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    Middle East
     Jan 20, 2007
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The great games over Iraq
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

No doubt, we are now witnessing the dawn of a new great game over Iraq. A recent communique by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has stated its "collective desire to prevent Iraq from becoming a battleground for regional and international powers".

The irony, however, is that this communique is also signed by two "out of area" Arab states, Jordan and Egypt, whose inclusion in the security calculus of the Persian Gulf rattles Iran and fuels the

growing rivalry between the Shi'ite power bloc and the Sunni Arabs led by Saudi Arabia.

Simultaneously, in a clue to the rather dizzying pattern of cross-cutting, paradoxical alliances and would-be alliances, the US has signaled a dramatic shift in its Iraq policy, aimed at deterring Iran's "hegemony", which puts Washington in league with the anti-Iran Sunni alliance precisely at a time when the US-Shi'ite alliance in Iraq is, while strained, still holding and there is no conceivable alternative to it, given the Shi'ite majority in the country. Or is there?

Shi'ites betrayed again?
Are they going to be betrayed again? This is a question increasingly on the mind of many Shi'ites in Iran, Iraq and elsewhere, who have a vivid memory of how then-US president George H W Bush betrayed Iraq's Shi'ites during the Gulf War in 1991 by first exhorting them to rebel against the late Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and, when they did in Basra, Najaf and Karbala, became complicit in their suppression.

The Americans not only failed to support them but, worse, by lifting the no-fly zone for Saddam's helicopters that airlifted troops to the rebellious south, the dictator's forces were given the green light by none other than the US Central Command chief at the time, General Norman Schwarzkopf. That little episode is barely mentioned in Schwarzkopf's memoir, A Soldier of Conscience.

From the vantage point of many Shi'ites in the region, the new accent on Iran in Iraq is a ruse for a change of heart in Washington toward the post-Saddam political process, and a prelude for a U-turn. Little wonder it took Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki more than two days to provide a tepid response to US President George W Bush's "new Iraq strategy", which ignores Maliki's own script for Baghdad security - the latter includes his appointment of a new commander for Baghdad, from the Shi'ite south and distrusted by the US generals.

"The US wants to have its cake and eat it too," a Tehran political analyst told the author, adding, "Bush is now appeasing the Sunni bloc and squeezing the Shi'ites and still wants to claim a continuity of US policy in Iraq when it is abundantly clear that discontinuity is gaining the upper hand."

Another point conveyed by this analyst concerned the US kidnapping of several Iranians at the consular office in the Kurdish city of Irbil. US officials have accused those Iranians of being from the Qods Group of the Revolutionary Guards and involved in subversive activities, a charge vigorously denied by Tehran.

A shade of Bosnia
"There is a shade of Bosnia here," explained the analyst, referring to the US-Iran cooperation in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the early 1990s, which saved the beleaguered Bosnian Muslims from Serbian atrocities, notwithstanding a United Nations arms embargo.

Then-US president Bill Clinton, urged by his top aides, authorized that cooperation, which involved "the Pentagon's own secret service" instead of the Central Intelligence Agency, as per a 1997 congressional document. According to that report, the United States was "very closely involved" in the Iranian arms pipeline to Bosnia through Turkey and Croatia, which involved small arms, mortars, anti-tank guns and surface-to-air missiles.

Indeed, the history of US-Qods cooperation in Bosnia and subsequently in Afghanistan is instructive, given the avalanche of negative commentaries in the US media that portray a completely adversarial relationship between the US and Iran. In 1996, Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the US House of Representative, set up a special committee to investigate US-Iran relations in Bosnia, which some US senators, including John Kerry, castigated as Clinton's version of the "Iran-Contra affair", with Kerry accusing Clinton of "turning a blind eye to Iranian shipments".

As a result of such political pressures, the Clinton administration shifted its policy toward the Iranians in Bosnia: the Revolutionary Guards' offices in Bosnia were ordered closed and, in one case reminiscent of the Irbil incident, US forces took over one of those liaison offices and temporarily apprehended several Iranians whom they accused of subversive activities.

Expelling the Iranians from Bosnia after they were no longer needed seemed like the right policy, and all the signs are that the US is inclined to repeat it in Iraq, irrespective of the stark differences relating to Iran's proximity to neighboring Iraq and the wealth of historical and religious ties.

But as stated above, in addition to Bosnia, the US military and the Qods Group cooperated in Afghanistan. In a conversation with the author in Tehran in the autumn of 2004, a Revolutionary Guard commander recalled his meeting with a top US general in a tent at Baghram Airport, where the two hammered out the number of northern front troops who would enter Kabul without causing much-feared bloodshed.

Turning to Iraq, the question is: What is the ultimate objective of the US? Clearly, the Bush administration has nullified the possibility of US-Iran cooperation in Iraq, as called for by the

Continued 1 2 

US lacks 'explosive' evidence against Iran (Jan 18, '07)

Fishing in troubled waters (Jan 17, '06)


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