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 Is Iraqi Kurdistan Iranís Trojan Horse? 

  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author


Is Iraqi Kurdistan Iranís Trojan Horse?  4.6.2012 
By Michael Rubin

Michael Rubin. Photo: -
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June 4, 2012

Last month, Max Boot and I debated here about what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malikiís consolidation of power meant. While we disagree on our assessments of Maliki, we do agree that that the Obama administrationís decision to throw the towel in on Iraq was a major strategic blunder, one which bolstered Iranian influence at a crucial time.

About the same time that Max and I were having our back-and-forth, Seyed Azim Hosseini, Iranís consul-general in Iraqi Kurdistan, gave an interview in which he revealed that 70 percent of Iranís Iraq trade is with Iraqi Kurdistan:

ďĎThe volume of trade between the two countries is officially $7 billion, but we believe the actual number in general is more than $10 billion, out of which 70 percent is with the Kurdistan Region.í Hosseini said there are 500 active Iranian companies in the Region, and the number is increasing steadily.Ē

While journalists have reported on Kurdistan Regional Government oil smuggling to Iran, the proportion cited by Hosseini surprised me, so I check the figured with the Iraqi embassy in Washington; they confirmed the 70 percent.

There is an unfortunate tendency among the Washington foreign policy elite to be swayed by suave English-speaking representatives. Sen. Arlen Specter and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, for example, too often took Bashar al-Assad at his word and so became useful idiots to a tyrannical regime. Qubad Talabani, Iraqi Kurdistanís outgoing representative, massaged a bipartisan array of politicians, and helped channel senior retired generals and congressmen to Kurdistan where they were wined and dined in a highly stage-managed junket. Many U.S. senators swear by Barham Salih, a former Patriotic Union of Kurdistan representative who rose to the Kurdish premiership. In the wake of the U.S. withdrawal, Barham has cozied up with Muqtada al-Sadr in an effort to form an anti-Maliki coalition.

Three lessons can be drawn by Kurdistanís pivot:

(1) Exposure of Middle Eastern politicians to the West does not make them more Western; rather, it enables them to adopt a patina of liberalism in order to fool interlocutors.

(2) Even if they are sincerely pro-Western (as I believe both Qubad and Barham are), such orientations go out the window when it comes to political survival. When the Americans are not present in strength, even the most pro-American peoples will make their accommodation with Americaís enemies.

(3) To assume that the Shiíites will be Fifth Columnists is to display willful blindnessóthe Iranian regime will find many mechanisms to extend their interests, be they among Christians in Armenia, or Sunni Muslims in Kurdistan. Most Shiíites have reason to resent Iran, although too often anti-Shiíite sentiment among senior American officials forces them back into Iranís embrace.

One thing should be clear, however: For America to lose Iraqi Kurdistan to the Iranians suggests the hemorrhaging of U.S. influence under President Obama is far worse than many in Washington would like to acknowledge.

Michael Rubin
is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute AEI. His major research area is the Middle East, with special focus on Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Kurdish society. He also writes frequently on transformative diplomacy and governance issues. At AEI, Mr. Rubin chaired the "Dissent and Reform in the Arab World" conference series. He was the lead drafter of the Bipartisan Policy Center's 2008 report on Iran. In addition to his work at AEI, several times each month, Mr. Rubin travels to military bases across the United States and Europe to instruct senior U.S. Army and Marine officers deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan on issues relating to regional state history and politics, Shiism, the theological basis of extremism, and strategy. Tweet Michael Rubin @mrubin1971

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