New Secretary of State Robert Gates has met with US commanders in Iraq and found them cautious of a proposal to infuse Iraq with more troops. The commanders don’t want a boost in troop levels without a clear mandate for those troops. The commanders clearly understand that another 20 000 troops will not rectify the situation without a clear strategy.

President Bush has echoed the sentiment, saying he is open to a troops increase with a clear mission.

It’s yet another confirmation that the US is looking to exit from Iraq in the next 10-14 months. The idea of increasing US troops to train Iraqi forces is gaining more and more popularity, with US troops incapable of stabilizing the civil uprisings in the US-supported democracy.

A new strategy in Iraq will be announced by President Bush in January; it remains to be seen whether the US President will go along with suggestions from the Iraq Study Group, which he commissioned. A temporary troops increase can be expected, with the longer-term goal of exiting Iraq. The most salient question is whether the US will deal with Iran or Syria directly.

With the US asking that a resolution on Iran be passed at the UN Security Council before the weekend, Iran may not be approached directly. However, the US may opt to talk to Syria, leaving it to Syria to directly engage with Iran.

Iran may also chose to make its own move, before the US announces its strategy: President Ahmadinejad has already met with his Iraqi counterpart, discussing how Iran could help stabilize the new democracy. With recent municipal elections leaning toward moderates like Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad needs to adjust his policies, if he wishes to serve a second term. One way would be to cooperate with Iraq and remain open to talks with US.

No sympathy for Iran

December 14, 2006

Tehran’s two day conference on the Holocaust has come to an end, with world leaders heavily criticizing Iran for staging a conference around Holocaust denial. Notably, Russian foreign ministry has said that it shares the UN’s determination to not deny the Holocaust.

The conference has raised eyebrows everywhere with the Iranian government inviting questionable speakers including David Durke of the Ku Klux Klan as one of its presenters. Without a doubt, the two-day event was meant as a statement to Israel, with Iranian President Ahmadinejad saying that Israel would soon disappear just like the Soviet Union once did. However, this is not effective diplomacy and it’s not likely to win Iran any international support, when it has an opportunity to play a bigger regional role with an opportunity in Iraq.

Instead of playing the role of a moderate, Iran is simply portraying itself as an extremist state; criticizing Israel is one thing, but denying its existence based on a denial of the Holocaust is unacceptable. Leaders of Britain, Canada, Russia, the US and others are right to severely criticize the action.

While Ahmadinejad may have received the headlines he was working for, he did not get favorable coverage. Considering Iran’s recent foreign policy success — getting Iraqi President Talabani to visit Tehran officially — the government has now made a step backwards with the political failure of holding the conference. And without a doubt it will not stop foreign audiences from perceiving the Iranian government as a group of extremists who cannot be trusted.

While Europe (in consultation with US) is looking to soften the proposed UN resolution on Iran, to accommodate opposition from Russia and China, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert called for dramatic steps to be taken against Iran. Understandably, the Israeli leader’s remarks come in light of repeated anti-Israeli statements by Iranian President Ahmadinejad. The Israeli PM said that inl light of Ahmadinejad’s statements, he is not even ruling out a military strike against Iran.

“I expect significantly more dramatic steps to be taken. Here is a leader who says openly that it is his aim to wipe Israel off the map. Israel is a member of the United Nations,” said Olmert.

Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israeli rhetoric is certainly unacceptable and is intended for a domestic audience in Iran. But the rhetoric must be contextualized; the Iranian President’s statements are made in solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Part of the issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the lack of agreement on which territories would go to Palestine if a two-state solution is put forward: Jerusalem holds historically significant sites both for Israelis and Palestinians. So Ahmadinejad is making loud remarks, but he does not mean to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, because in so doing he would be destroying Palestine as well.

This is the reason that Ahmadinejad’s radical anti-Israeli remarks are made domestically and not when Ahmadinejad is exercising diplomacy internationally. The Iranian President’s discourse has, notably, been remarkably different when he traveled to New York to address the UN General Assembly.

Iraqi President Talabani has not been able to leave Iraq to meet with his Iranian counterpart, Ahmadinejad, for a crucial meeting which could set the framework for Iraq’s future. However, Ahmadinejad is not stopping his active foreign policy of involving Iran in solving Iraq’s problems; this time, the Iranian President has offered to help the US with its woes in Iraq.

The president said Iran is ready to help if the US stops “bullying” and “invading” in the region.

In the meantime, a spokesman for the foreign ministry denied the idea that Iran plans a summit between Iran, Syria and Iraq, without going into any details. The statement could be meant as an incentive for the US to accept Iran’s offer: if Tehran actually holds a three-way summit, it will be a major failure of US foreign policy in Iraq.

The US must seriously consider the offer: all of its efforts to restore stability to Iraq have backfired. For example, with security bolstered in Baghdad this week the country plunged into one of the deadliest weeks in the US-led occupation, with hundreds dead on a single day.

Iran Takes the Lead

November 22, 2006

The Associated Press learned Monday that Iranian President Ahmadinejad had invited his counterparts in Syria and Iraq for a summit to discuss ending violence in Iraq. On Tuesday, Syria and Iraq completely restored diplomatic relations after years of severed ties. With this restoration of ties, the Syrian govenment has accepted that US troops will stay in Iraq as long as the country requires them.

It is clear that some sort of meeting will be taking place this weekend between the Iraqi and Iranian leadership, and instead of applauding the effort the White House is being cautious and saying that Iran and Syria must back up their discourse with real actions.

It is also clear that if the hypothetical three-way summit takes place, it will be a major political victory for Iran. The idea of Iran and Syria working to restore stability to Iraq has been around for several weeks, with British Prime Minister Blair favoring it. However, no one has said yes to the plan, citing the need for change in Iran and Syria. With the meeting taking place, Iran would take the lead in establishing the framework of its (and Syria’s) participation in the new Iraq. This is crucial, because the framework would be pre-set without US or British influence and it would be difficult for the US or Britain to assert themselves.

Tuesday’s diplomatic agreement between Syria and Iraq was the first step in making the three-way summit a reality. The next significant step will be taken on Sunday when Ahmadinejad meets with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in Tehran to discuss the eventuality of the summit and its details.