Prospects for Increased Iranian Influence in Iraq

Kenneth M. Pollack

Editor’s Note: In testimony before the U.S House of Representatives Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations, Kenneth Pollack discusses how the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq will affect Iraq’s future security and Iran’s influence in the region.

Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the subcommittee, the subject of today’s hearings is one of considerable importance to American interests in the Middle East. Since the Iranian revolution of 1979, the Islamic Republic has seen itself as locked in a struggle with the United States. At times, that competition was restrained—and even showed signs of possible detente. At other times, Iran has aggressively sought to hurt American interests by employing a wide range of stratagems and methods. Unfortunately, at present, and arguably for the past two years, Iran has turned decidedly in the direction of greater confrontation with the United States.

In light of the administration’s announcement that all American combat troops will be removed from Iraq by the end of 2011, it is particularly important for the United States government to consider how that decision will affect Iraq’s future security, and especially how it may affect Iran’s ability to influence or even dominate Iraq. There is no question that Iran has huge equities in Iraq, that it intends to maximize its influence there, and that Iran’s goals in Iraq are mostly inimical to our own. Because of Iraq’s intrinsic importance coupled with its significance to the vital Persian Gulf region, preventing Iran from achieving its maximal goals in Iraq will be crucial to America’s interests in the region. Moreover, given the remarkable transformations sweeping the Arab world, it would be a terrible tragedy if Iran were able to exploit the volatility of the Arab Awakening to strengthen its position and undermine the stability of the Middle East. Here as well, Iran’s ability to shape the outcome in Iraq will play a major role in determining how well Tehran is able to influence the wider political changes in the region. For all of these reasons, what happens in Iraq, and what happens regarding Iranian influence in Iraq, is one of the crucial questions facing the region today.

Unfortunately, the situation at present is not favorable to the interests of the United States and its allies in the region. Although it is both premature and beside the point to ask whether the United States “lost” Iraq or if Iran has “won” it, there is no question that Iran today has considerable sway in Iraq—far more than we or the Iraqis would like. Moreover, while it is certainly possible to imagine a course of action that the United States could pursue to reverse this state of affairs, under current circumstances it seems unlikely either that Washington would be willing to make the necessary effort or that if we were, that it would do more than marginally diminish Iran’s influence in the short term. This is part of the reason that a realistic assessment of Iraq’s likely near-term future can only be a relatively pessimistic one. Most plausible scenarios for Iraq’s future at this point are unhappy, at least in the near term, and the best (or perhaps, the least bad) scenarios do not seem to be the most likely. Iraq is liable to get worse before it gets better—if it gets better—although there are certainly things that the United States can do to minimize both the duration and the depth of these difficult times, if we are willing.

Iran’s Goals in Iraq

Because of the inevitable uncertainty that shrouds Iranian decision-making, it is difficult to perceive Iranian objectives in Iraq. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to believe that the Iranian regime as a totality maintains a range of goals with regard to its policy toward Iraq. Almost certainly, different individuals within the regime may favor certain sub-sets of those goals, or may cling to only one principal objective. Moreover, it is likely the case that that range can best be represented as a hierarchy of goals ranging from highest to lowest priorities, and that if Tehran believes its highest priority goals have been achieved (or are unlikely to be threatened), then it will focus its attention on attaining the next highest set of priorities on that list. Finally, it seems highly probable that Iran’s goals toward Iraq have changed over time, both as a result of changes in Iraq (and U.S. policy toward Iraq) and in Iran itself.

Iranian behavior since 2003 indicates that Tehran’s foremost goal in Iraq has been to prevent the emergence of an Iraq that is threatening to Iran itself. This goal should itself be seen as a category encompassing a number of potential threats to Iran from Iraq. The first of these was the possibility that the United States would use Iraq as a springboard to invade Iran, clearly an overarching concern for Tehran in the immediate months after 2003 when Iranians (characteristically) saw the U.S. invasion of Iraq as really being all about them. The second has been the longer-term fear of the re-emergence of a strong, unified, anti-Iranian Iraq—in effect, a recreation of Saddam Husayn’s regime. Finally, the available evidence indicates that Iran has also feared chaos or all-out civil war in Iraq as being potentially harmful for Iran either because of the potential for it to spill over and destabilize Iran itself, or to drag Iran into a regional conflict over Iraq and its resources.

