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Simple Calculus: Why Iran Won in Iraq

By Morgan Strong
March 29, 2007

Editor’s Note: In many ways President George W. Bush’s failure in Iraq was preordained before he ordered the invasion in March 2003. The war was a deadly mix of wishful thinking and cultural ignorance. Even when the early predictions of a flower-strewn Iraqi welcome proved false, Bush pressed ahead. [See, for instance,’s “Bay of Pigs Meets Black Hawk Down.”]

In this guest essay, Middle East expert Morgan Strong says the “simple calculus” of Iraq’s population also guaranteed that the ultimate victor would be Iran:

There are two fundamental truths about the war in Iraq. The first is that the administration did not tell the American people the true reasons for this war. Whether it was through deliberate lies or by false intelligence, the consequence is equal. The second is that the democratic election that took place in Iraq in 2005 was a victory for the majority Shiite, and for their sponsors, Iran.

The administration insisted on early elections to demonstrate the Iraqi populace was prepared and eager for democratic governance. The election may have been free and democratic, but the results of the elections established the contrary.

Iran through its surrogate Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi army provided money and influence, and if necessary coercion, to assure the election of their chosen candidates. Those Shiite candidates won majority control of the Iraqi government.

These elected representatives are tangentially controlled by Iran. Neither Iran nor those elected Shiite representatives who are in control the Iraqi government want a secular democratic state established in Iraq. This Iraqi government wants an Islamic state, modeled after Iran’s to be established in Iraq.

The administration insists the Iraqi government reduce the influence of al-Sadr and his Mahdi Militia if it hopes to maintain American support. The government of Iraq neither wants American support nor an American presence. American support and presence are contrary to its and Iran’s interests.

The government of Iraq has failed to meet a series of demands imposed by President George W. Bush. Of most importance is the Iraqi governments failure to provide competent, and sufficient, military strength to fight the insurgency, disarm the Mahdi militia, and reduce the influence of Mqutada al-Sadr. That has failed simply because the Shi’a insurgents, the Mahdi Militia and Muqtada al-Sadr are the government.

The government of Iraq will not destroy the Militia that provides it protection and influence. The Iraqi government’s failures are not failures, but a deliberate tactic.

If the administration were now to direct the Iraqi military, and the Mahdi militia controlled by Muqtada al-Sadr, to attack the Sunni insurgents they would willingly do so. The majority of the new Iraqi army is Shi’a and is now, or were, members of the Mahdi Militia.

Attacking the Sunni insurgents would not be in America’s interest. Destroying the Sunni paramilitary by the use of either American forces, or the Iraqi army would only advance the interests of Iran, and allow Shi’a, dominance over substantial new territory.

The administration’s insistence on early elections in Iraq for domestic political purpose, created an untenable, insoluble dilemma. The administration should have understood, in the simple calculus of probability, that the Shi’as would win the election by a large margin.

U.S. officials also should have anticipated that a government formed by that election would be supported by and allied with Iran. They clearly should have known Iran’s ambitions in Iraq. Seemingly, they did not.

The administration can do nothing now that would salvage American interests in Iraq. Too many irredeemable and inexplicable blunders were made far too early.

The increase in American troops, which the administration believes will end the Shi’a insurgency, was destined to failure before it began. The American troops are positioned almost entirely in Shiite controlled territory, but have failed to sufficiently engage the Mahdi militia in force.

The militia has faded into the populace from where it comes. The Militia knows it cannot win using tactics the American military wants it to use. The strength, and elemental principle of any insurgency is the ability to protect its integrity by disappearing into the supportive population in the face of superior force.

The government of Iraq – supported by Muqtada al-Sadr, now safely in Iran, and his Militia – will keep stalling until America’s patience with the war is exhausted and the troops are withdrawn.

Morgan Strong was an adviser on the Middle East to CBS News “60 Minutes,” and other television network news broadcasts. He is a former Professor of Middle Eastern History at Mercy College and S.U.N.Y.

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