Is Iran next?

January 12, 2007

The idea of the US attacking Iran seems far-fetched and unrealistic. Not only is the US’ military over-stretched, strategically any operation could spell disaster. Iran’s facilities are not as exposed as Iraq’s were and Iranian infrastructure would not be taken out of order as easily, with an intricate underground network existing in Iran.

However, considering President Bush’s address to US citizens on Wednesday night, reality doesn’t seem to matter much to this Administration.

There continue to be signs that the Administration is interested in facing off against Iran.

Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Iran against impeding US efforts in Iraq. Prior to her warning, US troops stormed an Iranian consulate in northern Iraq and detained five diplomats, violating international norms on treating diplomats . Were a US or British consulate raided in like fashion, an immediate response would be rightly implemented.

Could the US be provoking Iran? Northern Iraq, after all, borders with Iran.

Is the additional troops deployment into the region meant to solve Iraq or does it have another purpose? Former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski asserts that the additional troops have “no strategic benefit” and “will not resolve with finality the ongoing turmoil.”

Could Iran really be next?

One of the US’ most (if not the most) faithful allies in the region, Israel, has already been reported to have plans to attack Iranian nuclear sites. Israel has denied those reports. However, they did not surface without a reason. Iran has been the recipient of very harsh rhetoric from both the US and Israel and while there may be no concrete plan on Iran, something is in the works.

On Wednesday night, President Bush made several allusions to Iran, accusing the state of supporting radical “Shi’a elements” in Iraq. The President also mentioned facing “extremist challenges” in the region and said that “this begins with addressing Iran and Syria.”

A raid targeting Iranian diplomats followed on Thursday. On Friday, Secretary Rice warned Iran and said the US would not “stand idly by” if Iran’s “regional aggression” continued. This all fits into a pattern of high-ranking officials speaking out against Iran, and warnings against its regional role.

The latest warning comes from US intelligence chief Negroponte who has expressed concerns over the country’s intentions, citing the country’s alleged funding of terrorist activities.

Keeping President Bush’s address in mind, Iran just might be next.

New Secretary of State Robert Gates has met with US commanders in Iraq and found them cautious of a proposal to infuse Iraq with more troops. The commanders don’t want a boost in troop levels without a clear mandate for those troops. The commanders clearly understand that another 20 000 troops will not rectify the situation without a clear strategy.

President Bush has echoed the sentiment, saying he is open to a troops increase with a clear mission.

It’s yet another confirmation that the US is looking to exit from Iraq in the next 10-14 months. The idea of increasing US troops to train Iraqi forces is gaining more and more popularity, with US troops incapable of stabilizing the civil uprisings in the US-supported democracy.

A new strategy in Iraq will be announced by President Bush in January; it remains to be seen whether the US President will go along with suggestions from the Iraq Study Group, which he commissioned. A temporary troops increase can be expected, with the longer-term goal of exiting Iraq. The most salient question is whether the US will deal with Iran or Syria directly.

With the US asking that a resolution on Iran be passed at the UN Security Council before the weekend, Iran may not be approached directly. However, the US may opt to talk to Syria, leaving it to Syria to directly engage with Iran.

Iran may also chose to make its own move, before the US announces its strategy: President Ahmadinejad has already met with his Iraqi counterpart, discussing how Iran could help stabilize the new democracy. With recent municipal elections leaning toward moderates like Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad needs to adjust his policies, if he wishes to serve a second term. One way would be to cooperate with Iraq and remain open to talks with US.

Nuclear threats are more and more prevalent these days with North Korea having tested a nuclear bomb in October of this year. Iran is also reported to be developing a weapons program, something its leaders deny. Terrorists are reportedly in search of nuclear capabilities; last year, Russian dissident Boris Berezovsky was quoted as saying that Chechen rebels were missing a small component to create a dirty bomb.

Obviously this is making world powers worried and they are increasing their pressure against potential nuclear proliferation. The US and Europe have been insistent on stopping Iran’s nuclear program. When North Korea tested its new capability, one of the first statements made by President Bush was a warning against passing the technology on to rogue states or terrorists. Understandably so, the West is worried.

Unfortunately, nuclear technology will not go away, and with the development of developing nations, it will be more and more present, because of its effectiveness. Not every country is blessed with the hydro-resources of Canadian province Quebec and not every country has the space required for wind-mill technology to produce electricity. Nuclear technology is compact and with the proper safety measures in place, one of the best ways of producing electricity.

Today in Jakarta, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei reminded that one of the initial reasons for going to Iraq was to dismantle Hussein’s reported WMD, notably a nuclear weapons program. Thusfar, no proof of any WMD activity has been brought forward in Iraq.

ElBaradei spoke of Iran and said that there is no urgency to act in Iran, because the state has no atomic reactor in operation and consequently can’t even go ahead with a weapons program.

“Nuclear energy alone is not a panacea, but it is likely in the near future to have an increasing role as part of the global energy mix,” said ElBaradei.

The nuclear chief at the UN was alluding to the expanding role nuclear energy is playing in Asia, with China and Indonesia undergoing a big nuclear energy surge as the countries reach a new developmental stage.

