are being sandwiched."
And there is another reason for caution. "Nobody sees Iran participating in a coalition against Iraq," says a Western diplomat in Tehran. "Saddam Hussein is watched by the whole world, so that threat is low. They want Saddam gone, but they fear a disintegration of Iraq out of their control."
That is SCIRI's fear, also. Ayatollah al-Hakkim, with a flourish of his hands, says his forces "will use any new chance that comes to hand" to move against Baghdad, though "nobody can speak of the secrets of the [US] administration."
He has his own hunch, too, which he delivers with the broadest of smiles: "They say they made mistakes in 1991," al-Hakkim says, laughing out loud. "George W. Bush is trying to correct the mistakes of his father."