Not surprisingly, the warming relations between Tehran and Baghdad have greatly alarmed Iraq's Sunni Muslims. They know that Iranian offers of help in training Iraqi security officers, and Iranian professions of support for a united, peaceful Iraq are code for the suppression by Shiite troops and militias of the Sunni Arab guerrilla movement. Many Iraqi Sunnis believe that the Sunni Arabs are the true majority, but that millions of illegal Iranian emigrants masquerading as Iraqi Shiites have flooded into the country, skewing vote totals in the recent elections. This belief, for all its irrationality, makes them especially suspicious of Shiite politicians cozying up to the ayatollahs in Tehran. A recent BBC documentary reported that the Sunnis of Fallujah despise Iraqi Shiites even more than they do the Americans, in part because they code them as Persians (in fact they are Arabs).
Although officials in Washington felt constrained to issue polite assurances that they want good relations between Iraq and Iran, the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, and hawks in the Bush administration all have a grudge against Iran, and would as soon overthrow the mullahs as spit at them. But thanks to the Iraq debacle, that is no longer a viable option. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack revealed the true amount of influence Washington has in Baghdad when he admitted that the Bush administration has not "had a chance" to discuss Jaafari's trip to Iran with the prime minister.
The Iranians hold a powerful hand in the Iraqi poker game. They have geopolitical advantages, are flush with petroleum profits because of the high price of oil, and have much to offer their new Shiite Iraqi partners. Their long alliance with Iraqi president Jalal Talabani gives them Kurdish support as well. Bush's invasion removed the most powerful and dangerous regional enemy of Iran, Saddam Hussein, from power. In its aftermath, the religious Shiites came to power at the ballot box in Iraq, bestowing on Tehran firm allies in Baghdad for the first time since the 1950s. And in a historic irony, Iran's most dangerous enemy of all, the United States, invaded Iran's neighbor with an eye to eventually toppling the Tehran regime -- but succeeded only in defeating itself.