Democracy 0, Extremists 1
By: Slater Bakhtavar
â€œDemocracy is not a good that people can enjoy without trouble. It is, on the contrary, a treasure that must be daily defended and conquered anew by strenuous effort.â€ â€“ Ludwig von Mises
After the 2003 US-led military invasion of Iraq, Iranâ€™s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei summoned a war council in Tehran where Iranian officials adopted several initiatives to secure Iranâ€™s short term and long term interests. Iranian security services suggested using Iranian aligned Iraqi-based groups to promote their interests and confront the United States and her allies. One of these organizations is the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (also called â€œSCIRIâ€), now the most powerful party in Iraq.
The SCIRI is one of an array of groups trained, funded and promoted by the Iranian government. Since its inception in 1982, Iran has welcomed thousands of their members, including former leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim. The prime objective of the Shia dominated group was toppling Saddam Husseinâ€™s Baathist regime and establishing an Islamic Republic of Iraq.
Armed with tactical weapons provided by Iranâ€™s Revolutionary Guards the SCIRI maintained about eight thousand fighters on the border if Iraq. During Saddamâ€™s reign agents of the SCIRI conducted hundreds of low level cross border guerilla warfare missions. When their leader, Ayatollah Muhammad Baqr al-Hakim was assassinated his brother Abel Aziz Al-Hakim took the helm, commanding some ten thousand former militia members to enhance their presence in Iraq.
After the invasion about ten thousand members of the SCIRIâ€™s military wing the Badr Brigades poured into Iraq from the north, south and center to seize towns and government buildings. With guidance and support from Iran they setup secret intelligence cells throughout the nation. They took positions including ranking intelligence posts inside the cabinet of the Interior Ministry, and they presently control about forty to fifty percent of the Iraqi police.
With an elected Shiite-dominated government in control and the U.S. concentrating on the Sunni-led insurgency, Iran has used its influence inside of Iraq to undermine democratic institutions and step up sectarian violence. The Iraqi Interior Ministry has become an Iranian fifth column with the Iraqi government running death squads and operating secret prisons. According to US military intelligence, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards run a broad based heavily funded insurgency with the sole purpose of killing U.S. led forces. These terror tactics have severely undermined the success of a broad based coalition led democratic government.
General George W. Casey recently said â€œThey’re putting millions of dollars into the south to influence the elections … it’s funded primarily through their charity organizations and also Badr and some of these political partiesâ€¦. A lot of their guys (Badr) are going into the police and military.” In southern Iraq, groups funded by Iran have already forcefully implemented Sharia laws, including the banning alcohol and curbing the rights of women. A police lieutenant said “From the beginning, the Islamic parties filled the voidâ€¦. They still hold the real power. The rank and file all belong to the parties. Everyone does. You can’t do anything without them.”
It is an axiom in Iraq, across the Middle East and elsewhere, that Iran is seeking to destabilize Iraq and mold its domestic politics. Even though Iraq has become endangered by this illegal, heavy infiltration, it is too early to rule democracy a failure. But if Washington is serious about confronting the extremists it needs to think bigger and talk smaller. The Bush Administration made a broad range of mistakes in the Middle East including an ill-prepared post-war plan, waiting too long to reach to out to the Sunni minority, not having an organized broad based pro-democracy initiative, lacking sufficient pre and post war intelligence, and not doing more to support a democratic domino effect in the region.
The appointment of Robert Gates as Defense Secretary and the Democratic victory in the mid-term elections has enhanced the possibility of broad range negotiations with Iran on security in Iraq and Iranâ€™s nuclear program. President Bush, although constitutionally still in charge of foreign policy, has witnessed his administrationâ€™s democratic Middle East doctrine suffer several moral and technical setbacks. Broad range negotiations with Iran and Syria may lead to temporary stabilization of Iraq but the decision will haunt the United States and its allies for decades. If and when the United States begins broad based negotiations with Iran and Syria the nail will be placed in the coffin of a democratic Iraq and a partitioned Islamic Republic of Iraq may become a reality.
The dictatorship in Iran will be farther empowered and their oppressive reign prolonged for decades. Neither broad range negotiations, war on Iran or massive troop withdrawal should be part of the solution. Implementation of the Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James Baker III, to reassess Iraq is a step in the right direction but it should not exclude broad range support for pro-Democracy movements in the region.
If the United States and the Iraqi people surrender, they will embolden extremists across the world, stifle the democratic domino effect, intensify international terrorist activity, and encourage extremists in their battle to defeat democracy.