Iran is working quietly but feverishly to prevent the total collapse of order in Baghdad and the hasty departure of US forces. Some policy experts in Tehran say a full-blown civil war in Iraq would constitute a "catastrophic development" for Iranian geopolitical interests.
A scheduled November 13 policy speech by British Prime Minister Tony Blair was widely expected to contain a call for the United States to engage Iran and Syria on ways to stem the spiraling violence in Iraq and, more broadly, to promote Middle East peace. The Bush administration has long been hostile to both Iran and Syria, but the sweeping gains made by opposition Democrats during the recent US congressional elections are exerting considerable pressure on Bush to reevaluate his foreign policies. Bush was due to meet November 13 with a panel of experts in Washington, known as the Iraq Study Group, which is reviewing US policy options toward Baghdad.
The Iranian government wasted little time in spreading word that it was prepared to hold direct talks with the United States on Iraq stabilization issues. Government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham told journalists November 13 that Tehran was hoping Washington "would make a revision of its anti-Iranian attitude," the official IRNA news agency reported.
From Iran's standpoint, Iraq's current situation represents a two-pronged challenge: one, Iranian officials are eager to prevent a widening of sectarian violence between Shi'a and Sunni Muslims; and, two, Tehran does not want to see a precipitous departure of US troops in Iraq.
As recently as September, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that the "unwanted guests [US troops] must leave the region as soon as possible." But as Iraq careens toward civil war, Iranian officials, along with the leaders of other Middle Eastern states, seem to have publicly softened their rhetoric concerning the US military presence.
"Iranian leaders are as terrified of a hasty US departure as everyone else in the area. They just pretend otherwise," said a political scientist in Tehran who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The political scientist added that a "country-wide civil war in Iraq
Kamal Nazer Yasin is a pseudonym for a freelance journalist specializing in Iranian affairs.