Jan 29, 2007

New Iranian Initiatives in Iraq

The U.S. will doubtless see this as "unhelpful."

Iran's ambassador to Baghdad outlined an ambitious plan on Sunday to greatly expand its economic and military ties with Iraq — including an Iranian national bank branch in the heart of the capital — just as the Bush administration has been warning the Iranians to stop meddling in Iraqi affairs.

Iran's plan, as outlined by the ambassador, carries the potential to bring Iran into further conflict here with the United States, which has detained a number of Iranian operatives in recent weeks and says it has proof of Iranian complicity in attacks on American and Iraqi forces.

The ambassador, Hassan Kazemi Qumi, said Iran was prepared to offer Iraq government forces training, equipment and advisers for what he called "the security fight." In the economic area, Mr. Qumi said, Iran was ready to assume major responsibility for Iraq reconstruction, an area of failure on the part of the United States since American-led forces overthrew Saddam Hussein nearly four years ago.

"We have experience of reconstruction after war," Mr. Qumi said, referring to the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. "We are ready to transfer this experience in terms of reconstruction to the Iraqis."

They have experience of reconstruction after war -- but apparently insufficient grasp of the perceptions of U.S. policymakers towards Iranian initiatives in Iraq.

He ridiculed the evidence that the American military has said it collected, including maps of Baghdad delineating Sunni, Shiite and mixed neighborhoods — the kind of maps, American officials have said, that would be useful for militias engaged in ethnic slaughter. Mr. Qumi said the maps were so common and easily obtainable that they proved nothing. ...

In a surprise announcement, Mr. Qumi said Iran would soon open a national bank in Iraq, in effect creating a new Iranian financial institution right under the Americans' noses. A senior Iraqi banking official, Hussein al-Uzri, confirmed that Iran had received a license to open the bank, which he said would apparently be the first "wholly owned subsidiary bank" of a foreign country in Iraq. ...

He would not provide specifics on Iran’s offer of military assistance to Iraq, but said it included increased border patrols and a proposed new "joint security committee."

Any Iranian military assistance to Iraq would be fraught with potential difficulties. Aside from provoking American objections, such assistance could further alienate Sunni Arabs, many of whom already suspect that Iran, overwhelmingly Shiite, is encouraging Iraq’s Shiite-led government in persecuting them.

A number of American and Iraqi officials said Sunday that it was difficult to respond to Mr. Qumi's statements until they had been communicated through official routes. A spokesman for the American Embassy in Baghdad, Lou Fintor, declined to address the statements.

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