In addition to this set of goals driven primarily by threat and fear, it seems both reasonable to postulate and consistent with the available evidence that Iranian leaders have also seen opportunity in Iraq. Indeed, in recent years, objectives derived from a sense of opportunity in Iraq appear to have supplanted those of fear as the primary drivers of Iranian policy, probably a result of changes both in Iraq and Iran (and American policy toward both). Certainly, Iran would like to see the emergence of an Iraqi regime that is not only not an adversary, but a friend, and preferably a subordinate friend. Iranians might look for an Iraqi ally, like what it has with the Asad regime in Syria, or with Hizballah in Lebanon. Because Iraq borders Iran (and its territory formed part of Persia for many centuries), Tehran may want something more than that, likely seeking to dominate Iraq, to be able to dictate key policy decisions to Baghdad and ensure that Iraqi governments take no actions without Iranian consent. At some level, Iranians may seek to outright control Iraq as a proxy, although there is nothing to suggest that Tehran seeks to conquer Iraq. So far, Iranian behavior toward Iraq has been more sophisticated and judicious than that, thus it may be that some Iranian leaders hope to outright control Iraqi policy, but suspect that it may be impossible to ever do so and are instead striving for a somewhat lesser standard while holding out the hope that their dreams might still be realized.

This set of overarching concerns can be translated into a set of likely Iranian objectives in Iraq that do seem to accurately conform to Iranian policy toward Iraq since 2003.

1. Iran has sought to evict the United States from Iraq to prevent it from using Iraq as a base of operations against Tehran, and to eliminate American influence, mostly because it fears an American attack from Iraq, but at least secondarily because U.S. influence hinders Tehran’s own ability to dominate Baghdad.

2. Iran has sought to prevent the re-emergence of a strong, unitary Iraq, one that could potentially challenge Tehran’s bid for regional dominance or even threaten Iran itself.

3. Iran has sought to prevent outright chaos or all-out civil war in Iraq which could destabilize Iran itself or drag it into a regional war that could overstretch Iranian resources and political cohesiveness.

4. Iran has sought to ensure that any Iraqi government that takes power in Baghdad is weak and beholden to Iran.

5. Iran would like to see a new Iraqi regime emerge that is allied with or even subservient to Tehran.

Iran’s Policy Toward Iraq: Tacit Cooperation, 2003-2005

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Laying out this hierarchy of Iranian objectives in Iraq helps explain Tehran’s evolving approach to Iraq since the American invasion. At first, as noted earlier, Tehran feared that the American invasion was simply a precursor to a move against Iran itself. To what extent this was generated by careless American talk about a “right-turn at Tikrit” as was then common among some circles close to (and even within) the George W. Bush Administration, and to what extent by historic Iranian self-aggrandizement is impossible to know.

Regardless of the inspiration, Iran reacted cautiously to this second manifestation of America’s overwhelming conventional power in the Middle East in a generation. Throughout the 2003 invasion, Iranian military forces remained wary, but passive. Tehran did allow/encourage the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its Badr Brigades, as well as other Iraqi dissidents, to return to Iraq, but appears to have cautioned them against provoking the Americans. As could only be expected, Tehran began infiltrating other Iranian intelligence personnel into Iraq (as was rapidly reported by American intelligence services), but again, these personnel kept a low profile. The began building contact networks, but otherwise remained non-confrontational. Moreover, it was during this period that Iran demonstrated the greatest willingness to cooperate on its nuclear program, agreeing to talks with Germany, France and Britain (the E3) and suspending its uranium enrichment program while it did so—the only time Tehran was ever willing to do so. Finally, it was in this context that the mysterious spring 2003 letter, supposedly from the highest levels of the Iranian regime, was passed by the Swiss to the United States. Although the provenance and importance of that note has been hotly disputed, if there is any validity to the episode at all, it too would count as evidence of a sudden Iranian desire to placate the United States, something hard to explain except as the product of Iranian fear of an American invasion.

Indeed, within Iraq itself, Iran pursued a policy of tacit cooperation with the United States. Again, Iranian intelligence personnel fanned out across the country and developed far-reaching networks of information-collection and persuasion. There were also reports that Iranian agents were developing networks that could be used to wage covert attacks on American or Iraqi personnel, but these same reports made clear that Iran was doing so only as contingency planning in case things deteriorated in the future. There was no evidence that Iran was actively encouraging or supporting attacks within Iraq at that time. American personnel in Iraq believed that the Iranians were developing this network for use in the event that one of Iran’s primary goals in Iraq was threatened and they faced either an American invasion, the re-emergence of a strong, threatening Iraq, or the fragmentation of Iraq and the outbreak of civil war. Until then, Tehran kept its notoriously mischievous Quds force operatives on a short leash so that it would not stir up trouble for Iran with the United States.

Indeed, throughout 2003-2004, the vast majority of violence against Americans came from Sunni groups that hated Iran. While it is true that Muqtada as-Sadr’s Shi’i Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) did conduct attacks on American forces, at that time, his movement had only very loose links to Tehran. The Sadr family had been famously anti-Iranian, and various well-informed Iraqis claim that his decision to move to Iran and take up religious studies after his defeat in Najaf in 2004 were encouraged by Iran as an effort to remove a volatile and erratic Shi’ah leader from the scene who could create problems with the Americans for Iran in Iraq. During this period, Iran’s closest allies were the leaders of the SCIRI (since renamed the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, or ISCI), who became some of America’s most important allies in Iraq.

For its part, Tehran pursued a policy of securing its interests by playing within the American-imposed system. Fear of an American military response kept Iran from making trouble in Iraq, and it appears that the Iranians took the U.S. at its word when Washington said it intended to build a democracy in Iraq. In any true democracy, Iraq’s Shi’i majority would dominate the government and Tehran could be assured that while they might not like Iran (Iranians are well aware that the vast majority of Iraqis, including Shi’i Iraqis strongly dislike Iranians), they would not be looking to go to war with Iran and would likely want to be on good terms with Tehran. This was probably the best that Iranian leaders believed they could hope for under the circumstances since taking a more active role in Iraq would have risked provoking an American military response, and this course still promised to satisfy their their three highest priority objectives—preventing an American attack from Iraq, preventing the re-emergence of a strong, anti-Iranian Iraq, and preventing chaos and civil war that would threaten Iran. ISCI became Tehran’s key instrument to achieve these goals, pursuing a policy of going along with the American effort to build a democratic Iraq and then ensuring that groups friendly to Iran prevailed within that system. Thus, between 2003 and early 2005, Iran was NOT the problem in Iraq.

Iran’s Policy Toward Iraq: Waging an Asymmetric War, 2005-2008

Iran’s policy toward Iraq changed dramatically in late 2005 and early 2006. In effect, the extensive intelligence and covert action network that Iran had built in Iraq “went kinetic” at that time, shifting from simply collecting information and creating a contingency capability to actively attempting to promote various Iraqi armed groups and assist them in their fights to secure greater power, resources and territory. By late 2006, Iran was “putting money on every number on the roulette wheel,” as several Americans in Iraq put it to me, providing weapons, cash, information, training and other forms of support to a wide variety of groups—Shi’i, Sunni, Kurdish and others. What’s more, Iranian operatives began to provide weaponry to some Iraqi groups (particularly Shi’i groups) with the expressed purpose of killing Americans, and began to actively encourage and assist Iraqi groups in attacks on Americans in Iraq.

As best we can tell, there were two related reasons for this shift. First, Tehran appears to have concluded that Iraq was simply falling apart. By early 2006 it was apparent to any unbiased observer that Iraq was descending into an all-out inter-communal civil war. The Americans were failing to create a stable, let alone democratic Iraq, and Iran was powerless to stop it. Although it had been a goal of Iranian policy to prevent just such an outcome, because it was happening anyway, Tehran had no choice but to do what it could to secure its other goals in the face of that reality. In these circumstances, the best Tehran could do would be to carve out buffer zones in Iraq, empower groups with ties to Iran, and get the Americans out of the way to prevent Washington from hindering Tehran’s actions. This meant ensuring that whoever won the struggle for power in Iraq was tied to Iran, which in turn meant providing support to any Iraqi group who would take it. Of course, Iran tended to provide more support to the Shi’ah than others, if only because the Iranians believed (with good reason) that Iraq’s Shi’ah majority was both most likely to prevail and most likely to be well-disposed to Iran. As a result, Iranian support to ISCI/Badr became increasingly militarized, while Iranian relations with other Shi’i militias like Fadhila and Jaysh al-Mahdi blossomed. In addition, Iran had one huge advantage at this point, in that Iraq’s descent into civil war made what Iran had to offer—weapons, information, training in unconventional warfare—the most desired commodities by the groups vying for control of Iraq. Many of them also wanted to kill Americans, either out of principle or because the Americans were hamstringing their efforts to harm their real enemies among the other Iraqi groups. Thus, providing Iraqi groups with the wherewithal to kill Americans became a tremendously important source of influence for Iran in Iraq.

Tehran’s second motive for reversing gears and supporting the various militias and insurgents across Iraq was that Iraq’s descent into civil war, coupled with other problems across the Middle East in 2006 (many of them the result of spillover from Iraq in the first place), meant that Tehran no longer had to worry about its first two objectives—preventing an American invasion from Iraq and preventing the re-emergence of a strong, threatening Iraq. Iraq itself was fragmenting, not growing stronger, so that was an unlikely problem. Meanwhile, the United States was clearly badly bogged down in Iraq and on the defensive across the Middle East. Iranian leaders began to openly talk about America’s inability to threaten Iran, and even about how Iran was now bleeding America in Iraq.

Thus, what changed for Iran in 2005-2006 was a sense that it no longer had to worry about conventional military threats emanating from Iraq, and it only had to worry about the danger of chaos and civil war. But since Iran could not prevent Iraq from such an implosion, the only thing it could do was to protect its interests there as best it could amid the worsening civil war, and that meant shifting from the passive posture of 2003-2004 to one of actively supporting a wide variety of violent groups in Iraq in the hope of ensuring whoever won was beholden to Tehran, and possibly even being able to choose which group would win. As a result, in 2005-2006, the Iranians became one of the greatest agents of violence and chaos in Iraq.

Iran’s Policy Toward Iraq: The Great Reversal, 2008-2010

Tehran’s strategic shift in 2005-2006 was arguably a reasonable, even understandable decision and it initially may have seemed wise to Iranian decision-makers—and overdue to others. However, the change in American policy toward in Iraq in 2007 badly undermined it. When the Bush Administration finally realized the extent of its catastrophic mistakes in Iraq and reversed course in 2007, this shift caught the Iranians on the wrong side of history again. The deployment of 30,000 additional American troops, the adoption of a Low-Intensity Conflict (LIC) strategy, the Sahwa (or “Sunni Awakening” which was in part made possible by the surge and the LIC approach), and the wholesale changeover of senior American personnel who then devised and implemented these operations, completely overturned Iraq’s security and political situation. Within the space of 18 months, the civil war was suppressed, the Iraqi government was newly empowered, and the Iraqi people were in charge of their political leaders and not the other way around. Having bet heavily on trying to “win” the Iraqi civil war, Tehran became one of its biggest losers when the civil war was snuffed out. Across the board, and particularly among the heavily Shi’i population of southern Iraq, Iraqis rejected Iran and anyone who had been associated with Iran during the dark days of the civil war.

The nadir came for Tehran in the spring of 2008. At that time, although the “Surge” strategy had resulted in a remarkable transformation in the political-military circumstances of central, western and much of northern Iraq, southern Iraq was still largely a no-man’s land controlled by various Shi’i militias and disrupted by the occasional Sunni terrorist attack. The worst offender was the Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM), which effectively controlled Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, along with a number of smaller cities throughout the south and Sadr City in Baghdad. At the time, JAM was also Tehran’s strongest and most important ally in Iraq. JAM’s creation of a state-within-a-state in Basra, along the lines of Hizballah in Lebanon, eventually became a personal affront to Prime Minister Maliki. He ordered a small operation by the local Iraqi division near Basra to try to signal to JAM that they should keep their behavior within boundaries. The Iraqi Army’s brand new and inadequately-trained 14th Infantry Division was ordered to round up a number of the worst offenders. The JAM militiamen fought back, and initially inflicted a humiliating defeat on the 14th Division. To his great credit, the Prime Minister refused to back down and instead brought in reinforcements, including several of Iraq’s best brigades from Anbar. The United States military, recognizing that the fight in Basra could be a make-or-break moment in the wider war between the government of Iraq and the militias, made the decision to back Maliki to the hilt and deployed considerable assets south to aid the Iraqi attack. The renewed Iraqi government offensive was given the name “Charge of the Knights” and (with tremendous intelligence, fire support, and command assistance by the U.S. military) shattered JAM in its principal stronghold.

Of greatest importance, when the people of Basra saw that the Iraqi government was determined to take back the city from the Iranian-backed militia, they rose up against JAM and helped drive them from the city. Moreover, they did so explicitly because they wanted the civil war over, they wanted law and order provided by the central government in Baghdad, and they wanted the Iranians gone. In the weeks that followed, Prime Minister Maliki decided to run the table, mounting similar operations against JAM strongholds in Qurnah, Amarah, Kut, and Sadr City itself.

Charge of the Knights was a body blow to Iran in Iraq. Tehran was left reeling, its influence virtually eliminated by the assertion of Iraqi authority, the end of militia rule in southern Iraq, and the stunning public rejection of both the militias and Iran. Tehran’s influence was at its lowest point in post-Saddam Iraq. In the 2009 provincial elections that followed, Iraqi political parties with ties to Iran—including both the Sadrists and ISCI—were virtually swept from office. Instead, Iraqis voted overwhelmingly for those parties they saw as being most secular, least tied to Iran, and least involved with the militias or culpable in the civil war. Indeed, 2009 saw the outbreak of democratic politics throughout Iraq, with various Iraqi militia parties forced to scramble to reinvent themselves as true political movements and Iraqi leaders forced to learn how to appeal to voters by actually delivering goods and services to their constituents rather than just taking them by force or graft as they always had in the past. To try to rebuild his position, Muqtada as-Sadr was forced to renounce violence and disband the militia that had made him a major player in Iraq during the civil war, yet he remained deeply unpopular except with all small segment of the Shi’i population who continued to venerate his family name and his ultra-nationalist moderate-Islamist ideology. And throughout this period, Iran was left fuming on the sidelines.

Iran’s Policy Toward Iraq: Back on Top, 2010-2011

Unfortunately, Iran’s marginalization did not last for long. The problem, once again, lay in Iraq’s internal politics. From 2008 to early 2010, Iran was largely shut out of Iraqi politics because the Iraqi people felt relatively safe and secure, and confident that their politics were moving in the right direction. Although Iraq was at best a proto-democracy, democratic politics and political pressures were increasingly taking root and driving the system. As a result, Iraqis felt that they did not need the hated Persians, and felt confident enough to push them out and keep them out.

This changed dramatically again, in the spring of 2010. In March of that year, Iraq finally held new national elections for its parliament, the Council of Representatives (CoR). The Iraqi people voted overwhelmingly for change, ousting 75 percent of the incumbents. As in 2009, they voted equally overwhelmingly for those parties they perceived as the most secular, the least tied to the militias, the least culpable for the civil war, and the least tied to Iran. They voted primarily for Prime Minister Maliki’s State of Law coalition, and Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiyya party. Iraqiyya took 91 seats and Sate of Law 89 out of 325 total.

Maliki refused to believe that someone other than himself had won and sought to use ambiguities in Iraq’s rickety constitution to block Iraqiyya from forming a new government. The constitution does not specify that the party that won the most votes in the election gets the first chance to form a government, although this is common practice in most (but not all) parliamentary systems. Maliki demanded that Iraq’s high court rule on this. Chief Justice, Medhat al-Mahmud, eventually issued an opinion that the constitution was consistent both with the idea that the party that received the most votes in the election should have the first chance to form the government, and with the notion that whichever group could informally put together a governing coalition after the election could also get the first official chance to form the government. This was an exceptionally unhelpful ruling which has not only helped paralyze Iraqi politics today, but set a horrendous precedent for future elections. Of course, Iraqiyyah and Maliki’s other rivals immediately claimed that the Prime Minister had pressured Medhat to produce such a tortured opinion. Privately, many Americans and other foreigners in Iraq indicated that they believed this too, although no evidence has been produced to support the accusation.

At that moment, the best thing that the U.S. could have done would have been to set Medhat’s opinion aside and, in concert with the UN, announce that what was best for Iraqi democracy in the long-term was to allow the party that received the most votes in the election to have the first chance to form a government. If that party failed within the time allotted by the constitution, the party with the next largest number of votes would get their chance. Thus, Allawi’s Iraqiyyah would have had the first shot at forming a government and had they failed (as Maliki’s people insisted they would), then State of Law would have its chance. Instead, the U.S. and the UN took no official position and threw Iraq into political chaos.

The election produced four major blocs in the parliament—Iraqiyyah, State of Law, the Kurds with 53 seats, and the Sadrists with roughly 40 seats. It meant that only Iraqiyyah and State of Law together could pass the 163 seats needed to form a governing coalition. Otherwise, each needed both the Kurds and the Sadrists and a few independents as well. That made both the Sadrists and the Kurds king-makers and both set out to extract the most they could from the parties before committing. To make matters worse, the new Obama Administration placed an excessive emphasis on having a fully “inclusive” government, which ruled out a number of possible combinations that might have produced a more effective Iraqi government, and done so sooner. For nearly a year, Iraqi politics came to a complete halt, all of the provisions in the constitution regarding the timetables for forming a new government were ignored, and the United States (and the UN) did nothing to force a resolution. This too set a terrible precedent, undermining the nascent effort to establish the principal of the rule of law and adherence to the constitution. It also derailed the momentum Iraqi democracy had built up in the prior 18 months and established the dangerous standard that what mattered was not how the people voted, but how the parties politicked afterward.

With the United States unwilling to break the political logjam or enforce the rules of Iraq’s political system, Iraq’s leaders were left to their own devices. Of far greater importance, the heated divisions among the main Iraqi parties and their no-holds-barred infighting over forming the new government allowed the Iranians right back in. Once the parties were frightened, angry, isolated and feeling abandoned by the Americans, Tehran was able to step and bribe, persuade, promise, threaten and coerce Iraq’s politicians to do things their way. And without either a coherent American alternative plan or American push back on Iranian pressure, the Iraqi politicians were slowly brought around to Tehran’s preferred solution.

First, the Iranians forced the Sadrists to accept Maliki as prime minister (something they had previously refused). Then, they strong-armed Maliki (who fears and dislikes the Iranians himself) into cutting a deal with the Sadrists (whom he also detests). With that shotgun wedding accomplished, Maliki could then sit sat down with Barzani and (again, with Tehran’s approval) agree to the Kurdish leader’s terms, at which point Maliki had the votes to form a government. But both the Americans and Barzani wanted the mostly-Sunni Iraqiyyah coalition in the government too—Washington to preserve the impression of inclusivity, the Kurds as an internal counterweight to State of Law and the Sadrists, both overwhelmingly Shi’a parties. In November 2010, the deal was struck and the following month the ministries were divvied up and the government seated, mostly. There were no ministers of defense and interior since Allawi and Maliki could not agree on who would take those crucial portfolios.

The government created was, in effect, a government of national unity. It included State of Law, Iraqiyyah, the Kurds, the Sadrists and a variety of independents. It simply took all of Iraq’s political differences and brought them into the government, utterly paralyzing the Cabinet and much of the bureaucracy. It was weak and much too dependent on Iran, precisely as Tehran had hoped. So far, none of the Iraqi participants has fulfilled his side of the many deals that were struck, insisting that someone else do so first. But there is no move to dissolve the government or bring it down by a vote of no confidence because all of the parties like owning various ministries, which serve as massive patronage networks—really graft machines—by which Iraqi oil revenues are converted into salaries, contracts, and illegal payments to the partisans of whichever group controls that ministry. Since the government is so large, only the defection of at least two of the main power blocs along with a number of independents could bring it down, but since all of the parties dislike and distrust one another and they are all terrified of losing their ministries if they try and fail, it has effectively proven impossible to create such a coalition. And in the end, too many of the players are looking over their shoulder at Iran before attempting such a gambit, and the Iranians have consistently forbade it.

Change for the Worse in Tehran

The last piece of the puzzle that needs to be set in place to understand Iran’s role in Iraq today, is the transformation of Iranian politics that occurred in the summer and fall of 2009. June 12, 2009 and the weeks that followed were a watershed for the Islamic Republic. The regime confronted its most dangerous internal threat ever as millions of Iranians took to the streets and to their rooftops to protest what they believed was a stolen election. For the first time e