TSR: "You hear people talking about America's strategy to curb Iran inside Iraq. It's a fallacy."
Michael visits The Situation Room and talks to Wolf about the realities of Iranian influence in Iraq.
WOLF BLITZER: Let's get to the Iranian threat right now in Iraq. Five years to the day after that statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad, is the U.S. exchanging one foe for another foe?
Let's discuss with our Baghdad correspondent, Michael Ware. He's here in Washington in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Once again, you were up on the Hill for a second day in a row watching all of this unfold. Some have suggested -- and I don't know where you stand on this -- that the big winner over the past five years in Iraq has been Iran.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's much more than a suggestion; it's obvious fact. Indeed, the most senior U.S. officials in Iraq have repeatedly told me that that is in fact the case.
The American invasion of Iraq, the removal of Saddam and, preceding that, the removal of the Taliban, all amounted to a gift to Tehran on a platter. We've seen --
BLITZER: In part because Saddam Hussein was such a bitter foe of the regime in Tehran.
WARE: Absolutely. Iranian influence stopped at Saddam's border. Now that has opened. Physically and in terms of influence, it has spread.
And look who the American-sponsored elections brought to power. All of the major factions of the Iraqi government are linked to Iran.
BLITZER: Mostly Shiites?
WARE: Mostly Shia, but even the Kurdish parties. Indeed, the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, is a Kurd, but he shares a border with Iran. He's got a long association.
BLITZER: So, what you're seeing is that, today, five years later, Iran is a much more formidable foe to the United States in that part of the world than it was when Saddam Hussein was in power?
WARE: Oh, there's absolutely no doubt about that. And that's what's really driving this war now. This is not so much a war against al Qaeda. Sure, it's a war to check al Qaeda's spread. But the real nature of the conflict, of the competition in Iraq today, is America's pursuit of influence vis-a-vis Iran.
BLITZER: If the U.S. were to withdraw, though, very quickly within let's say over the next year, the new president takes office, and they starting withdrawing, what happens then in terms of Iranian influence in Iraq and the region?
WARE: What few checks there are now will be removed. You will see Iran further consolidate its influence. And then you would except to see it expand that and press its advantage. Indeed, this is what America's Arab allies have literally been screaming about since before the invasion.
BLITZER: So, when Jordan's King Abdullah about a year or so ago warned of a Shiite arc emerging from Iran through Iraq through Syria and then into Lebanon to fight, if you will, to be a counter to the Arab Sunnis, what you're saying is, there is some truth to that?
WARE: Well, that's certainly part of Tehran's ambitions. They have very aspirational interests.
First, they're trying to prevent an Iraq from ever attacking it again, like it did under Saddam. And America acknowledges Iran does have legitimate interests in Iraq. But they have interests that go far beyond that. There's long been talk of the Shia crescent.
They're trying to not just check Sunni/Arab influence, but to expand their own. And we see them sponsoring Hamas, a Sunni organization in Palestine.
BLITZER: Or Hezbollah.
WARE: Hezbollah, an Arab organization, though it's Shia, in Lebanon. So, you hear people talking about America's strategy to curb Iran inside Iraq. It's a fallacy, Wolf. They're saying that they're relying basically on the divide between Arab Iraqis and Persian Iranians. That's going to be nowhere near enough.
BLITZER: Michael Ware, thanks very much.
And Michael is going to be interviewing General Petraeus tomorrow here in Washington. And we're going to looking forward to that interview right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Michael, thanks very much.
WARE: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, good, Michael Ware, our reporter in Baghdad. He's here in Washington.