Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is so worried that his country could descend into another round of civil war, and that Iran could ratchet up its power-grab plans, that he has dispatched an adviser to Washington, D.C., to ask Obama to reconsider the withdrawal of U.S. troops later this year.
“Everyone is now preparing for the division of Iraq,” Talabani adviser Wrya Saeed Rwandzi told Newsmax in an interview late last week. “In practical terms, Iraq is already divided,” with Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds living in geographically distinct areas and encouraging internal migration to create more ethnically pure regional entities.
Already, the main Sunni and Shiite political parties in Iraq are controlled by Islamist elements, he said.
“If the U.S. withdraws its troops as scheduled at the end of this year, it will trigger the splitting up of Iraq. There will be civil war, maybe even a regional war. Iran will come in. So will Turkey and Syria. And they will all try to pull Israel in as well. We are very, very worried about foreign interference,” Rwandzi said. “None of our neighbors have an interest in a stable Iraq.”
Talabani is especially worried that Iran will step in to fill the power vacuum created by the U.S. troop departure. Obama made the troop pullout a centerpiece of his 2008 election campaign and has repeatedly promised he will carry it out on schedule by the end of 2011.
“Iran is now the main base of all the terrorist groups in the region,” Rwandzi said. “All the top leaders of al-Qaida are based in Iran. So are many top Taliban leaders. Iran is publicly claiming to lead the terrorist movements of the world. They are seeking to create a Shiite crescent from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon to Gaza. Now they are penetrating the Gulf countries, as you can see in Bahrain.”
Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki clearly doesn’t share Talabani’s worries about Iran. Since his new government took power last year, al-Malaki has invited Iran to play an increasingly open role in Iraq’s internal security affairs. Members of his own government have accused him of packing the Defense Ministry and the Interior Ministry, which al-Malaki controls directly, with Iranian agents.
Just last month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned Iraq not to go through with a long-planned purchase of American fighter jets.
“I can say that Iran now fully controls our parliament and our government,” Rwandzi said. “Iran is competing with the United States for the future of the entire Middle East.”
Iran has also infiltrated Iraqi Kurdistan, and has extensive intelligence and terrorist networks operating there. “They are putting pressure on our leaders, bombarding our border areas, and sending in terror cells,” Rwandzi said. “They threaten us in public.”
And Iran will not be alone in seeking to exploit Iraq’s increasing vulnerability should U.S. troops withdraw as is currently planned. Turkey, Russia, and even China have expanded their commercial, diplomatic, and intelligence operations in Iraq.
“All of them are moving ahead because they see how weak the United States has become and how the United States hesitates in the region,” Rwandzi said. “These foreign players are all anti-democratic.”
Turkey alone has more than 1,000 commercial companies operating in Iraq, generating bilateral trade with Iraq worth tens of billions of dollars every year.
But Talabani sees Turkey as much less of a threat than Iran since it is using dialogue not violence to resolve problems, whereas Iran is trying to impose on Islamic Shariah through coercive means and terror. “Iran is openly fighting the secular democratic forces in the entire region,” Rwandzi said. “They are more dangerous than al-Qaida.”
The Iranians see Obama as weak, because he has done nothing to counter their aggressive expansion into Iraq, Rwandzi argued. “Obama is doing nothing. The U.S. has no clear policy, and is sending contradictory messages. Often this administration can’t seem to distinguish between their friend and their enemy, especially in Iraq.”
He said the U.S. has been backing Sunni leaders who are anti-American, and who continue to preach anti-American hate in their mosques and in their schools. Talabani felt particularly slighted because the Obama administration was lobbying hard to replace him with Ayad Allawi, as a means of breaking the impasse that followed the tied elections last March.
“We see ourselves as a strong ally of the United States, in the circle of freedom-loving countries. We know how much the U.S. has sacrificed for our freedom and to help us create a democracy,” Rwandzi said.
Rwandzi emphasized that President Talabani is committed to democracy, and to defending Iraq’s embattled minority populations, who have been particularly victimized in the latest outbreak of sectarian fighting.
Above all, he said, Iraq’s Kurdish population “want to be a good ally” of the United States.
“Although the democratic forces in Iraq are very weak, they are better than in most other countries in the region,” Rwandzi said. “American support will embolden us to increase our demands for freedom and democratic protections. We need constant, high-level visits from the United States because the region is on fire. We are ready to negotiate the present and the future of Iraq.”
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