Iran's Growing Influence in Middle East Is Aided by US, Says Expert

President Obama’s announcement last month that all U.S. troops in Iraq would be brought home by December was met with enthusiasm by war weary Americans – and the Iranian government. Upon the announcement of a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been flexing Iranian muscle in the vulnerable Middle East region, causing the West great concern of how an Iranian influenced Iraq will shape the future dynamics of the Middle East.

Ahmadinejad accused Washington on Monday of investing in plots to undermine Iran and stirring controversy in the region, according to Reuters. Ahmadinejad says Iran is now able to compete militarily with the West and Israel. He also repeated the statement that Israel, one of America’s greatest ally, has no right to exist and that its end as a nation is inevitable.

"The U.S. fears Iran's capability," he told the Egyptian daily newspaper al-Akhbar.

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"Iran will not permit [anyone from making] a move against it."

The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq will create a power vacuum in the region which is likely to be picked up by Iran. Since 2003, Iranian influence in the country has been steadily creeping, though top Iranian officials claim they are only bolstering their diplomatic and economic ties with Iraq.

The United States, however, fears this is a situation in which Iran is meddling in Iraq’s affairs and sharpening their potential to unravel progress made in the Middle East since 2001.

"Iran wants to make Iraq a weak state," Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, the U.S military spokesman in Iraq, told The Associated Press.

"Iran is feeling increasingly isolated, and one of the ways it can avoid isolation is by co-opting Iraq."

Considering that the two countries are the only Shiite Muslim-led governments in a Sunni-dominated Middle East, Iran and Iraq are bound to have diplomatic connections. However, for Iraq the alliance may be more out of necessity than any desire to be close to the powerful Islamic Republic.

“It’s a mistake for Iraq to call Iran the enemy. It’s a powerful neighbor. Iran will insist on making Iraq bend to its will. If Iraq doesn’t do that, it will pay heavily,” Edward Turzanski , senior fellow at Foreign Policy Research Institute, told The Christian Post.

“Iran is like a bully. You can either stand up to the bully and suffer major consequences or you can try and get on the bully’s good side. That’s what Iraq is trying to do.”

Turzanski explained that the Kurds and Shiites in Iraq are beginning to feel the void that will be left once America leaves.

“They are looking around and saying, ‘well, the U.S. isn’t going to be around. Who’s the other super power that can hurt us? Iran. Now is the time to go cut a deal with them.’”

Three Shiite militias proved to be backed by Iran attacked U.S. troops this year to serve as a warning to the Western superpower not to stay in Iraq longer than the Dec. 31 withdrawal deadline. According to AP, U.S. and Iraqi intelligence officials said Iran supplied the militiamen with weapons, training and millions of dollars in funding. Once the United States leaves, these militiamen will likely gain more power in the country.

It was, however, the United States that initially led Iraq down the path toward Iranian influence. By toppling Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime and allowing Shiite parties to rise in political power, the connection with Iran grew deeper. Iraqi Sunnis, however, are very fearful of Iranian influence.

Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, Iraq's highest-ranking Sunni politician, issued a warning last month, saying that "if neighboring countries" see Iraq as weak, "there will be interference ... This interference does exist now," according to AP. Al-Nujaifi avoided mentioning Iran by name.

Now, some foreign policy pundits believe the U.S. has further handed Iraq over to Iran by withdrawing all American troops by December.

“We have succeeded Iraq to Iran,” said Turzanski.

“This is bad news. Bad news does not get better with age. [Washington officials] have pushed this problem into the future. This will cause other problems to arise and then we will have to deal with it but it will be much more costly. This is similar to how the U.S. disregarded Afghanistan in the 1980s.”

“It is stunning that the [Obama] administration did not renegotiate the status of the Status of Forces Agreement, which would allow U.S. troops to stay in the country. Everyone knew it was going to expire. It’s just a political line the president says that we couldn’t get past the negotiations. Bush did. So it’s strange that Obama, who claims he has persuasive powers, could not find a way to renegotiate that.”

“The president is not invested in the War in Iraq. It’s a political expediency move.” Turzanski said Obama cannot run on his economic or domestic agenda in 2012, so he will try and run on his foreign policy agenda.

While Obama wants to say he kept his campaign promise of bringing troops home, Turzanski cautioned that “he will be doing so over the advice of the generals on the ground.”

“The president didn’t even call Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki. So renegotiating the Status of Forces Agreement could not have been something he tried hard to do.”

Turzanski said that the U.S. decision to withdraw now gives Iran “undue influence in one of the most critical Arab Muslim states in the region.”

“Iran will send a shudder down the spin of the Saudis and other Arab nations as they see Iranian influence grow.”

"Iran has quit the idea of invading Iraq with its military," said resident Bassem Mohammed, a 45-year-old Kurd, who lost a leg in the Iran-Iraq war, to AP.

"Now they are trying to occupy Iraq's politics."

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