A Hidden War

Iran is no doubt trying to influence events in Iraq, but many questions remain about Bush's intelligence and provocations.

Yesterday, anonymous Defense Department officials briefed reporters in Baghdad and offered “what they said were examples of Iranian weapons used to kill 170 of their soldiers and implicated high-level Iranian involvement in training Iraqi militants.” As former Rep. Lee Hamilton, co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group, notes, “Iran and Syria have influence in Iraq…. [W]e cannot wish that influence away. Undoubtedly, they are part of the problem. It was the view of the study group that we must try to make them a part of the solution.” No one denies that Iran is attempting to influence events in Iraq, but yesterday’s presentation–like other claims of Iranian involvement in Iraq–left unanswered questions about the quality of the Bush administration’s intelligence, concerns about its provocations, and resolve for the need to engage in diplomatic talks with Iran. One senior defense analyst at yesterday’s briefing admitted that there was no “smoking gun” linking Tehran and Iraqi militants.

  • The Bush administration is engaged in a dangerous “escalating tit-for-tat” with Iran. In his Jan. 10 address to the nation on his new Iraq strategy, President Bush included “some of his sharpest words of warning” to Iran. “I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier group to the region,” he said. Vice President Cheney explained that sending the carriers “sends a very strong signal to everybody in the region” that “we clearly have significant capabilities…to deal with the Iranian threat.” Alarmed by rising tensions between the United States and Iran, “Iraqi government officials fear their country is in danger of being dragged into the middle of a new conflict between its two main allies.” The president’s advisors “are effectively saying, ‘Invade Iran. Then everyone will see how smart we are,'” said Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform and an influential conservative who backed the Iraq invasion. One ambassador in Washington “said he was taken aback when John Hannah, Vice President Cheney’s national security adviser, said during a recent meeting that the administration considers 2007 ‘the year of Iran’ and indicated that a U.S. attack was a real possibility.”
  • The administration’s line on Iran leaves “more questions than answers.” Yesterday, three anonymous Defense Department officials offered what they described as a “growing body of evidence” that high-level Iranian officials are involved in manufacturing and exporting “armor piercing explosives, known as ‘explosively formed penetrators,’ or EFPs, that have killed more than 170 coalition troops” in the past two years. But as NPR noted, reporters walked away “with more questions than answers,” frustrated that the officials were “saying they have all this evidence” but weren’t “showing it to [them].” Even Iraq’s deputy foreign minister, Labeed M. Abbawi, said, “It is difficult for us here in the diplomatic circles just to accept whatever the American forces say is evidence. If they have anything really conclusive, then they should come out and say it openly; then we will pick it up from there and use diplomatic channels” to discuss it with Iran.
  • The administration is only losing ground by choosing not to talk to Iran. There is no doubt that Iran has influence in Iraq. William Odom, a retired Army lieutenant general and former National Security Agency director, points out that it is “absurd” to think Iran should have “zero influence” in Iraq. But Bush continues to oppose diplomatic talks with Iran. The Iraq Study Group, U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and former Secretary of State Colin Powell have all criticized the administration for its refusal to negotiate. “We know the obstacles–the obstacles are pretty easy to set forth–but how do you know unless you try? Talking is not appeasement. It’s diplomacy. Conversation with a country is not capitulation,” said Hamilton.

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