On Fox News Sunday, Brit Hume failed to challenge House Speaker Dennis Hastert's assertion that the "disruptive" "foreign influence" in Iraq is "getting shut down." In fact, a Congressional Research Service report found that foreign influence -- political, economic, and military -- in Iraq, particularly by Iran, remains considerable and is not likely to subside in the near future.
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On the July 23 broadcast of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume, who was guest-hosting the program, failed to challenge House Speaker Dennis Hastert's (R-IL) assertion that the "disruptive" "foreign influence" in Iraq is "getting shut down." In fact, a June 13 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report found that foreign influence -- political, economic, and military -- in Iraq, particularly by Iran, remains considerable and is not likely to subside in the near future.
The CRS report by Kenneth Katzman -- which documented evidence of extensive political and military ties between Iran and Iraq -- concluded:
Iran appears to be pursuing multiple options in Iraq. ... Iran's influence in Iraq positions Iran to retaliate against the United States should the United States succeed in persuading the United Nations to impose economic sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program. Iran might also retaliate through Iraqi proxies if the United States were to undertake direct military action against Iran's nuclear facilities or other installations. ... It is unlikely that Iran's influence will fade unless the Shiite Islamist factions in Iraq were to somehow suffer diminished political power. At current levels of Iranian influence, it is likely that the Iraqi government will continue to offer general support to Iranian foreign policy, including its attempts to continue to advance its nuclear program.
According to the CRS, "the thrust of Iran's strategy in Iraq has been to perpetuate domination of Iraq's government by pro-Iranian Shiite Islamist leaders." Katzman noted the success of Iran's alleged strategy to dominate the political process in Iraq by pointing to the success of the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), a Shiite Islamist political bloc, in both of Iraq's 2005 National Assembly elections. Katzman reported:
"The UIA bloc, which won 128 of the 275 Assembly seats in the December election, includes all of Iran's Shiite Islamist protégés in Iraq, including the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the most pro-Iranian of the groups, the Da'wa (Islamic Call) party, and Moqtada Al Sadr's faction."
A separate report by Vali Nasr, an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has also discussed the continuing strength of the "foreign influence" in Iraq that Hastert sought to downplay. In the July/August 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs, Nasr elaborated on how Iran "has a vast and intricate network of influence among the Shiites across the Middle East, most notably in Iraq." As Nasr noted, "Many leaders of the main Shiite parties, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and Dawa ... spent years of exile in Iran before returning to Iraq in 2003." Nasr wrote that the former and current Iraqi prime ministers -- Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Nuri Kamal al-Maliki -- both lived in exile in Iran prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, though, according to the CRS report, Maliki spent most of his time in exile in Syria. Nasr also noted that Iran "was the first country in the region to send an official delegation to Baghdad for talks with the Iraqi Governing Council."
Through these political parties and others, Iran has also provided military assistance to numerous Shiite-dominated Iraqi militias. Notably, SCIRI's militia, the Badr Brigades, was, as Nasr wrote, "trained and equipped by Iran's Revolutionary Guards"; according to CRS, the Badr Brigades are "politically aligned with Iran's hardliners." The Badr Brigades was established during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, during which the group would launch guerrilla attacks against Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime. In the report, CRS estimated the Brigades to number close to 20,000. CRS also noted that Sunni groups have accused the Brigades of launching "retaliatory attacks on Sunnis suspected of links to the insurgency," and that numerous Brigades members are thought to have joined the Iraqi military and police forces, even though they "are widely said to retain their loyalties to Badr and SCIRI."
Another prominent militia receiving Iranian support is that of Sadr, whose militia engaged in two notable standoffs with U.S. and coalition troops in Sadr City and Najaf in 2004. Sadr and his militia, the Mahdi Army, do not have the same longstanding ties with Iran as does the Badr Brigades but have now apparently come to receive significant Iranian support. As Nasr noted, "The Revolutionary Guards supported Sadr's Mahdi Army in its confrontation with U.S. troops in Najaf in 2004, and since then Iran has trained Sadrist political and military cadres." The CRS report noted that in October 2005, British Prime Minister Tony Blair "back[ed] up press comments ... from an unnamed British government official who alleged that Iran had supplied explosive devices to Sadr's Mahdi Army" and "asserted that the explosives had been used to kill eight British soldiers in and around Basra since July 2005."
From the July 23 broadcast of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
HUME: The Iraq war looks like a drag. You've got Congressman [Gil] Gutknecht [R-MN], Congressman [Christopher] Shays [R-CT] saying that this is going badly.
Gil Gutknecht, who once supported the war, came back from there and said that the conditions in Baghdad are far worse than we'd been led to believe. He wanted troop withdrawals to begin soon. Your reaction to his view?
HASTERT: Well, you know, I've been in Iraq, and I've talked to the new prime minister. I've talked to the new speaker of the house. We are standing up a government there. They're going to be here in Washington this week. We're going to have that dialogue.
You know, thousands of people went to the polls and dared to stick their finger in that purple ink and hold it up and show that they voted, a very, very high percentage. They want a democratic government.
And they are standing up police forces. They are standing up military. As they stand up that military, we'll start to bring our people home.
HUME: How do you think it's going?
HASTERT: I think it's not going as well as I would like to see it go. But as soon as you get the -- between the Shiites and the Sunnis -- that strife settled, I think we can move forward. I think there is a foreign influence there that's disruptive, and I think that's getting shut down.
HUME: And how do you think the issue plays in this election?