By M K Bhadrakumar
July 7, 2014
Iranian diplomacy is shifting gear over the situation in Iraq. Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has embarked on a regional tour of the UAE, Kuwait and Oman. Earlier last week, President Hassan Rouhani had separately spoken to the Emir of Qatar.
This follows Abdollahian’s trip to Moscow last week, which he since described as successful in forging a “common and coordinated stance” by the two countries to fight terrorism in Iraq and to help Baghdad protect its “unity, independence and territorial integrity.”
Tehran is deliberately sidestepping Saudi Arabia, which it sees as the principal protagonist in Iraq and Syria by supporting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [ISIL]. It took the unusual step of issuing a statement on Sunday to clarify that the reports regarding the likelihood of a visit by Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif to Saudi Arabia are baseless.
The statement is tantamount to a diplomatic snub to Saudi Arabia, signalling there is nothing to discuss over Iraq as long as the latter continued with its dubious strategy to destabilize Iraq and force a ‘regime change’. Abdollahian’s regional tour in all probability aims at underscoring the real danger of a blowback from Iraq that could impact regional security and stability.
To be sure, he will convey to the three countries, which are key allies of the US, Tehran’s estimation that Washington is playing a double game in Iraq, running with the hare and hunting with the hound. The latest reports from Tehran suggest that Iran has definitely concluded on the basis of hard intelligence available that the Obama administration is Janus-faced when it comes to the Iraq crisis and is seeking ways of making a ‘re-entry’ into that country militarily and politically and to secure economic interests.
Notably, the Basij’s commander Mohammed Reza Naqdi has warned ominously about “the formation of a new resistance front” by Tehran against the US and its regional allies. This is the strongest Iranian warning to Washington so far. Naqdi, who is a powerful figure in Iran’s security establishment, reports directly to Supreme leader Ali Khamenei. The harsh message to Obama is to forthwith call off the dubious ISIL enterprise or face the consequences of ‘resistance’.
Meanwhile, Abdollahian has again refuted the rumours that Iran had despatched troops to Iraq. Of course, these rumours are being generated also by way of smart propaganda disseminated through media channels funded by the US government. Clearly, Tehran apprehends that the rumours are primarily intended to justify the steady, incremental escalation (’mission creep’) in the American military presence in Iraq.
Unsurprisingly, the fog of war is thickening. A number of troubling questions are popping up day by day despite the fog. For one thing, Baghdad has questioned the authenticity of the recent video purportedly showing the ISIL chief Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. If the video is fake stuff, the big question is who is behind it in giving the ISIL a larger-than-life image aimed at catching world attention. Put differently, who stands to gain through scare-mongering?
An altogether new interpretation is available today that the current turmoil in Iraq has been a carefully hatched plot by the US and its regional allies, especially Turkey which is keeping a deafening silence on the Iraq developments. Could the kidnapping of the Turks in their consulate in Mosul, ostensibly by the ISIL, be in reality a stage-managed publicity stunt that projects Ankara as victim rather than as the mentor of the terrorist group? There are no easy answers.
The British paper Daily Mail has featured an exclusive report on the strange decision taken by the Obama administration to let go Al-Baghdadi from prison five years ago in a rare exceptional gesture involving an al-Qaeda suspect. Hmmm… the fog is most certainly thickening.
Again, the latest Iranian reports, picked up by the Russian official media, suggest that the US could be sharing valuable intelligence with the ISIL which would enable the latter to be efficient on the operational front. Indeed, if that is the case, the Obama administration’s despatch of the few hundred American ‘military advisors’ and the deployment of drone aircraft in Iraqi skies assume an altogether new meaning.
Notwithstanding all this, the Obama administration and the US’s regional allies — Saudi Arabia and Ankara in particular — cannot be confident any longer that the ISIL project would help drive out Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki from power. Their best hope was to isolate Maliki within the Shi’ite camp itself. But that is not the way things are moving.
No doubt, it is a severe blow for Washington and Riyadh (and Ankara) that Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani has taken the exceptional step to clarify his pronouncements regarding the prevailing political deadlock in Baghdad and to make it clear that he has not voiced any opposition to Maliki’s continuation as prime minister as such (which is how the Saudi and American media reported the hugely influential and revered Iraqi cleric’s few remarks so far).
The short point is Maliki is very much around and it seems he really meant what he said when he signalled his intent to seek a third term as prime minister. Maliki is digging in, most certainly.