Reuel Marc Gerecht, writing in the Weekly Standard, explains why events in southern Iraq -- which is part of the Shi'ite crescent -- matter to Teheran. Gerecht writes:
President Bush's surge caught the Iranians off-guard and turned what had been a winning situation for Iran in Iraq--multiple Shiite parties dependent upon Iranian aid and good will in a savage battle against Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda--into a potentially huge defeat for Tehran. Barring a strike by President Bush against Iran's nuclear sites before January 2009, Iraq is the only arena where the administration is capable of moving effectively against Tehran.
The success of the Surge has had two effects: it is at once a regional setback for Teheran's expansionary policies and secondly, a domestic defeat for the idea of theocracy.
It is a very good bet that Sistani and other prominent Iraqi clerics have remonstrated vociferously with their Iranian interlocutors in Qom against Iranian-fed violence among Iraqi Shiites. We can see the Iranian side of this in former president Mohammad Khatami's accusing Khamenei virtually by name of spilling Shiite blood in Iraq and turning Iran's Islamic revolutionary message into a call for violence and upheaval beyond its borders. Khatami's recent speech at Gilan University is an astonishing sermon from a man not known for boldness.
In the time remaining to it, the Bush administration should do all it can to reinforce this Shiite dissent and outrage. The surge aside, it is the most effective vehicle for checking Iran in Iraq and stabilizing Iraqi politics. The U.S. government should broadcast as loudly as possible any and all information showing Tehran's complicity in the death of Iraqi Shiites. If the United States can again arrest members of the Revolutionary Guards Corps inside Iraq, it should do so, interrogate them rigorously, and make the information public. The tide may have turned for good against Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, with potentially huge ramifications for hearts and minds throughout the Sunni Arab world. The clerics in Tehran could be dealt out of the inner circles of Iraqi Shia politics. With continued progress in Iraq, the next administration would be in a position to turn its full attention to thwarting Iran elsewhere in the region--and to preventing the mullahs from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Readers know I have made this argument before. While I don't believe that a physical invasion of Iran is in the works, unless in reaction to aggression by Teheran such as a closure of the Strait of Hormuz, I think that Teheran can effectively be hurt by nurturing a rival, pro-Western and democratic political power center in the Shi'ite world.
Iran considers southern Iraq an extension of its territory; a kind of Sudetenland. But that assumption cuts both ways. Because the revolving door opens in both directions -- literally in this case because millions of pilgrims transit the border in either direction -- the pathway for subversion is bidrectional. Creating an independent power center in Southern Iraq is to the Ayatollahs what Mao's stronghold in Yenan was to the Kuomintang, or the Confederate capital in Montgomery, Alabama was to the Union in 1861.
The Belmont Club is supported largely by donations from its readers.