Opening A New Front In The War, Against Iranians In Iraq

Opening A New Front In The War, Against Iranians In Iraq
January 15th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Opening A New Front In The War, Against Iranians In Iraq

Opening A New Front In The War, Against Iranians In Iraq
New York Times
January 15, 2007 News Analysis

By David E. Sanger
WASHINGTON, Jan. 14 — For more than two years after Saddam Hussein’s fall, the war in Iraq was about chasing down insurgents and Al Qaeda in Iraq. Last year it expanded to tamping down sectarian warfare.
Over the past three weeks, in two sets of raids and newly revealed orders issued by President Bush, a third front has opened — against Iran.
Administration officials say the goal is limited to preventing Iranians from aiding in attacks on American and Iraqi forces inside Iraq. But in recent interviews and public statements, senior members of the Bush administration have made it clear that their agenda goes significantly further, toward foiling Iran’s dream of emerging as the greatest power in the Middle East.
In an interview on Friday, before she left on her latest Middle East trip, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described what she called an “evolving” strategy to confront “destabilizing behavior” by Iran across the region. Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, said Sunday on the NBC News program “Meet the Press” that the United States was resisting an Iranian effort “to basically establish hegemony” throughout the region.
Even some of Mr. Bush’s fiercest critics do not question that the administration’s conviction that Iran’s ambitions are large is correct. A few midlevel administration officials wondered even in 2003 whether Iran was a far more potent threat than Mr. Hussein.
Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, administration officials argued that deposing Mr. Hussein would send a powerful signal to Iran and North Korea, the two countries that Mr. Bush identified along with Iraq in his 2002 State of the Union address as part of an “axis of evil.”
“You heard this argument in meetings all the time,” a senior official on the National Security Council, who has since left the administration, recalled recently. “Iraq would make the harder problems of Iran and North Korea easier.”
But the opposite happened. North Korea tested a nuclear device in October. And Iran has sped ahead with a uranium enrichment program.
Now, despite the urging of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group to engage with Iran, Washington is moving in a more confrontational direction. It is stationing more naval, air and antimissile batteries off Iran’s coast; has persuaded many international businesses to cut off dealings with Iran; and it has interfered with Iranians inside Iraqi territory.
“The administration does have Iran on the brain, and I think they are exaggerating the amount of Iranian activities in Iraq,” Kenneth M. Pollack, the director of research at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, said Sunday. “There’s a good chance that this is going to be counterproductive — that this is a way to get into a spiral with Iran that leads you into conflict. The likely response from the Iranians is that they are going to want to demonstrate to us that they are not going to be pushed around.”
Administration officials say that ignoring Iran’s activities will only lead to escalation with the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. “There’s no question that everything that has gone wrong in Iraq has made life easier for the Iranians,” one senior White House official said recently. “The question is what you do about that.”
The answer, shaped in the National Security Council, is for the American military to make targets of Iranians whom they believe are fueling attacks, a decision that Mr. Bush made months ago that was disclosed only last week.
At least twice in the last month, in raids in Iraq that have infuriated officials there, American soldiers have detained Iranians. On Sunday, Iraq’s foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari, called for the release of five Iranians taken in the most recent raid, which occurred early on Thursday in Erbil. On CNN’s “Late Edition,” he said that while the five were members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the group “in fact is part of the Iranian political system.”
The potential strategic split with the Iraqi government over how to handle the Iranians is only one of the questions raised by Washington’s new approach. First among them is whether the effort will stop at Iran’s borders. In Congressional testimony, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates has said that he sees no need to enter Iranian territory.
Yet American officials have been careful not to rule out the possibility of American actions inside Iran. Pressed on the ABC News program “This Week” on Sunday about excluding the option of going after Iranians inside Iran, Mr. Hadley said that for now, Iraq was “the best place” for the United States to take on the Iranians.
“So, you don’t believe you have the authority to go into Iran?” the host, George Stephanopoulos, asked.
“I didn’t say that,” Mr. Hadley responded. “This is another issue. Any time you have questions about crossing international borders, there are legal issues.”
A second question is whether Mr. Bush will step up covert as well as overt efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program. So far, the evidence collected by the International Atomic Energy Agency suggests that Iran’s nuclear efforts have run into technical obstacles, but concerns remain that inspectors are missing secret facilities. A third question is what Washington would do if the Iranians looked for ways to strike back.
Escalating tensions are the fear of American allies in the region, who worry about Iran, but worry more about provoking it.
On Sunday, Vice President Dick Cheney argued that America’s actions were intended to protect allies in the Persian Gulf — though it is far from clear that Iran’s Sunni Arab neighbors have signed on to the strategy. “If you go and talk with the gulf states or if you talk with the Saudis or if you talk about the Israelis or the Jordanians, the entire region is worried,” Mr. Cheney said on “Fox News Sunday.” He described how the Iranians “sit astride the Straits of Hormuz” and its oil-shipping channels, how they support Hamas and Hezbollah.
“So the threat that Iran represents is growing,” he said, in words reminiscent of how he once built a case against Mr. Hussein. “It’s multidimensional, and it is, in fact, of concern to everybody in the region.”

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