In the Arena

Iran’s Iraq?

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I’m just catching up with some important news out of Iraq: the two exclusively Shi’ite political parties seem destined to form a government, joined by the Kurds, leaving Ayad Allawi’s secular-Sunni coalition–which received the most votes–out in the cold.

This is potentially dangerous in several different ways:

The biggest potential problem is the exclusion of Sunnis from power. This could lead to another round of civil warfare between Sunnis and Shi’ites. It is a good sign that the Shi’ite coalition has invited Allawi’s Iraqiya party into the government–but that may be a pro forma invitation and it remains to be seen what, if any, policy-making role Allawi will be offered. It also remains to be seen who will emerge as the next Iraqi prime minister.

But there is also the potential of Iranian meddling. The junior partner in the Shi’ite coalition is the Iraqi National Alliance, which is an amalgam of two groups–Muqtadar Sadr’s organization and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI)–that have had close ties to Iran in the past. It is likely that the former neoconservative darling, Iranian agent and free-range sleazeball Ahmad Chalabi may emerge in a major role in the new government.

It would, of course, be rather ironic if Bush’s war of choice turned Iraq into an ally, or satellite, of Iran. That’s not impossible, but I’m not sure it’s very likely, either: the Persian-Arab ethnic divide between Iran and Iraq is more powerful than their common Shi’ite religious heritage.

The imminent, and welcome, departure of U.S. combat troops means that Iraq has taken a back seat in recent considerations of foreign policy (mea culpa: I’ve been to Afghanistan 3 times since my last trip to Iraq). But I think that the uneasy frenemy status of these two religious friends and ethnic rivals will be crucial to the future stability of the region.