So What is the Deal with Iran? Part 2
I considered discussing the nuclear question which is puzzling many western thinkers, however I think its necessary to talk about the important role which Iran plays in the Middle East and more importantly, Iraq. Many people believe the US is operating in a vacuum while rebuilding Iraq. I believe that it is very important to explain how Iran's actions are incredibly relevant to our overall strategy in the Middle East.
For starters, Iran is made up of Shiite Persians which is entirely different from most of the Sunni Arab countries to its western border. This was articulated fairly well in the movie, "Crash" where the Persian shopkeepers ask each other why someone would deface their storefront with the word, "Arab". While most Americans lump all Muslims under one banner as Arabs, the difference is critical to understanding why the different countries interact in certain ways. In a region where sectarianism reigns, many countries are fiercely divided along the more fundamental Shiites (Persians) and secular Sunnis (Arabs). With such emphasis placed on tribal society, it is not surprising that countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia are at odds with each other, except when it comes to the United States.
The United States is not only the "Great Satan" but also the great unifier of Muslim agreement. There is little doubt that their low opinion of the US is uniform across the Middle East. This is where we are in Iraq. Iraq and Iran have never been very good friends which was exemplified by their eight year war in the 1980s. Iraq is itself 70% Shia (Shiite) and was ruled by a small minority of Sunnis headed by Saddam Hussein. As the US grapples with securing the peace in Iraq, it must also contend with a large population of Shiites who are organized in many cases by Iranian political and religious backers. They are easily mobilized by their leaders after spending decades under the Sunni minority. This is a source of concern for US planners as the one thing harder to control than Iraqi stability is the strong Iranian influence on Iraqi stability. While this does little good for the insurgency, it provides a permanent safe haven for those who would seek to turn Iraq into a theocracy. This is equally distasteful in the eyes of the United States.
Given their strong presence in the Shiite community and the inseperable blend of religious and secular domains, you should expect to see the US continue to coerce the Iranian influence with both carrots (economic aid) and the stick (threats of military action or Sunni support).