In a new blow to the neo-conservative hard-liners at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), their hero, Gen. David Petraeus, has apparently concluded that Iran is indeed following through on its reported pledge earlier this fall to the Iraqi government to cut its alleged supply of weapons to Shi’a militias in Iraq. That assessment comes from none other than the far-right Washington Times which featured a front-page article by Sara Carter Thursday, entitled “Iran No Longer Aids Iraq Militants.”
The article quotes Petraeus’ spokesman, Col. Steven Boylan, as praising Tehran’s recent performance in words that must upset Iran hawk Michael Ledeen, in particular: “We are ready to confirm the excellence of the senior Iranian leadership in the pledge to stop the funding, training, equipment and resourcing of the militia special groups,” Boylan is quoting as telling the Times. “We have seen a downward trend in the signature-type attacks using weapons provided by Iran.” He said that the decline began in October, although he went on to say that his command remains in a “wait and see mode,” as well.
Ledeen, among other neo-con hawks, had seized on a Pentagon report that was released December 18 that assserted that was “no identified decrease in Iranian training and funding of illegal Shi’a militias in Iraq” and complained that, “Tehran’s support for Shi’a militant groups who attack Coalition and Iraq forces remains a significant impediment to stabilization.” In an article published last week in the New York Sun, Ledeen cited that report — and subsequent statements by the State Department’s top Iraq coordinator, David Satterfield to the effect that Iran had decided “at the most senior levels” to rein in the Shi’a groups — as evidence of a major bureaucratic struggle between the Pentagon and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who was determined “to negotiate a happy ending to our longstanding troubles with Iran.”
“It won’t work,” declared Ledeen. “And it’s no accident that the soldiers — who have begun to bring decent security to most of Iraq — understand the stiuation far better than the diplomats and spooks who have nothing to show for years of negotiations.”
But now the Pentagon — and Petraeus — appears to be aligning its views with those of Satterfield and the State Department. The Times article quotes Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros as affirming Boylan’s assessment and insisting that it did not contradict the conclusions of last month’s report, on which Ledeen relies so heavily, ”[it] was meant to be retrospective in nature,” said Ballesteros about the report. “It is meant to cover the last 90 days of data and provides a snapshot of that period on the ground.”
That Petraeus’ office, which has consistently been harsher in describing Tehran’s role in Iraq than the Pentagon brass back in Washington, is now agreeing with Satterfield’s assessment is obviously highly significant on the eve of renewed talks between the two nations’ ambassadors in Baghdad. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the release of some or all of the remaining 10 or so Iranians in U.S. custody in Iraq follow shortly.