Monday, February 12, 2007
Latest revelations in the "Iranian threat"
On Saturday in Baghdad three anonymous U.S. officials presented their long-delayed show-and-tell on Iranian involvement in arming Iraqi insurgents. Reuters has identified them as a "defense official," an "explosives expert" and a "defense analyst." No one has explained the need for such anonymity. My guess is that no one wants to have a fake weapons claim pinned to his chest, as happened to former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Not only was the presentation anonymous, it came after repeated postponements. We were told to believe that this was from a zeal for caution. On February 2 National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley gave this humorous explanation of why the Administration's plan to implicate Iran as a "key driver of the violence in Iraq" had been postponed—
Q .... You've said there is evidence tying Iran to attacks in Iraq. You've said that you'd make that evidence public. That supposed to be made public on the 31st [of January].
MR. HADLEY: The reason we put the intelligence briefing on hold was really two reasons. One, we thought we'd better get the NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] out so people could see the full context,1 which you now can. And secondly, quite frankly, we want to make sure that if we put out intelligence, the intelligence community and MNFI can stand behind it, because we are sensitive to try and put out the facts as accurately as we can.
Q And now it's been pushed back. Can we conclude anything from that other than people looked at the intelligence that was set to offered and said, this is not good enough?
MR. HADLEY: No, I wouldn't --
Q Does that mean there was a willingness to overstate it?
MR. HADLEY: The truth is, quite frankly, we thought the briefing overstated. And we sent it back to get it narrowed and focused on the facts. And that's not a criticism of anybody. It was, in some sense, an attempt to do and address some of the issues in the NIE in a briefing on intelligence of Iranian activity in Iraq. And we thought, hey, why are we doing this?
Well, hey! Why indeed?
The presentation of the evidence
LA Times reporters Tina Susman and Borzou Daragahi described the presentation this way—
U.S. defense and intelligence officials, seeking to lend credibility to allegations that Iran is providing weapons to Shiite militants in Iraq, displayed munitions and fragments of weapons yesterday that they said constituted solid evidence that Tehran was contributing to Iraq's violence.
They also alleged that a group under the command of Iran's supreme leader was behind the smuggling of the weaponry across the Iran-Iraq border.
The reporters even gave their own assessments of the claims—
The officers presented fairly strong evidence that the weapons and components were manufactured in Iran2; the claims that Iranian officials had orchestrated their smuggling into Iraq and that the weapons were primarily intended for use against U.S. and Iraqi forces appeared weaker.
But they did not note, as Reuters did, that
The senior defence analyst said there was no "smoking gun" linking Tehran and Iraqi militants.
British author and activist Milan Rai has prepared an analysis of the presentation and of the reaction in the British media. I won't attempt to repeat the content, but since it's in PDF format I'll try to have an HTML version available soon.
[2/14/07 — Milan Rai now has his paper on line here.]
The regional context
In addition to Rai's analysis of U.S. claims about Iran, Americans should keep in mind the regional context. Guy Dinmore of the Financial Times put it clearly—
While the US is focusing public attention on Iran with accusations of its destabilising role in Iraq, analysts in Washington warn that all Iraq's neighbours are becoming more deeply involved in covert activities that fuel the sectarian conflict.
Funds and weapons originating in Saudi Arabia are still reaching Sunni groups and al-Qaeda, sometimes routed through Syria. Meanwhile, Turkey is becoming more active in north Iraq as it prepares to help the Turkmen minority in a looming confrontation over the future of the Kurdish-claimed, oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
The Bush administration, however, wants the spotlight focused on Iran and not on its allies in the region. The Sunni-dominated Gulf Arab states are being pushed by Washington to form a broad anti-Iranian alliance with the US, even ... at the risk of provoking a wider Sunni-Shia conflict in the Islamic world.
Dinmore then quotes from a "senior U.S. official" who said that the Sunni insurgency is being funded "by private Saudi and other Gulf Arab 'individuals.'"
He follows with a mention of a Brookings Institution report that seems to want to blame Iran for all the other Middle Eastern actors in Iraq—
Foreign intervention at the covert level is proceeding apace in Iraq....
The Sunni powers of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait and Turkey are all frightened by Iran's growing influence and presence inside Iraq and are scrambling to catch up.
So if America's "allies" in the Middle East are arming al-Qaeda in Iraq, it's okay with the Bush administration so long as they're doing it out of fear of "Iran's growing influence."
But Dinmore saves the best till last—
Sue Kelly, a Republican member of Congress from 1995 until last month and chair of the House financial services oversight and investigations subcommittee, has been active in fighting the "silent war" of terrorist funding. She says she encountered internal obstacles in tackling Washington's Gulf Arab allies.
Bureaucratic struggles, combined with inattention and government inertia, have dragged back progress in blocking terrorist funding, she says. The US has a "complicated co-dependency with Saudi Arabia", she told the Hudson Institute think-tank. She said her investigations into broader terrorism funding took her to Riyadh, where she discovered that the kingdom's "financial intelligence unit", which the State Department claimed existed, was merely an "empty floor in a building".
Progress was made later, she added. She intended to follow up a year ago but said the State Department blocked a visit to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates because "someone" did not want to disrupt the "co-operative alliance".
Then one last gasp from the Neocons to contradict what everybody else knows—
Danielle Pletka, a senior analyst with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, supports Saudi Arabia's assertions that the government does not fund Sunni insurgents. However, she calls claims that they cannot exert control over individual Saudi funding of terrorists "ridiculous".
And the point is ...
I've left the analysis of the most recent anti-Iranian allegations to Milan Rai, cited earlier. But his critique made me realize that many reports in the media use the term "Iranian" without specifying actual involvement of the Iranian government. By reporting for the Administration in this manner the public is given the impression that the Iranian government is responsible for arming the militias, whether there is proof or not.
If fact it seems to have worked on Democratic Senator Chris Dodd. Though this BBC report is ostensibly about the Democrats' scepticism of the Bush administration's accusations against Iran, Dodd is quoted as saying—
I'm looking at this report with a degree of scepticism.
I don't doubt that Iran has been involved to some degree, and clearly that's a problem and needs to be addressed.
It's interesting that though the proof of Iranian government involvement in arming Iraqi militias has yet to be produced, Sen. Dodd doesn't doubt that Iran is involved to some degree. Hmhh.
Some of the reports even hint of a nefarious American strategy that goes beyond Iran. As I quoted Dinmore earlier—
The Sunni-dominated Gulf Arab states are being pushed by Washington to form a broad anti-Iranian alliance with the US, even ... at the risk of provoking a wider Sunni-Shia conflict in the Islamic world.
Think about that one for a moment. Is the Bush Administration now promoting some insane realpolitik in which the Islamic world becomes further divided and turned upon itself?
At the end of January a suicide bomber showed up for a Shia religious festival in Pakistan, and the press reported—
There is concern that the Sunni-Shia violence raging in Iraq is feeding Pakistan’s own sectarian conflict, which analysts say could erode the stability of a country already struggling to contain Taliban and al-Qaida militants.
In some parallel universe it's possible to believe that internecine strife among Muslims could spare the Christian West and Israel a great deal of grief. And when it comes to sewing discord, nobody does it as well as the Bush administration.
1Despite the denial, it does look as if someone in the intelligence establishment advised the Administration that just maybe they should wait until the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) was released to avoid serious contradiction and embarrassment. [back]