Simon Tisdall / The Guardian & Gabriel Ronay / The Sunday Herald – 2007-01-31 22:52:15
Bush ‘Spoiling for a Fight’ with Iran
Simon Tisdall / The Guardian
WASHINGTON (January 30, 2007) — US officials in Baghdad and Washington are expected to unveil a secret intelligence “dossier” this week detailing evidence of Iran’s alleged complicity in attacks on American troops in Iraq. The move, uncomfortably echoing Downing Street’s dossier debacle in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, is one more sign that the Bush administration is building a case for war.
Nicholas Burns, the senior US diplomat in charge of Iran policy, says Washington “is not looking for a fight” with Tehran. The official line is that Washington has made a conscious decision to “push back” against Iran on a range of fronts where the two countries’ interests clash. Primarily that means Tehran’s perceived meddling in Iraq, where its influence with the Shia-led government and Shia majority population appears to be increasing as Washington’s weakens.
State department spokesman Sean McCormack claimed this week the administration has a body of evidence implicating Iran in sectarian attacks against Iraq’s Sunni minority. “There is a high degree of confidence in the information that we already have and we are constantly accumulating more,” he told the New York Times.
CIA and Pentagon officials are also touting intelligence that “Iranians are smuggling into Iraq sophisticated explosive devices, mortars, and detailed plans to wipe out Sunni Arab neighbourhoods,” the paper said. Officials would make a “comprehensive case” this week. But President George Bush has already acted on information received. He confirmed yesterday that he has ordered US forces in effect to kill or capture Iranian “agents” targeting Americans in Iraq — as happened earlier this month when five Iranian officials were detained in Irbil.
Hassan Kazemi Qumi, Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, ridiculed “sectarian maps” and evidence the US military said it had obtained during a raid on a Shia compound in Baghdad. He repeated Tehran’s contention that Iranians were in Iraq to help with “security problems”. Barham Saleh, Iraq’s deputy prime minister, complains that the US and Iran are turning his country into a “zone of conflict and competition” and suggests they take their fight elsewhere.
But as was also the case in the days before Saddam Hussein fell, powerful external forces, ranging from exiled Iranian opposition groups to leading Israeli politicians, appear intent on stoking the fire — and winding up the White House.
“The al-Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards is stepping up terrorism and encouraging sectarian violence in Iraq,” Alireza Jafarzadeh, a US-based Iranian dissident who has been linked to the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK) resistance group, told the Washington Times this month. Mr Jafarzadeh is credited with revealing the existence of Iran’s secret nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002.
“There is a sharp surge in Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism and sectarian violence in the past few months,” Mr Jafarzadeh told a conference organised by the Iran Policy Committee, a Washington lobby group pressing the state department to remove the MeK from its terrorist list.
Israel is also pushing the intelligence case while upping the ante, claiming to have knowledge that Tehran is within a year or two of acquiring basic nuclear weapons-making capability. In a BBC interview last week former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu compared President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s regime to Hitler’s Nazis. Speaking in Davos the deputy prime minister, Shimon Peres, demanded immediate regime change or failing that, military intervention.
The US “push back” against Iran comprises many other elements beyond Iraq. Unconfirmed reports suggest Vice-President Dick Cheney has cut a deal with Saudi Arabia to keep oil production up even as prices fall, to undercut Iran’s main source of foreign currency. Washington is pursuing expanding, non-UN global financial sanctions against Tehran; encouraging and arming a “new alignment” of Sunni Arab Gulf states; and highlighting Iran’s role in “supporting terrorism” in Palestine, where it helps bankroll the Hamas government, and Lebanon, where it backs Hizbullah. The US is also deploying powerful naval forces in the Gulf that are of little help in Iraq but could more easily be used to mount air strikes on Iran.
Almost any one of these developments might produce a casus belli. And when taken together, despite official protestations, they seem to point in only one direction. The Bush administration, an American commentator suggested, is “once again spoiling for a fight”.
