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    Middle East
     Aug 18, 2007
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US steps closer to war with Iran
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

The Bush administration has leaped toward war with Iran by, in essence, declaring war with the main branch of Iran's military, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which it plans to brand as a terrorist organization.

A logical evolution of US President George W Bush's ill-defined, boundless "war on terror", the White House's move is dangerous to the core, opening the way for open confrontation with Iran. This

may begin in Iraq, where the IRGC is reportedly most active and, ironically, where the US and Iran have their largest common denominators.

A New York Times editorial has dismissed this move as "amateurish" and a mere "theatric" on the part of the lame-duck president, while at the same time admitting that it represents a concession to "conflict-obsessed administration hawks who are lobbying for military strikes". The political analysts who argue that the main impact of this initiative is "political" are plain wrong. It is a giant step toward war with Iran, irrespective of how well, or poorly, it is thought of, particularly in terms of its immediate and long-term implications, let alone the timing of it.

Coinciding with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's highly publicized trip to Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan, the news received front-page coverage in the New York Times, next to a photograph of Ahmadinejad and his Afghan host, President Hamid Karzai, as if intended to spoil Ahmadinejad's moment by denigrating the Iranian regime. Just two weeks ago, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice implicitly put Iran on a par with the Soviet Union by invoking comparisons to the Cold War, and in essence compared it to al-Qaeda.

Thus if an unintended side-effect of the Cold War terminology was to enhance Iran's global image, the "terrorist" label for the IRGC aims to deliver a psychological blow to Iran by de-legitimizing the country.

Also, it serves the United States' purpose at the United Nations Security Council, where a British-prepared draft of a new round of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program has been floating around for a while and will likely be acted on this autumn. The draft calls for tightening the screws on Iran by broadening the list of blacklisted Iranian companies and even may lead to the interdiction of Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf. This is indeed a dangerous move that could easily trigger open confrontation.

With the window of opportunity for Bush to use the "military option" closing because of the US presidential elections next year, the administration's hawks - "it is now or never" - have received a huge boost by the move to label the IRGC as terrorists. It paves the way for potential US strikes at the IRGC's installations inside Iran, perhaps as a prelude to broader attacks on the country's nuclear facilities. At least that is how it is being interpreted in Iran, whose national-security concerns have skyrocketed as a result of the labeling.

"The US double-speak with Iran, talking security cooperation on the one hand and on the other ratcheting up the war rhetoric, does not make sense and gives the impression that the supporters of dialogue have lost in Washington," a prominent Tehran University political scientist who wished to remain anonymous told the author.

The US has "unfettered" itself for a strike on Iran by targeting the IRGC, and that translates into heightened security concerns. "The United States never branded the KGB [Russian secret service] or the Soviet army as terrorist, and that shows the limits of the Cold War comparison," the Tehran political scientist said. His only optimism: there are "two US governments" speaking with divergent voices, ie, "deterrence diplomacy and preemptive action", and "that usually, historically speaking, spells policy paralysis".

However, no one in Iran can possibly place too much faith on that kind of optimism. Rather, the net effect of this labeling, following the recent "shoot to kill" order of Bush with regard to Iranian operatives in Iraq accused of aiding the anti-occupation insurgents, is to elevate fears of a US "preemptory" strike on Iran. Particularly concerned are many top government officials, lawmakers and present or former civil and military functionaries who are or were at some point affiliated with the IRGC.

There is also a legal implication. Under international law, the United States' move could be challenged as illegal, and untenable, by isolating a branch of the Iranian government for selective targeting. This is contrary to the 1981 Algiers Accord's pledge of non-interference in Iran's internal affairs by the US government. [1]

Should the terror label on the IRGC be in place soon, US customs and homeland-security officials could, theoretically, arrest members of Ahmadinejad's delegation due to travel to the UN headquarters in New York next month because of suspected ties to the IRGC. Even Ahmadinejad, with his past as a commander of the Basij Corps, a paramilitary arm of the IRGC, risks arrest.

The US has opened a Pandora's box with a hasty decision that may have unintended consequences far beyond its planned 

Continued 1 2 

US gambles on Iran's 'soldiers of terror' (Aug 17, '07)

US 'surges', soldiers die. Blame Iran (Aug 16, '07)

Iran plays the Central Asia card (Aug 15, '07)

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2. US gambles on Iran's 'soldiers of terror'

3. Missing US arms probe goes global

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5. Panic attack: Asian markets take a tumble 

6. A stumble over the 'W' word in Afghanistan

7. The anatomy of a Thai porn scandal

8. Exit Iran's oil minister, and a pipeline too 

9. US 'surges', soldiers die. Blame Iran

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(24 hours to 23:59 pm ET, Aug 16, 2007)


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