4 big takeaways from Dexter Filkins’ New Yorker piece

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Don’t have time to read Dexter Filkins’ article in The New Yorker about Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Suleimani? Just listen to this NPR Fresh Air podcast.

Don’t have time for that? Here are four big things you should know:

1). The deal that elevated Nuri al-Maliki Iraqi Prime Minister was brokered by Iran’s Gen. Suleimani (head of the Quds Force). What is more, the deal came with a big caveat:

“Most remarkable, according to the Iraqi and Western officials, were the two conditions that Suleimani imposed on the Iraqis. The first was that Jalal Talabani, a longtime friend of the Iranian regime, become President. The second was that Maliki and his coalition partners insist that all American troops leave the country. ‘Suleimani said: no Americans,’ the former Iraqi leader told me. ‘A ten-year relationship, down the drain.’”

2. Iraq is currently helping Iran evade sanctions — and prop-up Syria’s Assad:

“According to the former senior intelligence officer, Maliki’s government is presiding over a number of schemes, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars a year, to help the Iranian regime outwit Western economic sanctions.” 

3. George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” line may have destroyed nascent cooperation between the U.S. and Iran. Filkins writes that the two sides were cooperating after the initial stages of the Iraq war, but,

“The good will didn’t last. In January, 2002, [Ambassador Ryan] Crocker, who was by then the deputy chief of the American Embassy in Kabul, was awakened one night by aides, who told him that President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union Address, had named Iran as part of an ‘Axis of Evil.’ Like many senior diplomats, Crocker was caught off guard. He saw the negotiator the next day at the U.N. compound in Kabul, and he was furious. ‘You completely damaged me,’ Crocker recalled him saying. ‘Suleimani is in a tearing rage. He feels compromised.” The negotiator told Crocker that, at great political risk, Suleimani had been contemplating a complete reëvaluation of the United States, saying, “Maybe it’s time to rethink our relationship with the Americans.’ The Axis of Evil speech brought the meetings to an end. Reformers inside the government, who had advocated a rapprochement with the United States, were put on the defensive. Recalling that time, Crocker shook his head. ‘We were just that close,” he said. “One word in one speech changed history.

4. The Iranians view the Syrian civil war as an existential threat:

 “If Assad fell, the Iranian regime would lose its link to Hezbollah, its forward base against Israel. In a speech, one Iranian cleric said, ‘If we lose Syria, we cannot keep Tehran.'”

Matt K. Lewis