Months before Iran successfully installed its hand-picked government coalition in Iraq, Vice President Joe Biden told a group of U.S. military veterans that Iran's influence in the country was "minimal" and had been "greatly exaggerated."
"Let me tell you something, Iranian influence in Iraq is minimal," Biden said during an Aug. 23, 2010, address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "It's been greatly exaggerated."
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"The Iranian government spent over $100 million trying to affect the outcome of this last election to sway the Iraqi people, and they utterly failed," Biden continued. "The Iraqi people voted for their desired candidates, none of whom, none of whom, let me emphasize this, none of whom, were wanted by Iran."
Biden's remarks are newly relevant in light of his comments following President Donald Trump's decision to order a strike on Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian general who helped plan Tehran's takeover of the Iraqi political system. Biden's foreign policy record, particularly as it relates to Iraq, is coming under increasing scrutiny as Democrats barrel towards the Iowa caucuses next month.
Biden's 2010 address came in the wake of Iraqi parliamentary elections as the country worked to form a new government. Though Biden claimed in his speech that Iran had failed in its attempts to shape the new government, Iran, led by Soleimani, was getting exactly what it desired, according to the New Yorker‘s comprehensive 2013 profile of the now-eliminated terrorist leader.
Reporter Dexter Filkins revealed that American and Iraqi officials were aware in 2010 that Soleimani and Iran orchestrated the deal that kept Nuri al-Maliki as prime minister. In fact, according to Filkins, Biden himself made a call to Ayad Allawi, the secular candidate preferred by the United States, to urge him to step aside and allow Maliki to take power, effectively handing Iran political control of Iraq.
"They continue to try to improve their capabilities, partially to attack U.S. forces, partially to make sure everybody understands that they can have some impact in the country," Odierno said. "They clearly want to see a certain type of government that is formed here. I think they don't want to see Iraq turn into a strong democratic country, they'd rather see it become a weak governmental institution so they don't add more problems for Iran in the future."
The Obama administration in October 2010 expressed concern after Maliki traveled to Tehran during government coalition negotiations and received a public endorsement from then-Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley accused Iran of "meddling" in Iraqi politics and said "concerns about Iran and its meddling in Iraq's affairs are long-standing."
The negotiations had been ongoing for months, with Maliki's top advisers traveling to Iran to meet with Soleimani, according to reporting at the time. Maliki was able to remain in power after Iran brokered a political alliance between him and radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Biden later in his address, which was posted in full by the White House, said Maliki was "persona non grata in Iran."
Former U.S. officials told the Washington Free Beacon that Biden's assessment did not reflect the facts on the ground.
Michael Rubin, a Middle East expert who previously was stationed in Baghdad for the Pentagon, where he was an adviser on Iran and Iraq, said Iranian influence was obvious to U.S. officials as early as 2003 and would have been clearly laid out in intelligence Biden had access to.
"Biden has always prioritized political fiction over fact. Iranian influence was obvious to anyone who lived in Iraq as early as late 2003," Rubin told the Free Beacon. "The Iranians subsequently smuggled explosively formed projectiles which had already, by the time of Biden's comments, been used to kill or maim hundreds of Americans."
"Rather than respond to the problem, however, Biden simply lied," Rubin said. "He read the intelligence, lied, and set the stage for even more American deaths."
The Biden campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the 2010 remarks.
In exchange for putting together the deal that kept Maliki in power, Soleimani received revenue streams from Iraq that kept his Quds Force well funded, according to Filkins. Maliki, for example, was setting aside 200,000 barrels' worth of oil revenue and sending it to Soleimani, allowing his military force to operate independently from the heavily sanctioned Iranian economy.
Soleimani also enjoyed perks from the Iraqis, such as the ability to use Iraqi airspace to supply military equipment to Syria.
Soleimani was killed last Thursday by a U.S. airstrike on Baghdad International Airport, where American officials say he was plotting an "imminent attack" on the United States. Biden immediately condemned the attack as "a huge escalatory move in an already dangerous region."
Biden previously advocated for a strong response to Iranian terror, saying, for example, that a 1996 terror attack orchestrated by Iran was an "act of war."
Rubin said that Biden has throughout his career allowed politics to dictate his national security views.
"For Biden, this has been the rule rather than the exception on almost every issue: China post Tiananmen Square, the Balkans, Russia, and Syria," Rubin said. "If anyone needed to chart how national security became a political football in Washington, they need go no farther than chart Biden's career."