Since last week at least 3 members of the US government have accused Iran of targeting US forces in Iraq by supporting Iraqi shia militia. The officials’ soundbites continue to be repeated in the mainstream western press along with slightly renewed attention on the planned withdrawal of US forces from Iraq by the end of the year.
It’s almost as though the “threat” of Iran’s growing “influence” in Iraq is being used as a reason for the US to stay even though Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta insists he’s waiting on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to make the decision. Some analysts say it’s mere posturing by the Obama administration ahead of the elections to show that the president will take a tough line on Iran.
On July 5 US ambassador to Iraq James F. Jeffrey said that “forensic testing” on weapons used against Iraqi police prove “[t]here is no doubt” the weapons are Iranian. The article notes that in some cases no effort was made to remove weapons identification numbers suggesting that they came from Iran.
On July 7 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen repeated Jeffrey’s claims to reporters at a luncheon, adding that “there’s no reason … for me to believe that they’re going to stop that as our numbers come down.”
Panetta made a news media splash when he told US troops in Baghdad that the US is very concerned about “Iran and the weapons they are providing to extremists here in Iraq…In June we lost a hell of a lot of Americans as a result of these attacks. And we cannot just simply stand back and allow this to continue to happen.”
Panetta also told the soldiers that the “reason you guys are here is because on 9/11 the United States got attacked, and 3,000 … innocent human beings got killed because of al Qaeda.”
Writing in The Independent Patrick Cockburn argues that Panetta’s comment show
- ….how little real difference there is between the policies of the Obama and Bush administrations when it comes to Iraq… the implication of this is that Mr. Panetta believes the long-exploded myth of American neo-conservatives that Saddam Hussein was in alliance with al-Qa’ida before 11 September 2001, despite much evidence to the contrary.
Without supplying a direct quote, Reuters reports that Panetta also stated that the US will take “unilateral action when needed to deal with the threat to American troops in Iraq from Shi’ite militias armed by Iran” (this quote is taken from the body of the article).
Further down in the same piece Reuters notes that General Lloyd Austin, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, declined to comment on what exactly unilateral action would involve, but said “the secretary was pointing to was we’ll do what’s necessary to protect ourselves and that could include a host of things … so we’ll just leave it at that.”
While all of this is happening the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the US and Iraq have “quietly” restarted negotiations regarding an Iraqi purchase of what was initially priced at over 4 billion dollars worth of F-16s from Lockheed Martin. The new deal will cost billions more if Iraq decides to double the number of fighter jets purchased from18 to 36. It may be completed as a “government-to-government” transaction in the “coming months.”
The article begins by arguing that Washington hopes the purchase “will help counter Iranian influences and cement long-term ties with Baghdad after American troops pull out.” But considering increasingly warming ties between Iraq and Iran caused by the US invasion of 2003, it’s fun to ponder exactly how (or why?) the F-16s can be used to counter Iraq’s previous arch enemy, especially when its recovering air force does not have the expertise required to use or maintain them.
Finally, Iranian, Israeli and Arab representatives attended a EU hosted WMD-free zone meeting in the Middle East, but Gary Samore, President Obama’s adviser on nuclear disarmament and proliferation, was a no show!