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Thinking The Unthinkable In Iraq

"Ahmadinejad and some of the more hawkish Revolutionary Guard generals no doubt salivate at the thought of the United States being forced into a humiliating withdrawal a la Vietnam. Shiite Islam would be seen as victorious from Tehran to Beirut to Damascus via Baghdad, rectifying centuries of perceived injustices." Photo courtesy AFP.
by Arnaud De Borchgrave
UPI Editor at Large
Washington (UPI) Jan 16, 2007
No sooner did the United States invade Iraq in March 2003 than Iran poured hundreds of agents into Iraq to aid the majority Shiites in consolidating a sudden geopolitical bonus -- majority control (60 percent) over the minority Sunnis (20 percent) that had kept them in vassalage for generations. This was payback time.

Before the end of 2003, the Jordanian intelligence service informed the CIA that "several hundred thousand had come across the (900-mile-long) Iranian border, including Iraqi Shiite refugees who had escaped when Saddam attacked Iran in 1980 (a war that lasted eight years with about one million killed on both sides). Thus, several hundred Iranian Revolutionary Guards came in and scattered to major cities to train volunteers for the two principal Shiite militia -- the Mahdi army and Badr organization.

Almost four years later every major power and smaller regional players are involved in Iraq, stirring their own brew to be consumed after the United States leaves Iraq. When President Bush says, "we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq," he knows this campaign cannot be confined to Iraq. The challenge, says Bush, "is playing out across the broader Middle East" and "it is the decisive ideological struggle of our time." Clearly, this cannot be undertaken without going outside Iraq to disrupt the privileged sanctuaries of self-avowed enemies.

Iran has been smuggling sophisticated IED's with remote control triggers for years. To interdict the border is as much pie-in-the-sky as interdicting Taliban fighters moving into Afghanistan from Pakistan.

Targeting a handful of Revolutionary Guards at an Iranian "consulate" in Irbil is the proverbial drop in the bucket. It angered the Iraqi government that had not been consulted. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, like his two predecessors, has invested a lot of time and effort into cultivating closer relations with Tehran. Iran has reciprocated with $2 billion in aid for schools and power grid improvements. Besides Shiite militias, Iran also assists Sunni insurgents, notwithstanding deep theological differences, while attempting to drive a wedge between foreign jihadists and Iraqi Islamists. All these groups consider the United States a bigger threat than Iran.

U.S. curbs on Iran's ability to perform financial transactions with foreign banks are further evidence the Bush administration's policy on Iran's role in Iraq is precisely the opposite of what the Iraq Study Group recommended last month -- a surge, not in U.S. troops for Iraq, but in U.S. diplomatic contacts with Iran and Syria to try to build a consensus on how to stabilize Iraq.

Confronting Iran within Iraq's borders is as illusory as confronting the Vietcong in South Vietnam without using U.S. air power north of the 17th parallel into North Vietnam. A widening of hostilities is preordained on the present geopolitical track. And welcomed publicly by a growing number of Israeli officials.

The latest was Daniel Ayalon, the just retired Israeli ambassador to the United States, when he told UPI's Claude Salhani, "Iran will have to be stopped, no doubt about it." Not only will they be able to equip a terrorist group with a nuclear device, but "they can become the de facto controller of oil supply from the Middle East, or (at least) dictate oil prices."

Iran, meanwhile, is garnering support for a de facto anti-U.S. alliance of radical regimes in Latin America, led by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Shiite militias in Iraq, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories. Iran's clandestine warfare apparatus is also geared to disrupt Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. In such a Mideastern dovecote of troublemakers, Syria's dictatorship would bet on the predators. The Saudis have made clear to the Bush administration they will assist their Sunni brethren in Iraq with weapons and funding. These are the ingredients for a combustible mix that spells regional mayhem.

For a whole year before the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration was in denial while planning for a war that had long been decided. A sustained, three-night, rolling thunder bombing of Iran's nuclear facilities is ready to be launched at short notice from Diego Garcia and from two aircraft carriers in the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf. Supporting ships and submarines also can fire scores of Cruise missiles.

There is no question that Iran is helping to orchestrate attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq. But whether a bombing campaign will deter or goad the mullahocracy is open to question. There seems little doubt that president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad himself would prefer military confrontation. The apocalypse-in-his-own-lifetime syndrome would enable him to consolidate his leadership.

Ahmadinejad and some of the more hawkish Revolutionary Guard generals no doubt salivate at the thought of the United States being forced into a humiliating withdrawal a la Vietnam. Shiite Islam would be seen as victorious from Tehran to Beirut to Damascus via Baghdad, rectifying centuries of perceived injustices.

By comparison, the "surge" recently announced by President Bush to restore Iraqi government control in Baghdad seems hugely irrelevant. Shutting down Iran's clandestine networks in Iraq will take a lot more than adding one U.S. battalion to each Iraqi brigade patrolling the streets of the capital. Iran's infrastructure in Iraq has been growing much the way the Vietcong and North Vietnamese honeycombed South Vietnam. A Vietcong division headquarters was tunneled under a U.S. division HQ, unbeknownst to military intelligence.

The Maliki government knows Iran's presence in Iraq is already a lot more influential than America's. As much was stated in the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report, which was why it recommended diplomatic engagement with both Iran and Syria. Maliki also knows when the United States leaves, and leave it will, most probably before the 2008 election campaign, Iran will be the dominant power in the region.

The U.S. military has to go after Iran's underground network without notifying Maliki's dysfunctional government, which has cultivated close relations with Tehran and is penetrated by Iranian agents. To do otherwise, would be risking American lives unnecessarily. Yet Maliki has to be kept in the loop.

It is in Iran's interest to provoke chaos in Iraq to hasten a U.S. withdrawal. Whether this can still be spun as a strategic redeployment will depend more on decisions taken in Tehran than in Washington. Small comfort to know Iran does not want all-out civil war in Iraq.

Source: United Press International

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Iraq: The first technology war of the 21st century
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A General For Iraq
Washington (UPI) Jan 16, 2007
President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates chose an able and experienced officer in Lt. Gen. David Petraeus to command U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. The only trouble is, they appointed him three-and-a-half years too late.

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