Stabilizing Iraq Is the Key to Protecting the Gulf States

(Center for Strategic and International Studies) Anthony H. Cordesman - If Iran blocked the Strait of Hormuz, this would end all of its petroleum exports as well as those of its Arab neighbors. Iran is already in a critical statewide economic crisis - much of which is self-inflicted by its own failed economic policies. It is far from clear whether its leaders are willing to put the nation in a position in which it will suffer far more than it does from today's sanctions. Iran would have to start and keep fighting a war that it cannot possibly win, and in which it would suffer far more damage that its Gulf neighbors. Such a war would also probably threaten the postwar survival of the present Iranian regime. Iran is not the natural hegemon of the Gulf, and should not have its current level of impact on Gulf security. The Gulf Arab states vastly outspend Iran on military forces, and import arms by more than an order of magnitude. They should be able to deter and defend against Iran with minimal outside aid. Unfortunately, however, Arab divisions handed Iran major strategic opportunities that it could hardly resist. Iran was not particularly aggressive. It effectively walked in through a door that Arab states had opened. The real prize for Iran is Iraq. A unified Iraq, with its own security forces and a reasonable level of unity, would confront Iran with a major barrier to threatening the rest of the Arab states in the Gulf and providing major military support to Syria or Hizbullah. However, Iran's influence over the Iraqi government's Shi'ite elements is growing. The U.S. must recognize that a strong and independent Iraq is the most immediate key to creating a stable balance of power in the Gulf. The writer, who holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at CSIS, has held senior posts in the U.S. Department of Defense.

2019-07-25 00:00:00

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