Very quickly, in between things...another edition of "next week's discussions, this week." Today's article in al-Hayat
is the latest in a near-flood of allegations of cooperation between
Iran and al-Qaeda in Iraq in certain Arab media outlets. It's a
fairly obvious propaganda move, interesting because of what it signals
about emerging political lines coming out of Anbar, Baghdad, Riyadh and Washington rather than because anything is really
going on. But it's worth noting that these claims are proliferating -
what's the deal?
It is key to note that virtually all of the allegations are coming from the Awakenings and/or the Saudi media. The allegations have been made before, most notably by the Awakenings figure Abu Azzam al-Tamimi
on the Saudi TV station al-Arabiya's key anti-AQ propaganda program
'Death Makers' in January. They really started proliferating a few
weeks ago - shortly after Condoleeza Rice's trip to Baghdad, for what
it's worth, and in line with the increasing focus by American officials
on Iran's negative role in Iraq. Over the last week, Ali Hatem of the
Anbar Salvation Council accused Tehran of supporting AQI and called on the government to close the Iranian embassy, while ASC head Ahmed Abu Risha accused the Iranian embassy of funding terrorist groups in Iraq. Today Abu Abed, the head of the al-Amariya Awakening who barely escaped an assassination attempt over the weekend, claimed Iranian support for a new AQI unit. Meanwhile, al-Arabiya's 'Death Makers' ran a two-part program (April 18 and 25) which featured an "ex-AQI" figure claiming, among other things, Iranian backing for AQI. Note - in this context, Ayman al-Zawahiri's extended discourse on Iran in last week's tape may be relevant as well.]
That sounds like a lot, but again it's important to note that almost
all of this comes from the same two self-interested sources:
Awakenings leaders and the Saudi media. I doubt that these allegations
are proliferating right now because there is actually support for AQI
from Tehran. I've seen little evidence to suggest that, at any rate,
other than what's on offer from these sources. Far more likely is that
the Awakenings and Anbar Salvation Council leaders are looking for a
way to combine their two enemies - AQI and Iran - in a way which allows
them to cooperate with the Maliki government despite viewing the latter
as both sectarian Shia and pro-Iranian. Back when AQI started
attacking the Awakenings people,
many of them muttered that it was really Iranian-backed militias - i.e.
within the Iraqi security forces - carrying out the attacks. This is a
way to make the same basic anti-Iranian argument without implicating
the Iraqi government.
The palpable anti-Iranian and anti-Shia sentiment among the Awakenings has been a major concern all along, since it so obviously bodes ill for the future prospects of sectarian peace. It's a major reason why so many of us have been skeptical about the long-term prospects of the Awakenings strategy - it's hard to see much reconciliation coming out of groups which denounce the current Iraqi government as the "agent of the Iranian occupation." This "Iran-AQI" rhetoric gives them a more politically acceptable way to demand that the Iranian embassy be closed and to denounce Iran's influence in Iraq. It's not insignificant that they would see an interest in making such a move, I would add - particularly as they jockey for a role in official Iraqi politics whether via provincial elections or through other means (such as their thus-far-thwarted efforts to expel the Islamic Party from Anbar by force or to be appointed to fill the Sunni positions in Maliki's government). The Iran accusations buttress their own claims against AQI at a time when by many accounts their internal cohesion is fraying and they face grumbling within their ranks.
There are probably other reasons, as well. They no doubt understand
full well how such rhetoric might please Washington (which pays their bills), and certain
American politicians who are more likely to give them unlimited support
without strings attached. And it clearly serves the interests of the
Saudis, who are facing their own issues over how to reconcile their
worries about Iran with their skepticism about the Maliki government,
and who would much prefer that Iran receive the blame for AQI rather
than, say, Saudi Arabia.
This all seems to be a relevant context to the sudden rise of "Iran-AQI" rhetoric coming out of the Awakenings and amplified by the Saudi media. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this propaganda begin to blow back into the American debate soon - whether in support of McCain or as part of a campaign to confront Iran - so it's worth paying attention now to what's bubbling up.
Would write more but I'm now late for a meeting... [update: some edits finally made, despite the best efforts of my piece of cr*p Dell laptop to prevent accomplishing anything... I definitely need a new iBook. Sorry.]