The Guardian 21 February, 2007

Claims against Iran
resemble pre-Iraq war hysteria

Susan Webb

The danger of a US attack on Iran appears to be mounting following a series of increasingly aggressive Bush administration actions. On February 11, US military officials staged a tightly controlled news briefing in Baghdad, presenting purported evidence that Iran is providing new weaponry targeting US troops in Iraq.

The officials insisted on anonymity, barred cameras from the briefing room and provided no transcript of their statements. Without offering any direct evidence, an official said, "We assess that these activities are coming from senior levels of the Iranian government."

British journalist Patrick Cockburn, writing in the UK Independent, called the allegations "bizarre." He and many other commentators noted that the US has been fighting a Sunni-based armed insurgency in Iraq that is "deeply hostile to Iran."

According to Cockburn, about 1,190 US soldiers have been killed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Most of these devices are constructed from heavy explosives taken from the arsenals of the former regime, he said. The term the Bush administration is now using, explosive formed penetrators (EFPs), "may have been chosen to imply that a menacing new weapon has been developed."

A February 10 New York Times article uncritically reported the US claims about the new explosive device. Buried in the article is the acknowledgment that its "first suspected use" in Iraq "occurred in late 2003" and that it has been used ever since.

Asking "why now?" about these US accusations, BBC world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds writes, "The fear among some is that the US is softening up world opinion for an attack on Iran." The allegations about Iranian weapons killing US troops "could be laying the groundwork for a ‘self-defence’ justification", he notes. Another possible motive, he suggests, is "the old tactic of blaming someone else for your own problems" in Iraq.

The bipartisan Iraq Study Group Report recommended that the US begin "extensive and substantive" talks with Iran and Syria, with no preconditions, to solve the Iraq crisis. Instead, commented Cockburn, President Bush has taken "a precisely opposite line, blaming Iran and Syria for US losses in Iraq."

Navid Shomali, International Secretary of Iran’s Tudeh (Communist) Party, said the administration has chosen to try to "coerce" Iran into "accepting US hegemony in the Middle East."

Any intensification of military conflict in the region is against the interests of the people of Iran, the region and the globe, Shomali emphasised.

Iraqi Communist Party spokesperson Salam Ali warned that Bush’s aggressive policy toward Iran "could aggravate an already volatile situation in the whole region", especially in the Persian Gulf states where fears of Iranian influence are being "fuelled and exploited by the US administration."

The anonymous February 11 briefing sparked wide scepticism. David Kay, who headed the Bush administration’s fruitless search for WMDs in Iraq, commented to a New York Times reporter, "If you want to avoid the perception that you’ve cooked the books, you come out and make the charges publicly."

Coincidentally or not, a new report by the Pentagon’s own inspector general confirms that the Defence Department did "cook the books" to sell the Iraq war.

The report, made public on February 8, said the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans, set up by Donald Rumsfeld and headed by his undersecretary of defence Douglas Feith, had developed and disseminated "alternative intelligence assessments" on an Iraq-Al Qaeda-9/11 link, including conclusions that were "inconsistent with the consensus of the intelligence community."

Last May, the Los Angeles Times reported that the administration had set up new Pentagon and State Department offices on Iran, intensifying a "more confrontational stance" toward that country.

The Pentagon’s new Iran "directorate" staff and advisers included former Office of Special Plans director Abram Shulsky and others involved with the discredited OSP.

The State Department’s Iran office was to report to Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Cheney, Dick Cheney’s daughter.

Last fall, some CIA and State Department officials told reporters they feared there would be a replay of the administration’s previous intelligence manipulation.

Commenting on the new accusations on Iran’s role in Iraq, journalist Cockburn concluded, "The evidence against Iran is even more insubstantial than the faked or mistaken evidence for Iraqi WMDs disseminated by the United States and Britain in 2002 and 2003."

Other recent provocative US actions are also raising warning flags.

On January 11 the US raided an Iranian government office in Arbil, the Iraqi Kurdish capital, and arrested five Iranian officials, despite objections by Iraq’s government. An Iranian diplomat was kidnapped in Baghdad, possibly by members of an Iraqi military unit under US influence.

Last month the Reuters news agency noted a US military build-up along the Black Sea, coupled with the recent move of two US aircraft carrier battle groups into the Persian Gulf close to Iran.

Reuters cited a Bulgarian news agency report that the Bush administration could be planning to use two new US Air Force bases in Bulgaria and one in Romania to launch an attack on Iran in April.

"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", said Reuters.

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