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Parallels Between Iran and Pre-War Iraq


By Rasool Nafisi, Washington DC


Iran is not Iraq, and the year 2006 is not the same as year 2003 for George Bush; but one cannot stop wondering about the uncanny similarities between Iraq at the verge of war, and the present state of affairs in Iran. Parallels are abound:

  • Ahmadinejad's administration, helped by the United States and the EU, has managed to isolate Iran internationally. Only three countries, all third and fourth rate powers, voted against the IAEA reporting of Iran to the Security Council. Iraq experienced a similar isolation in the period ending with war.
  • Clamp down on internal opposition is on the increase, and the IRI is becoming increasingly a univocal system. Autocracy was also in full swing in Iraq before the war.
  • Iranian dissidents feed their selective information and analyses into government agencies and powerful think tanks in DC, and get coverage from major networks. This is reminiscent of the role of Ahmad Chalabi and his cohorts in convincing America before its invasion of Iraq.
  • Ahmadinejad sounds increasingly defiant. For example, in a recent speech, ridiculing the IAEA resolution, he said the resolution was meant to open the Iranian military sites to the Western spies for an estimate of the country's military capability (which might be true). The tenor of these intransigent statements is similar to the Iraqi communiqués in the last three years before the war.
  • Ahmadinejad and his supporters talk frequently about their strategic strength in the Middle East. They feel they have the majority of Muslims behind them. They tend to forget that during the heydays of the revolution, with the exception of arms smugglers, Iranians had no allies in their war against Iraq. They ignore the fact that Iranians are Persian Shi'ites, and Sunni Arabs have never taken them into fellowship of Muslims. As of today, all Arabs including Syria take Iran for an imperialistic power in the Persian Gulf, which has illegally seized three islands from the Arabs. Iran at best is perceived as a rival (if not an enemy and aggressor) by its neighbors, and its decline will make them more happy than sad.
  • Ahmadinejad's anti-Israeli rhetoric might have been intended to gain support from the Muslim masses, which indeed might have. However, aside from some demonstrations and embassy burnings, gaining active support from the Islamists in the region in a likely war against Iran is a different matter altogether. Balance of forces in the region is such that even the most radical groups are busy establishing a foothold in their own national politics. For example, both Hamas and the Iraqi Shi'ite leadership, the two allies that paid homage to Ahmadinejad recently, are hard at work to benefit from the democracy game in their home countries. Hamas is trying to form a government and would need financial and political support from the West. The Iraqi Shi'ites are also enjoying the lion's share of the state in Iraq and would need the backing of the U.S. forces for some times to come. The only remaining force is Hezballah of Lebanon, who has proved to be quite reasonable and calculating at the times of risk and danger. It seems that Iranians are making the same miscalculation as Saddam, who counted on the support from the Arab nationalists, a support that never materialized.
  • Ahmadinejad and some of the military leaders refer to the "lightening speed" and retaliatory power of the Iranian military. The reference is most probably to Iran's large stockpile of Shahab III. Saddam and his military leaders also talked with the same hyperbolical language about their "secret" weapons before the war.
  • On the other hand, the purported Iranian military strategy of sinking ships at the mouth of Persian Gulf and attacking Israel with Shahab III barrages, will definitely backfire and damages Iran the most. Those who advocate such strategy conveniently forget that this will primarily cut off Iran from the rest of the world, and hamper its oil exports. A stoppage of gasoline import alone would create massive unemployment and shortages, and a total halt of traffic and transportation in a country with little public transit capability. Sadly, this echoes the "scorched-earth" strategy of Saddam, and his exaggerated estimate of his military power.
  • Ahmadinejad seems to be out of touch with reality at times. For example, he said, and later denied, that he was surrounded by a "halo" at the UN meeting. Ahmadinejad in this respect is closer to the former Iraqi Information Minister Muhammad Saeed al-Sahaf, than to Saddam himself. However, a Tariq Aziz is missing in his administration. A few days before the war, Aziz said realistically that only a "miracle" could save Iraq from war. Nobody has said that yet in Iran, possibly because they have the emissary of God among them, and he can stop a likely confrontation by a decree at the eleventh hour. May be this is the assigned role of the Supreme Leader who has lately been uncharacteristically silent. He can invoke the "expediency" principle and embrace the IAEA resolution. The late Ayatollah Khomeini surprised everyone when he accepted the UN resolution 598 for a ceasefire with Iraq. This time though accepting the resolution of the IAEA might prove to be more difficult. It could lead to other demands such as elimination of delivery systems capable of carrying nuclear weapons (such as Shahab III); a clause already embedded in the IAEA resolution. Such a demand of course would meet resistance from Iranians, and make the emulation of Ayatollah Khomeini's act of drinking "the challis of poison" even harder, and a compromise less reachable.


About the author: The author is the professor of sociology of development at Strayer University, Washington DC. Nafisi contributes to the VOA, BBC, NPR, and the RFERL.



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