- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 20, 2007

Elected to the Senate in 1972, Democratic Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware has served on the Foreign Relations Committee for well over a quarter century. He served on the committee throughout the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, and he has been ranking member or chairman for the past 10 years. After regaining the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this year, he has been using this highly visible forum to pursue the Democratic nomination for the presidency. His strategy is to portray himself as the seasoned foreign-policy expert whose knowledge of world affairs in these troubled times would serve the nation well as commander in chief.

Considering himself an expert on the Middle East, Mr. Biden has taken the lead in opposing President Bush’s policy in Iraq. He also has threatened “a constitutional confrontation in the Senate” if the administration attacks Iran without congressional authority. Given the geopolitical disputes that precipitated the Iran-Iraq War and America’s evolving constitutional fight over the president’s war-making powers in the Middle East, it is fair to ask how Mr. Biden views the current situation. Fortunately, he delivered a speech on this very subject last month in New Hampshire during his ninth visit there since the 2004 election. Appearing before the World Affairs Council of New Hampshire in Manchester on Dec. 17, Mr. Biden delivered a speech about U.S. policy in Iraq, sharing his views in the question-and-answer period about the ethnic and sectarian issues that Iran and Iraq confront.

“We’re spilling our blood and treasure, and there is no threat to [the Iranians]” he said, ignoring the military option that President Bush has refused to take off the table. “The greatest concern to [the Iranians] is 17 million Shia learning how to shoot straight and form an army, sitting on their border with a total of 72 million — probably 68 million — Shia non-Arab Persians on the other side. You sit there in Tehran,” Mr. Biden observed, hypothesizing how the Iranian mullahs are reacting to this development. “How certain are you that you like that development occurring on your border?” he ominously asks.

If Mr. Biden thinks the “68 million Shia non-Arabs” in Iran are worried about the “17 million Shia” Arabs consolidating their power in Iraq in part by forming a straight-shooting, Shia-controlled army, then he obviously does not have a clue. Indeed, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee seems to be operating under the mistaken belief that nearly all Iranians are Persians. In fact, Persians make up only about half (35 million) of Iran’s population of 68.7 million. Sizable ethnic minorities (many of whom are disaffected) comprise the other half, including about 16.5 million Azeris (24 percent), 5.5 million Gilaki and Mazandarani (8 percent), 5 million Kurds (7 percent), 2 million Arabs (3 percent) and nearly 1.5 million each of Lur, Baloch and Turkmen.

Considering that the relatively secularist Sunni Ba’athist Arab regime of Saddam Hussein attacked Iran in 1980, killing hundreds of thousands Iranian Shi’ites and wounding hundreds of thousands more, the Iranians today probably believe that Allah has answered their prayers by installing Shi’ite Arabs in power in Iraq. In fact, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Islamic Dawa Party make up two of the largest parties in the Shi’ite electoral coalition that won by far the largest bloc of seats in Iraq’s National Assembly. The leaders of Supreme Council (Abdul Aziz al-Hakim) and Dawa (former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki) were all exiled in Iran during Saddam’s rule. The Supreme Council’s Iraqi Arab militia, the Badr Corps (formerly the Badr Brigade), was formed by the Iranian government and fought against Saddam during the Iran-Iraq War.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who is universally regarded as Iraq’s pre-eminent Shi’ite cleric and operates as the most powerful unelected political figure, was born in Mashhad, Iran’s most sacred city, where he studied for decades. He is said to speak Arabic with a very thick Persian accent.

Contrary to Mr. Biden’s comments, Iran’s theocratic leaders in Tehran are delighted over their good fortunes in Iraq, where their religious students and comrades in arms are now calling the shots in Baghdad.

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