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Retreat from Yemen Fuels Concerns U.S. Is Ceding Region to Iran

Among those paying close attention to the American retreat from Yemen this week is a provincial governor in Iraq, Eli Lake reports today in Bloomberg View.

To understand how the hurried evacuation of U.S. special operations forces from Yemen is connected to Iran’s regional strategy, look no further than Atheel al-Nujaifi, the Sunni governor of Iraq’s Nineveh Province.

On Sunday, Nujaifi sent a letter to U.S. leaders warning that his country was at a tipping point with regard to Iranian influence. As U.S. forces wait on the sidelines in an Iranian-led campaign to liberate Tikrit, Nujaifi said he worried that his country was being lost to Iran.

In other words, what has just happened in Yemen — where an Iranian-armed and advised militia has overthrown a pro-American government — could happen soon in Iraq.

Lake reports that despite initial hopes that American involvement in Iraq would blunt the influence of Iran, Nujaifi has observed the growing influence of Qassen Suleimani, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander, and Abu-Mahdi al-Muhandis, an advisor to Suleimani, in coordinating the Shiite militias in Iraq. Not only does the influence of the two men – who also fought the American presence in Iraq – make the militias more effective, but the arms Iran sends to Iraq, Nuajaifi wrote, “gives Iran the crucial ability to directly influence, even control, elements of the Iraq Government.”

Lake notes that just as Iran’s arms shipment to allied militias are helping them seize control in Iraq, so too did Iran’s shipments to the Houthis in Yemen change them from a disorganized force into an effective insurgency.

Lake adds that the Iranian aggression in Iraq and Yemen can’t be disassociated from the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran:

If a deal is reached before the end of March, it will require even more sanctions relief for Iran in exchange for more intrusive inspections. [Rep. Ed] Royce said that even before the negotiations began, when the U.S. unfroze some Iranian assets at the end of 2013, ambassadors for Gulf countries predicted the cash would be used to destabilize the region: “We’re seeing today what every Gulf ambassador predicted Iran would do, we’re seeing Iran destabilize the region.”

Michael Pregent who wrote I Saw the U.S. Hand Iraq Over to the Iranians. Is the Whole Region Next?, which was published in the February 2014 issue of The Tower Magazine, warned that allowing Iranian influence in the Middle East to grow unchecked would undermine American regional interests:

More than anything, however, the U.S. must learn from its previous mistakes. It cannot bring security and stability back to Iraq if it continues to allow Iranian influence over the Iraqi government, the Shia militias, and the fight against ISIS in general. Contrary to the opinions of many observers and officials, Iran is not simply fighting ISIS; it is helping sectarian forces fight a larger war against the Sunni population of Iraq in order to maximize its power over the entire country.

As a result, the U.S. cannot allow itself to be identified with the Iranian cause. If it does, then it is likely that, if ISIS is defeated, the U.S. will simply have exchanged one group of Islamic extremists for another—an Islamic State for an Islamic Republic—and end up empowering a regional actor that is dedicated to expanding its power and influence at the expense of the U.S. and its allies. To allow ISIS to win the battle for Iraq would be a disaster. But to allow Iran to win the battle for Iraq—and the region in general—would be far worse.

[Photo: BBC News / YouTube ]