Iran may be looking for a nuclear weapons program, but it also may just be looking to power its country more effectively. That’s why its leaders hired Russian experts to build the country’s first nuclear power plant in Bushehr.

Iraq Report Delivered

December 6, 2006

As was expected, the Iraq Study Group has advocated training more Iraqi forces and engaging in diplomacy with Iraq’s neighbors, Iran and Syria. The report also favors gradually getting US combat troops out of Iraq. Its assessment of the situation in Iraq as “deteriorating” and says that Bush’ policy is “not working.”

It remains to be seen what the reaction of the US executive will be to the report it commissioned. Change in policy is likely, because of President Bush’s Secretary of State nominee Robert Gates. Gates’ discourse has differed from his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, and he has said that the US is “not winning” in Iraq. That seems to be in line with the Iraq Study Group’s report, which sees the situation in Iraq as “grave and deteriorating.”

Whether the US is in a stand-off with Iran and Syria or not, it will have to welcome some sort of dialogue with Iraq’s neighbors. After all, Iran has already initiated a process of dialogue within the region, with Iraqi President Talabani visiting Iran and meeting with Iranian President Ahmadinejad and spiritual leader Khamenei. Iraq and Syria have also taken a step towards regional diplomacy by resuming diplomatic relations, which were cut off when Syria supported Iran in the Iran-Iraq war. Iran and Syria also have influence over different factions in Iraq; Iran is an influential Shi’a voice, while Syria’s population is mostly Sunni (despite its Alawite leadership). Syria may also come to play a bigger regional role, if it is successful in acting with diplomacy in the current political stand-off in Lebanon.

One of the report’s contentious points is suggesting to cut off US aid and military support if the Iraqi government does not reach certain targets. While this may be effective as putting necessary pressure on Iraq, it would also contravene with Bush’s “stay the course” dogma.

President Bush has not said if he will act on the report’s suggestions, saying that he will take them into serious consideration.

The Iraq Study Group will deliver its report to US President Bush this morning. It is expected that the report will advocate a change of policy in Iraq, which can include troops reduction as well as looking to Iraq’s neighbors for assistance.

In the wake of the forthcoming report, President Bush has suggested that his policy in Iraq will be one of perseverance. Different reports have surfaced suggesting that the US President is unlikely to accept big changes in Iraq. However, it remains to be seen what the recommendations actually are and what the President’s reaction will be.

At the same time, Bush’s new man, Secretary of Defense nominee Robert Gates has made statements about the US not winning the war in Iraq. In a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Gates suggested training more Iraqi forces. This seems to be part of the US’ new strategy in Iraq; President Bush has said in a meeting with Iraqi PM Maliki that he is unsatisfied with Iraq tackling sectarian violence. This means that the US is expecting Iraqis to take on more responsibilities in providing security within the country. It is also a policy that is very much aligned with the US’ ally in Iraq, Britain.

For several weeks, Britain has advocated gradual troops withdrawals from Iraq, even suggesting that its troops may be out of Basra province by next spring with Iraqi security forces assuming responsibilities for safety in the area. Also, Britain has looked to significant troops reductions within the next year. If this policy is advanced, the US will be put into a stranglehold position because it simply cannot sustain its current Iraq policy without British participation.

In that sense, President Bush may accept the idea of eventual troops withdrawals, even if he’s not ready to commit to set deadlines.

But President Bush is unlikely to welcome the prospect of working with Iraq’s neighbors, Iran and Syria. The US and other UN Security Council members once again did not agree on the types of sanctions Iran should receive for its nuclear activity. Syria has been in the spotlight, because of the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, with some accusing Syria of involvement in the murder.

While US President Bush continues to insist that the US has no plans of withdrawing from Iraq prematurely or on a deadline, Iraqi PM Mailiki today has set a timeline. According to the Prime Minister, Iraq will be able to fully take responsibility for its security by June and relieve international troops of that function.

This is certainly the scenario favored by the British who have publically indicated that they would seek an exit from Iraq within a little over a year. It is also a scenario likely to go with forthcoming recommendations by the Iraq Study Group, which will likely recommend gradual troops withdrawals.

President Bush knows all of this, and he knows that the US will likely have to leave Iraq within a year. He also knows that the US will likely not be leaving the flower of democracy it hoped to instate, but a divided country. And it is for these reasons that Bush is rejecting the idea of an exit; the idea is to make it look like the Iraqis asked the US to leave, but the US wanted to stay.

Maliki Snubs Bush?

November 29, 2006

President Bush’s meeting with Iraqi PM al-Maliki has been postponed till Thursday. The reason given is that Maliki had already met King Abdullah prior to Bush’s arrival in Jordan’s capital and it wasn’t necessary for the three parties to meet tonight.

The White House has denied the postponing being a snub by the Iraqi PM. However, it is difficult to see it as anything other than that; if Maliki is to work with the US in bringing stability to Iraq, he needs to spend as much time with Bush as possible. Today’s event dictated otherwise. This is possibly a signal for Iran, indicating that Iraq is ready to cooperate with its neighbor. After all, Iranian spiritual leader Ali Khamenei offered Iranian help yesterday when he met with Iraq’s President Talabani, while criticizing US presence in the country.