AFP: Iran can never conquer Iraq and is even stirring a Shiite “backlash” there by backing militias fighting the Iraqi government and US-led troops, the US ambassador to Baghdad said here Friday. WASHINGTON (AFP) Iran can never conquer Iraq and is even stirring a Shiite “backlash” there by backing militias fighting the Iraqi government and US-led troops, the US ambassador to Baghdad said here Friday.
“The Iranians are not going to take over Iraq,” Ambassador Ryan Crocker told reporters after his testimony this week before Congressman who voiced concern about Iran’s influence, especially in recent fighting.
“And my sense is the harder they push the more resistance they encounter,” Crocker said, referring to Shiite Muslim but non-Arab Iran.
His comments stood in sharp contrast to those Thursday from US President George W. Bush who lumped Iran with Sunni Al-Qaeda as “two of the greatest threats to America in this new century” and said both hoped for a US defeat in Iraq.
Bush, whose warning came in a speech defending the war, coupled the rhetorical blast with a clear warning that he would not hesitate to use force if the Islamic republic targets US interests in its strife-torn neighbor.
But Crocker gave a different impression during an informal question-and-answer session to the State Department Correspondents Association at a Washington hotel.
“No one is talking about a war with Iran. I want to make sure that is not the headline here,” Crocker said before heading back to Baghdad via stops in Britain and Saudi Arabia.
“Iran’s influence is limited in Iraq…,” he said recalling a history of differences between non-Arab but mainly Shiite Muslim Iran and Iraq, which is an Arab country with a Shiite majority.
“And what we may have seen after these recent developments and the backlash it has created against the militias and against Iran, it may be more limited even than it was,” Crocker said.
He was recalling the offensive launched by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, in the southern Iraqi city of Basra against Shiite militias backed by Iran.
General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq who also testified to Congress this week, blamed Iran for a flare-up of violence in Baghdad and Basra and for training, arming and funding militants he called “special groups.”
“Unchecked, the special groups pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq,” Petraeus said.
In his testimony before Congress, Crocker charged that Iran was pursuing a “Lebanization strategy,” co-opting elements of the local Shia community to use as instruments of Iranian force.
But he also said there were limits to what Iran and its ally Arab Syria can do, which he re-emphasized on Friday.
Crocker said Iraq is a bigger country, with a different history, including the bitter Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988 where Iraqi Shiites were part of an army that fought Iranian troops.