Iran’s triple mistakes in Syria, Iraq and Bahrain
Fearing isolation as a new geopolitical landscape takes shape in the Middle East; the Khomeinist regime is still clinging to three forlorn hopes.
The first is to save the Ba’athist regime in Damascus even if that means accepting a financial burden that Iran’s crippled economy could ill afford.
The second is to prevent the re-emergence of Iraq as a viable state and a potential rival. The third is to transform the socio-political crisis in Bahrain into a power grab for itself.
In Syria, the mullahs’ strategy is to portray the uprising as a Western conspiracy to punish a regime supposed to be part of “the resistance”. The claim is that the United States and its allies wish to exclude actual or potentially unfriendly powers such as Iran, Russia and China from the region.
The mullahs hope to delay the fall of the Assad regime so that they have more time to confirm their foothold in southern Iraq, their second hope.
Emboldened by the victory of their Syrian brethren, the people of Iraq might decide that their country is potentially strong enough to avoid partial or total domination by Iran.
Tehran’s plan for Iraq is to encourage the creation of a Shi’ite enclave in the south in the name of federalism. That would enable Tehran to dominate the Shi’ite theological centre in Najaf thus pre-empting a possible challenge to the Khomeinist ideology.
It is clear that Ali Khamenei, the “Supreme Guide” of the Khomeinist regime, lacks the qualifications to be marketed as a religious leader for Iraqi Shi’ites. This is why Iranian security services are working on a scenario under which a mid-ranking mullah is cast in the role of ayatollah and marja al-taqlid (source of emulation) for Iraqi Shi’ites.
The mullah in question is Mahmoud Shahroudi who has been on the payroll of the Iranian government for three decades. Initially, he was member of a guerrilla group created by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) to fight Saddam Hussein. He then started wearing a mullah’s outfit and transformed himself into a cleric. Currently, he heads an advisory committee attached to Khamenei’s office.
While Tehran is trying to annex Syria with money and arms shipments to the Assad regime, the plan for Iraq is domination through a religious network backed by paramilitary groups controlled by the IRGC.
The plan for Bahrain is, in a sense, more straightforward because it aims at the annexation of the archipelago on the basis of Iran’s historic claims.
In an editorial last Tuesday, the daily Kayhan, published by Khamenei’s office, had a front page banner headline asserting that “Bahrain Is A Piece of Iran’s Body”. The editorial claimed, “A majority of the people of Bahrain regard Bahrain as part of Iran…. It should return to its original homeland which is Iran.”
In an earlier article, the newspaper recalled the circumstances in 1970 under which Bahrain ceased to be a British protectorate to become an independent state.
In recent weeks, convening supposedly academic conferences to “prove” that Bahrain is part of Iran has become fashionable in Iranian seminaries. According to Khomeinist folklore the Shah’s decision to accept a United Nations’ “assessment mission” to decide the fate of Bahrain had been one of his “greatest treasons”.
One of Khomeini’s first acts after seizing power in 1979 was to create the so-called Bahrain Liberation Army. The group tried to invade Bahrain with a few boats but was stopped by the Iranian navy that was still controlled by Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan’s government. With the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran in November 1979 by “students” and the Iraqi invasion of Iran in September 1980 the idea of conquering Bahrain was put on the backburner.
Tehran’s intervention in Syria, Iraq and Bahrain has had a doubly negative effect.
It Syria, Iranian intervention has increased the human cost of a transition that seems inevitable. That intervention has given what is essentially a domestic struggle for power an external dimension that the Syrian people cannot control.
In Iraq, Iranian intervention has prevented the consolidation of a national consensus that had taken shape after the fall of the Ba’athist regime in 2003 and the bloody struggles of 2004-2009. Iraq is bound to end up finding its way and rebuilding the structures of a state. However, the cost of doing that has been increased by Iranian intervention.
Similarly in Bahrain, it is unlikely that a majority of Bahrainis, who are seeking greater reforms and better power sharing would want to live under Walayat al-Faqih (rule by mullah). Nor would they wish to sacrifice their national interests at the altar of a regime whose fate is under question in Iran itself.
Khamenei’s triple gamble in Syria, Iraq and Bahrain also has a negative effect on Iran’s own interests as a nation state.
As a nation, as a people, Iran has no interest in enabling the Assad regime to kill the Syrians in their own cities and villages. Nor could Iran reap any benefit from sowing dissension and violence in Iraq and preventing a national consensus in Bahrain.
Once again, in these three important cases, the interests of Iran as a nation-state do not coincide with those of Iran as a vehicle for the Khomeinist ideology.