Friday, December 12, 2008

Tehran Changing Course in Iraq?

Today's Examiner reports that the number of the deadly roadside ambush bombs known as Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFP) has lately been decreasing sharply in Iraq. These sophisticated and lethal devices, it is widely accepted, have been supplied by Iran (likely through its Quds Force) for years, and have been responsible for many coalition and Iraqi deaths. Their progressive disappearance from the battlespace might signal a strategic shift in the policy of the Mullahcracy toward its neighbor:
Iran is no longer actively supplying Iraqi militias with a particularly lethal kind of roadside bomb, a decision that suggests a strategic shift by the Iranian leadership, U.S. and Iraqi authorities said Thursday. Use of the armor-piercing explosives - known as explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs - has dwindled sharply in recent months, said Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Metz, head of the Pentagon office created to counter roadside bombs in Iran and Afghanistan.

Metz estimated that U.S. forces find between 12 and 20 of the devices in Iraq each month, down from 60 to 80 earlier this year.

"Someone ... has made the decision to bring them down," Metz told reporters.

Asked if the elite Iranian Republican Guard Corps has made a deliberate choice to limit use of EFPs, Metz nodded: "I think you could draw that inference from the data."

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh agreed Iran has curtailed its activity inside Iraq. He said he thinks Iran has concluded that a new security agreement between the U.S. and Iraq poses no threat to Iran. Iran opposed the agreement as a blessing for foreign forces to remain in Iraq, and encouraged Iraq's democratic government to reject it.

It is doubtful that the regime in Tehran has actually concluded that a peaceful, prosperous, US-Aligned Iraq on its border "poses no threat." Even if the Iranian fear that the US would station large numbers of troops in Iraq has decreased (allayed by the language of the SOFA with respect to American withdrawal plans), the presence of such a State would arguably pose a larger strategic threat to the Repressive Persian regime by embodying an alternative to its theocratic stranglehold on the Iranian people.

More likely, the devastating effects upon the Iranian economy of low petroleum prices on global markets have prompted a recalibration of Iranian tactics in its near-abroad. The costs of international adventurism (in the form of support for Hezbollah and Hamas, for example) must be starting to sting right about now, and the fait accompli represented by the SOFA , along with the diminishing clout of Iran-aligned Shiite militias in Iraq would all argue strongly for a change of approach between the two Middle Eastern states. It may be that the Mullahs have opted to vie for a less nakedly bellicose stance with regard to Iraq, in favor of a longer game of more insidious seduction and division.

Be that as it may, anything which leads to an improved security situation ahead of provincial elections in Iraq next month is a welcome development. More importantly, these terrifying weapons' disappearance from the streets of Iraq will be good news to our valorous troops and their families.

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