What does Iran tell us about Iraq

Any serious look at the consequences of the liberation of Iraq, has to ask, what were the consequences in Iran? In other parts of the Middle East, the consequences are clear, and overwhelmingly positive. But is there a chance that all of these could be outweighed by negative consequences in Iran.

The biggest changes, of course, have been in Iraq itself. Violent deaths continue in Iraq, but any reasonable reading they are down, probably a long way down, on Saddam's killing spree. Seventy one percent of Iraq's population are positive about their post-Saddam future, an approval rating any western government would dearly love to have. Despite continuing difficulties, the results in Iraq are clearly positive.

In Lebanon the Syrian occupation has been ended, and no-one seriously argues that this would have happened without Iraqi liberation. To do so would fly so totally in the face of the evidence and testimony of those actually involved. Libya has abandoned its WMD programme. The Gulf states are - glacially - reforming. Saudi Arabia has held elections for local government. Kuwait, which already holds meaningful elections, is considering extending the franchise to include women.

The biggest Arab state, Egypt, has allowed opposition candidates in a restricted range of its elections.

Once more, no-one could seriously suggest that any of these things would have happened if Saddam were still in power.

In Palestine, there have also been two rounds of contested elections. This was triggered by Yasser Arafat's death, and may therefore have happened anyway. But it is just as likely that the elections would have been rigged and one-sided without the previous liberation of Iraq.

But what, then, of Iran? Iran has elected its most extreme President to date. It has renewed its nuclear programme. The nuclear sites are highly dispersed and well-protected, so simple bombing raids to destroy it would probably fail. Would any of this have happened without Iraqi liberation.

There is, of course, no way of knowing for sure. But let us review what we do know:

Iran has been an enemy of western civilisation since 1979. Nothing new there.

While relations have taken a turn for the worse in the past six months, this was mainly triggered by the election of a new President.

Reformist candidates were barred from contesting the elections, when they have been allowed to in the past they have usually won.

This time the run-off was between former President Rafsanjani and the mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Rafsanjani had easily topped the first round and Ahmadinjad had scraped through ahead of the more pragmatic Mehdi Karroubi. There are no doubt many reasons why Ahmadinejad triumphed over Rafsanjani, but probably the most significant is that he has a reputation for being clean and uncorrupt, which Rafsanjani certainly does not. My best guess is that Ahmadinejad, who easily won the run-off, would probably have won the election whatever the situation had been in Iraq.

Overall, we can conclude that the Middle East is a better place because of Iraqi liberation. The trends remain positive, and within 10 years half the countries in the region will be democracies.

Of course, none of this solves the problems in Iran. Probably the solution, as with Syria, is to provide support to those inside the country who want to overthrow the government. If Iran and Syria can support terrorists who want to overthrow the popularly elected government of Iraq, why can't Iraq support insurgents who want to overthrow the dictatorships in those countries?

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