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The NY Times Reads the Iran/Iraq Tea Leaves

April 12th, 2008 - 4:38 pm

Today, the New York Times treats us to Helen Cooper’s analysis of Iran’s activities inside Iraq, and decides that Bush is getting tough on Iran, and trying to convince a reluctant Iraqi Government that Iran is really really doing some bad things.

First, the claim that this is something new:

WASHINGTON — Iran is engaging in a proxy war with the United States in Iraq, adopting tactics similar to those it has used to back fighters in Lebanon, the United States ambassador to Iraq said Friday.

The remarks by the ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker, reflected the sharper criticism of Iran by President Bush and his top deputies over the past week, as administration officials have sought to trace many of their troubles in Iraq to Iran.

But the “sharper criticism” is not new at all. Indeed, it is precisely what Ambassador Crocker, General Petraeus and other spokesmen on the ground in Iraq have been saying for the past several months. And as for that little dig about “”many of (the Americans’) troubles in Iraq,” well, that’s the party line, even after a couple of weeks during which the Iranians and their proxies in Iraq have been so humiliated that they were forced to sue for peace, beg for permission to keep their weapons, and renew their phony calls for negotiations with the Great Satan.

Crocker pointed out that the Quds Force–which Cooper slightly misidentifies as “the paramilitary branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps” (it’s the IRGC’s foreign army, as distinct from the domestic forces that are used for political repression and as an alternate army to the unreliable regular forces) “was continuing to direct attacks by Shiite militias against American and Iraqi targets, although he offered no direct evidence.”

I guess the Times’ crack analysts can’t be bothered to report the direct evidence provided by Petraeus, when he told the world that the rockets recently launched on the Green Zone in Baghdad were of Iranian manufacture, that the groups who used them were trained by Iranians, and sometimes in Iran itself. And in his testimony Petraeus noted that this evidence came both from the weapons used and from captured Iranian military officials in our hands.

Then comes the deep thinking. “The Bush administration,” Cooper tells us, “is trying to exploit any crack it can find between the largely Shiite, pro-Iranian government of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, and Iran’s Shiite government.” And she quotes Secretary of Defense Gates: “I would say one of the salutary effects of what Prime Minister Maliki did in Basra is that I think the Iraqi government now has a clearer view of the malign impact of Iran’s activities inside Iraq.”

I wonder where Gates hears this nonsense, and why Cooper gives him a pass on it. To call the Iraqi Government “pro-Iranian” is like saying that the guys running the numbers racket for the Corleone family is “pro-Mafia.” They don’t have much of a choice, until and unless they come to believe that there’s a bigger guy in town who will give them better protection; meanwhile they’re gonna go on paying protection to the Don.

The issue for Iraqis, at all levels of the society, is not whether the mullahs are killing them. They know that, and they have known it all along. The Iranian creation, Iraq Hezbollah, goes back at least ten years. I recently spoke with an Iranian defector, now living in Europe, who worked in the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad, and he told me how Iran smuggled supplies, money and materiel to the local Hezbollah even before 9/11. At that time its activities were aimed against Saddam. When we came, the Coalition became its target, along with the usual innocents of the streets and markets of Iraq. The same defector recounted Iranian support for Sunni terrorists as well, from al Qaeda to less famous groups.

Iraqi ministers have been talking about Iranian terrorism for years. When I was at a closed meeting of leading Iraqis in Copenhagen two months ago, I heard many stories, complaints and warnings about Iran’s murderous activities. It is laughable to write, as Ms. Cooper does, “administration officials are trying to convince the Iraqi government that Iran may not be the ally it thought, and is behind attacks against Iraqi government forces.” If anything, it’s the other way round; the Iraqis have long known it, have never considered Iran an ally, but never saw signs that the United States was prepared to take on Iran. And doesn’t everyone agree that the fighting in Basra was initiated by the Iraqis, and the Americans were not enthusiastic about it?

The issue is not “sensitizing” the Iraqi leaders to Iranian crimes. The issue is–was, rather–getting to the point where the Iraqis feel confident enough to go after the Iranians and their proxies.

That is the big change: Iraq is defeating Iran. Iran’s proxies have been defeated in most of Iraq. The remaining areas–primarily the zones in and around Mosul, and in and around Basra–are under siege from Iraqi and Coalition forces, including, at long last, the Brits (who were supposed to have pacified Basra long since). And the Iranians are losing, bigtime. A couple of weeks ago I wrote here that the Iranians were increasingly desperate, and that it looked like Khamenei was going to try a desperate throw of the dice. He did. And lost, losing to mostly Iraqi forces.

It’s not amazing that the Times should misanalyze this story. Its editors and some of its journalists want us to lose in Iraq, and the very idea that a free Iraqi army is defeating proxy forces from tyrannical Iran, is too tough for them to digest.

I think it’s delicious.

UPDATE: Compare with the far better discussion by the WaPo’s Karen DeYoung here.

UPDATE 2: And Sunday’s WaPo follows through with quite a good editorial here.

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