- The Washington Times - Monday, November 28, 2005

Tehran, IRAN. — No matter how often President Bush gets stern with Iran, the country’s radical president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, hits back: “You, who have used nuclear weapons against innocent people, who have used uranium ordnance in Iraq, should be tried as war criminals in courts.” But now, he is on the offensive against enemies of his regime. He’s surrounded by American troops in Afghanistan and in Iraq, yet he shows no sign of toning down his hateful policies against the United States and Israel. It’s not clear if he’s trying to provoke the United States, but the “liberated” Iraq seems to be creating some strange bedfellows.

In Tehran last week, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said, “I reiterate that the accusation of an Iranian interference in Iraq’s affairs is repudiated, for Iran does not need to meddle in Iraq.” Mr. Talabani’s statement can only be interpreted as an assertion that Iraq is beginning to look like an Anschluss. It’s crucial that the United States understands, when talking about progress in Iraq or withdrawing troops, that Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria are not separated by oceans. They are all part of the same puzzle, and what happens in one directly affects another.

During the early stages of the Iraq war, I had a conversation with a U.S. official who told me that the invasion was also payback for the 1979 Iranian revolution and hostage crisis. But when you travel in the region, the only real sentiment among the people is that the United States is losing the war in Iraq, and the real winner is Iran. After all, the United States cleared the Taliban from Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein from Iraq — both enemies of the Iranian regime.

If U.S. troops leave Iraq early, it would be tragic to think that American men and women have died to strengthen the Iranian regime. That is why there is no other choice but victory in Iraq and finding a way to deal with Iran without a direct military confrontation. Whatever Mr. Talabani says, the United States is already fighting Iran in Iraqi territory.

On the nuclear front, the recent decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency to postpone referring Iran’s nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council is a sign that the world body is still in control. Iran isn’t bluffing when it reasons that it should have the right to have nuclear capabilities since Israel does. No one argues against Iran having nuclear power for energy, but the worry that such a program could be used to build weapons makes Russia’s proposal a savior. In Tehran, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov tried to persuade the Iranian regime that the uranium should be enriched in Russia. Although the negotiations are not finalized, here are some suggestions to ensure success while dealing with Iran.

First: Sanctions don’t work. When people suffer, their good feelings toward America fade. More than half of the 75 million people in Iran are under age 30, and the economy faces both underemployment and unemployment. It would be far more fruitful to lift the embargo and bring full-scale globalization to Iran. This new generation does not remember that the United States sided with Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. But if sanctions are imposed, it’s all anyone will remember.

Second: While trying to establish an Iranian opposition when the regime falls, make sure that it is composed of Iranians who actually live in Iran.

Third: Try to keep the IAEA inspectors in the country.

Fourth: Don’t get too dependent on local intelligence. Remember Ahmad Chalabi. People in the region have their own special interests which may be different than U.S. interests. Don’t export the security of the country to someone else.

Fifth: Remember that from Turkey to Iran, people feel the pressure of religious and ethnic differences. The general assumption is that America is trying to weaken the Shi’ite identity so that it can bolster the ethnic differences which are Iran’s biggest weakness, topple the regime and divide the country.

Sixth: Start getting the benefit of Turkey, the only NATO country in the group. Turks worry separately that the United States is not taking action against the PKK because it is either trying to use the PKK as a proxy army or it is trying to create an independent Kurdistan. Turks also believe that their security depends on Iran. If Iran falls, there will be no way to prevent the creation of an independent Kurdistan with land from Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria — and many more casualties.

Finally: Start strengthening the strategic partnership with Turkey to get it involved and make Turks feel responsible for the future of the region. While these suggestions could be multiplied, the United States needs to decide what and how it wants to deal with the Iranian regime, and Congress should hold hearings.

Withdrawal is not an option, because if it happens before Iraq is stable, anything and everything that goes wrong in the region would be blamed on the United States. And no one can guarantee that there won’t be another September 11, or worse.

Tulin Daloglu is the Washington correspondent and columnist for Turkey’s Star TV and newspaper. A former BBC reporter, she writes occasionally for The Washington Times.

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