Iran: The Tehran-Baghdad-Kabul Alliance

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September 27, 2006: Russia is selling Iran five Tu-204 airliners. The 210 passenger, two engine, aircraft is one of the new generation of post-Cold War transports developed in Russia. It's been difficult to get export orders because of the competition from Boeing and Airbus. But this deal is worth nearly a billion dollars to Russia, and very important for keeping Russian civil aviation companies in business.

September 25, 2006: Russia is negotiating to sell Iran more anti-aircraft missile system, including long range (300 kilometers) S-300 ones. Russia has already sold Iran short range TOR-M1 systems. All of these systems are intended to guard Iran's nuclear weapons facilities.

September 24, 2006: There's a Tehran-Baghdad-Kabul Triangle developing. Recent exchanges of visits by the respective presidents and prime ministers of Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan, which have led to agreements on economic, security, and other ties, have been viewed with some alarm by the U.S. These agreements are viewed as part of an expansionist foreign policy on Iran's part, and this is inherently anti-American.

But in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the ties are seen differently. Iraq's Shia majority sees Iran as an ally against the Sunni Arab nationalist terrorists, whether in its al Qaeda-sponsored religious form or Baathist secular form, and, not incidentally, as a way of helping defuse more radical elements in the Shia community. The country's most revered Shia religious leader, the moderately inclined Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Husaini al-Sistani, is actually an ethnic Iranian. Afghanistan also sees Iran as a potential ally, given its hostility to al Qaeda and the Taliban. Despite being openly anti-American, the Iranian regime quietly supported US and Coalition military operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in 2001-2002.

So the short-term results of having improved ties with Iran may be an improvement in the internal security situation of both Iraq and Afghanistan. Naturally there are some potential political dangers, if Iranian influence becomes too great. But there are obstacles to that happening; a majority of Iraqis may be Shia, but they are secularized, and as Arabs are wary of Iranian imperial ambitions, while most Afghans are Sunni, and not necessarily inclined to submit to Iranian influence.