By Joshua Holland
Posted on February 12, 2007, Printed on February 13, 2007
At the risk of being repetitive, let me again say that the "left's" -- for lack of a better term -- crucial error in the lead-up to the war with Iraq was accepting the argument that an invasion would be justified -- legally and morally -- if Saddam Hussein possessed WMD.
That meant that we were debating the intelligence, and hawks within the administration always had more access to it than any of us outside the government did. We lost that debate when we accepted its terms -- the response should have been that Iraq was a piss-poor country that was well contained whether or not it had some old stocks of gas or germs buried in some hole somewhere.
So here we come to Iran. As everyone and their cousin has pointed out, it's just like the last time around, with anonymous government sources using dubious intelligence to blame Iran for the occupation's woes. We even have the same reporters carrying the neocons' water this time around as did the last.
We certainly have to counter the administration's claims. The briefing given in Baghdad doesn't add up; even if it did, we're still talking about 5 percent of U.S. fatalities; there's no smoking gun, and weapons manufactured in Iran could have come into Iraq via Hezbollah or could have been acquired on the international arms market; the focus on Iran is a distraction, and ignores evidence that the Saudis are lending support to the Sunni insurgents responsible for the lion's share of American casualties -- all of these are important points to make.
But let's not forget to make the bigger argument: even if Iran is furnishing weapons to Shiite militias, it's not a legitimate casus belli. I'll skip the fact that international law guarantees all people the right to resist armed occupation and go to the real heart of the matter: in the bloody mess that Iraq has become, the U.S. and Tehran are backing the same factions. We're on the same page with Tehran -- we're allies, or at least strange bedfellows.*
Recall Bush's typically simplistic narrative of what went wrong in Iraq, from his speech in January:
Al Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's elections posed for their cause. And they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis … in a calculated effort to provoke Iraq's Shia population to retaliate.
Tehran would not argue with that.
Within the Shia community, there are pro-Iranian factions -- represented most visibly by SCIRi and the Dawa party in the parliament and the Badr Organization on the streets, and nationalists like Moktada al-Sadr, who chafes at the idea of either Iranian or U.S. influence.
The administration has declared the Mahdi Army to be the leading cause of instability in Iraq, and Tehran sees it as an obstacle to Iran's growing influence in the region.
Tehran's closely allied with SCIRI -- the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. In December, Bush hosted SCIRI leader Abdul-Aziz Al-Hakim, and said of him:
This is a man whose family suffered unbelievable violence at the hands of the dictator, Saddam Hussein … yet rather than being bitter, he's involved with helping the new government succeed.
…I appreciate so very much His Eminence's commitment to a unity government. I assured him the United States supports his work and the work of the Prime Minister to unify the country. Part of unifying Iraq is for the elected leaders and society leaders to reject the extremists that are trying to stop the advance of this young democracy.
Those fawning remarks were about the Shiite faction that Iran wants to see prevail in Baghdad.
So, yeah, they may be training and arming members of Iraq's Shiite militias, and some of the weapons may end up killing American GIs. But so are we. The difference is that Iran is training and arming the Shiite groups we've decided are the good guys (the pro-Iranian militias), whereas we're arming and training the Mahdi Army, who we've declared the leading cause of strife in Iraq (see previous link).
Whether the information we're getting is solid or not -- and as bizarre as it may seem -- Iran's on roughly the same side as we are in Iraq, so where's the problem?
*This is, of course, somewhat over-simplified, but when has that gotten in the way of a good political argument?
Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer.