Gingrich: U.S. created a vacuum in Iraq

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on "Face the Nation," Sunday, Dec. 18, 2011. CBS/Chris Usher

On "Face the Nation" Sunday former House Speaker Newt Gingrich commented on the final departure of U.S. troops from Iraq, saying America has created a vacuum in Baghdad that will lead to instability and growing influence from Iran.

"I said in December of 2003, both on 'Meet the Press' and in Newsweek, that we had gone off a cliff, that Ambassador Bremer had given us an assignment that we couldn't do," Gingrich told Bob Schieffer. "I think we're going to find to our great sadness that we've lost several thousand young Americans and had many thousands more wounded undertaking a project that we couldn't do."

"Last week when [Iraqi Prime Minister] Maliki visited the president, one of the people in his entourage was a commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. I mean, people do not understand how much the Iranians have penetrated Iraq, and that the vacuum we've created will lead to, I think, a very, very unstable and very unpleasant environment in Iraq," he said.

Gingrich was referring to Hadi Farhan al-Amiri, who is the current Minister of Transportation in the Iraqi government, and is the political head of the Badr Corps, formerly the Badr Brigades.

Al-Amiri was not a commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, although the Guard was seen as the Badr fighters' primary funder.

During the Iran-Iraq War the Badr Brigades were an armed fighting force of an Iraqi Shia exile group, based in Iran, called the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). This Islamist group fought against Saddam Hussein, enlisting Iraqi refugees and defectors from Hussein's army.

Badr members were viewed as an ally of the U.S. prior to and following the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Hussein. For example, the group took credit for armed attacks against the Hussein regime and Baath party offices in Baghdad and elsewhere in 2001.

But Washington did express concern about the group's ties to the Iranian government, especially with Iran  supplying arms and training to the Badr Brigades during and after the Iran-Iraq War. In March 2003 State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, "Our concern about Iran has been the involvement of Iranians in Iraq. You know that the issue has been raised with these so called 'Badr Brigades' possibly moving into Northern Iraq or even being there ... We've made no secret of our views that we oppose any Iranian presence in Iraq because we think that kind of presence would be serious, it would be de-stabilizing."

The Badr Corps has also been accused of sectarian violence against Sunnis. Additionally, Badr fighters  clashed with British forces in Basra, and with Mahdi Army forces of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

A 2005 report on a Jordanian website, al-Malaf Net, said that Iran was funding the SCIRI, and that al-Amiri had a direct link to the Guards' elite Qods Force.

In the Summer of 2008 the Associated Press reported that al-Amiri and Ali Al Deeb, senior member of Maliki's Shi'ite Dawa Party, pressed an Iranian brigadier general, Qassem Suleimani, to force Sadr to pull back his fighters and stop the flow of Iranian weapons to Shi'ite militias in Iraq. Their entreaties to Tehran were considered instrumental in preserving Maliki's coalition in Parliament and in Sadr's stand-down order to his militias.

Al-Almiri wasn't the first Iranian-allied Iraqi leader to visit the White House.

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
In December 2006 President George W. Bush welcomed Sayyed Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which was part of the pro-Tehran Badr organization. Vice President Dick Cheney also met several times with al-Hakim, including a March 2008 meeting in Baghdad, in which Cheney visited "the home of my friend, Sayyed Abdul-Aziz Hakim."

"I was last in Iraq 10 months ago and there has been a tremendous amount of progress in that period, on the security side in particular, but politically, as well. Sayyed Hakim and I had a good chance to review the situation, and I had a chance to thank him for working so hard with the United States and with Iraq's other leaders to advance the cause of Iraq's freedom and democracy," Cheney said.

  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

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