America ‘Poised to Strike at Iran’s Nuclear Sites’ from Bases in Bulgaria and Romania:
Report suggest that ‘US defensive ring’ may be new front in war on terror.
Gabriel Ronay / The Sunday Herald (Scotland)
(January 28, 2007) — President Bush is preparing to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities before the end of April and the US Air Force’s new bases in Bulgaria and Romania would be used as back-up in the onslaught, according to an official report from Sofia.
“American forces could be using their two USAF bases in Bulgaria and one at Romania’s Black Sea coast to launch an attack on Iran in April,” the Bulgarian news agency Novinite said.
The American build-up along the Black Sea, coupled with the recent positioning of two US aircraft carrier battle groups off the Straits of Hormuz, appears to indicate president Bush has run out of patience with Tehran’s nuclear misrepresentation and non-compliance with the UN Security Council’s resolution. President Ahmeninejad of Iran has further ratcheted up tension in the region by putting on show his newly purchased state of the art Russian TOR-Ml anti-missile defence system.
Whether the Bulgarian news report is a tactical feint or a strategic event is hard to gauge at this stage. But, in conjunction with the beefing up of America’s Italian bases and the acquisition of anti-missile defence bases in the Czech Republic and Poland, the Balkan developments seem to indicate a new phase in Bush’s global war on terror.
Sofia’s news of advanced war preparations along the Black Sea is backed up by some chilling details. One is the setting up of new refuelling places for US Stealth bombers, which would spearhead an attack on Iran. “The USAF’s positioning of vital refuelling facilities for its B-2 bombers in unusual places, including Bulgaria, falls within the perspective of such an attack.” Novinite named colonel Sam Gardiner, “a US secret service officer stationed in Bulgaria”, as the source of this revelation.
Curiously, the report noted that although Tony Blair, Bush’s main ally in the global war on terror, would be leaving office, the president had opted to press on with his attack on Iran in April.
Before the end of March, 3000 US military personnel are scheduled to arrive “on a rotating basis” at America’s Bulgarian bases. Under the US-Bulgarian military co-operation accord, signed in April, 2006, an airbase at Bezmer, a second airfield at Graf Ignitievo and a shooting range at Novo Selo were leased to America. Significantly, last year’s bases negotiations had at one point run into difficulties due to Sofia’s demand “for advance warning if Washington intends to use Bulgarian soil for attacks against other nations, particularly Iran”.
Romania, the other Black Sea host to the US military, is enjoying a dollar bonanza as its Mihail Kogalniceanu base at Constanta is being transformed into an American “place d’arme”. It is also vital to the Iran scenario.
Last week, the Bucharest daily Evenimentual Zilei revealed the USAF is to site several flights of F-l5, F-l6 and Al0 aircraft at the Kogalniceanu base. Admiral Gheorghe Marin, Romania’s chief of staff, confirmed “up to 2000 American military personnel will be temporarily stationed in Romania”.
In Central Europe, the Czech Republic and Poland have also found themselves in the Pentagon’s strategic focus. Last week, Mirek Topolanek, the Czech prime minister, and the country’s national security council agreed to the siting of a US anti-missile radar defence system at Nepolisy. Poland has also agreed to having a US anti-missile missile base and interceptor aircraft stationed in the country.
Russia, however, does not see the chain of new US bases on its doorstep as a “defensive ring”. Russia’s defence chief has branded the planned US anti-missile missile sites on Czech and Polish soil as “an open threat to Russia”.
Sergey Ivanov, Russia’s defence minister, spoke more circumspectly while emphasising Moscow’s concern. He said: “Russia is not worried. Its strategic nuclear forces can assure in any circumstance its safety. Since neither Tehran, nor Pyongyang possess intercontinental missiles capable of threatening the USA, from whom is this new missile shield supposed to protect the West? All it actually amounts to is that Prague and Warsaw want to demonstrate their loyalty to Washington.”
Bush’s Iran attack plan has brought into sharp focus the possible costs to Central and Eastern Europe of being “pillars of Pax Americana”.
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