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    Middle East
     Jul 4, 2007
US blame game puts more pressure on Iran
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

Forces opposed to the United States' engagement of Iran are slowly gaining the upper hand, thanks mainly to the US military suddenly upping the ante. In the military's first salvo of its kind, US military spokesman Brigadier-General Kevin J Bergner accused Iran's Revolutionary Guards and their special unit, the Quds Force, of complicity, together with Lebanon's Hezbollah, in training and arming militant Shi'ites in Iraq. The allegations include one against a former associate of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is accused of murdering US soldiers in Karbala.

The US military's charges against Iran coincide with President



George W Bush's seaside summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin and follow similar accusations made by Bush administration officials. Together, they have the potential to derail the nascent US-Iran dialogue on Iraq.

Representing a timely log in the furnace of Washington's hawks, who are adamantly opposed to engaging Iran, as called for by the Iraq Study Group (ISG), the allegations by the US military are bound to anger Tehran's leaders, who may now reassess their expressed desire for a second round of talks with the United States on Iraq's security.

The timing of the US military's announcement is peculiar. Bergner said a senior Hezbollah operative in Iraq had been in the United States' custody for some time, yet the military chose the very day of the Bush-Putin summit to go public with it.

What is more, Muqtada's former spokesman, Qais Khazali, who has also been arrested by the US military, along with his brother, for an alleged role in the January assault on US soldiers in Karbala, has reportedly confessed to having received support from the Quds Force.

But given Khazali's politics of opposing cooperation with the current Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, which is supported by Iran, this raises questions about the veracity of the information: it may have been solicited by US interrogators aiming to provide the hawkish anti-Iran elements in the Bush administration with new material to work with.

From the vantage point of many Iranian political analysts, this fits a long-standing pattern of Washington's contradictory behavior toward Iran, that is, torpedoing the evolution of any soft Iranian policy toward the US, or signs of its moderation on nuclear and other foreign-policy issues.

Just last week, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki reiterated Iran's interest in a new round of talks with the US, and his spokesman announced Iran's readiness to consider seriously the "time-out" option put forth by the International Atomic Energy Agency over Iran's nuclear program.

"How can Iran take the US seriously when every time Iran takes one or two steps forward, the US reciprocates by ratcheting up the accusations against Iran?" a prominent Iranian political analyst told the author. "It is now clear that the US has a Janus-faced approach toward Iran, taking away with one hand the olive branch it offers with the other."

Indeed, it has not escaped Tehran's attention that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has not echoed Mottaki's sentiment for a new round of talks, nor has the Farsi-speaking US ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, given any positive feedback that would reassure the Iranians. This is despite his positive assessment of the initial talks in Baghdad in March.

Yet the US - in writing - requested the talks in the first place. Now there is a noticeable change of heart. It could be that the Iran debate in Washington is being resolved in favor of the anti-Iran hawks headed by the office of Vice President Dick Cheney.

The White House has made sure that the Bush-Putin meeting in Maine is correctly pitched to the international media, as primarily geared toward "addressing Iran". The US wants Russia on board with tougher United Nations sanctions on Iran, and the timely released new allegations against the Quds Force serve to isolate Tehran further internationally and make it harder for Putin to resist US pressure.

But why is the US shying away from concrete solutions, such as the "time-out" proposal that might lead to a peaceful resolution of the nuclear standoff?

The US media have, as expected, adopted as uncontestable facts the latest US allegations against Iran, without asking whether this is yet another example of carefully constructed disinformation aimed at, among others, the Iranian public and the traditional Iranian military, which is favored over the Revolutionary Guards by the US military. And yet over the past 28 years, the US military has had more direct interaction with the Revolutionary Guards, and the Quds Force in particular, both in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the 1990s and in Afghanistan since 2003.

As a clue to the selective attention of the US and international media, none has reported on the statement from Iran, by General Ahmad Moghadam, in charge of anti-narcotics operations, that the US and British governments are assisting the Pakistan-based Sunni terrorist group Jundallah, which has conducted several terrorist activities inside Iran, including blowing up a bus in Sistan-Balochistan in February, killing 11 Revolutionary Guards.

Regarding Afghanistan, it was the Quds Force that helped the Northern Front alliance against the Taliban and then brokered an agreement with the US military for a peaceful takeover of Kabul by anti-Taliban forces in 2001. That experience should not be forgotten and, instead, should be used in Iraq, where there is a convergence of interests by Tehran and Washington with respect to the post-Saddam Hussein political order and al-Qaeda and Sunni terrorism. This warrants military-to-military dialogue as a timely counterpart to diplomatic and political dialogue.

In the ISG Report by James Baker and Lee Hamilton, ostensibly adopted by the White House after a long delay, there is a singular emphasis on creating the "right environment for dialogue". Yet the latest anti-Iran claims by the US military show the exact opposite, that is, a deliberate poisoning of the environment that is ultimately both illogical and irrational, given the US-Iran convergence of interests in Iraq.

A retired US military officer, Colonel Thomas Snodgrass, has even openly called for the destruction of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Writing in the website Family Security Matters, Snodgrass said, "I would target for death the Iranian supreme leader." Imagine if an Iranian officer were to have said this about Bush; no doubt it would be headline news.

The fact is that Iran, while favoring a timetable for US troop withdrawal from Iraq, does not favor an immediate exit, which might spell doom for the Shi'ite-led regime in Baghdad. It is therefore a serious error of judgment on the US military's part to regard Iran's influence in Iraq as purely negative.

On the contrary, as confirmed by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on his recent trip to Tehran, Iran is a pillar of support for the government in Baghdad. This is in light of its US$1 billion credit to Baghdad, its growing involvement with Iraq's reconstruction, by building roads, refineries and power generators. The internal stability and the national unity of Iraq remain high on Iran's agenda.

In the big picture, whatever their points of tensions, the US and Iran have common friends and common enemies in Iraq, as well as many in between who may have vested interests in derailing the evolution of US-Iran relations.

Unfortunately, the latest news from the US military suggests that the US government is itself riveted by contradictory policy currents over Iran and may be on the verge of a pretextual attack on Iran, to preempt a peaceful resolution of the nuclear row. That, no doubt, spells disaster not only for Iran but also for the entire region and will adversely impact the United States' vital interests in the Middle East.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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