IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER, RUSSIA DEFEND DETAINED IRANIANS
By Kim Gamel
January 12, 2007
BAGHDAD -- Five Iranians detained by U.S.-led forces were working in a decade-old government liaison office that was in the process of being upgraded to a consulate, the Iraqi foreign minister said today.
But Deputy U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in Washington that the U.S.-led forces entered the building because information linked it to Iranian elements engaging in violent activities in Iraq.
Tehran condemned the raid in the Kurdish-controlled northern city of Irbil and urged Iraq to push for the Iranians' release.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the building where the Iranians were detained Thursday had operated with Iraqi government approval for 10 years.
"We are now in the process of changing these offices to consulates," he said. "It is not a new office. This liaison office has been there for a long time."
He also echoed concerns the United States and Iran were dragging Iraq into their fight.
"We don't want Iraq to be a battleground for settling scores with other countries," Zebari, a Kurd, told CNN.
The diplomatic tussle came at an unwelcome time for the United States as President Bush faces criticism over his new strategy for ending the violence in Iraq. Bush also vowed to isolate Iran and Syria, which the United States has accused of fueling attacks in Iraq.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani plans a trip to Syria on Sunday, the highest-level Iraqi visit to the country in more than 24 years. The neighbors restored diplomatic relations in December that were cut in 1982 amid ideological disputes between Damascus and the regime of Saddam Hussein.
Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's office, meanwhile, rejected Bush's plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq as part of an effort to curb sectarian attacks.
"We reject Bush's new strategy, and we think it will fail," said Abdul-Razzaq al-Nidawi, a senior official in al-Sadr's office. He said Iraq's problems were due to the presence of U.S. troops and called for their withdrawal.
Local leaders of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia, which has been blamed for much of the sectarian violence, said they were bracing for an attack and avoiding appearing in public with their weapons.
Zebari's Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, called on the Iraqi government to secure the release of the five Iranians, Iranian state television reported. "Such illegal and adventurous acts by the U.S. should be stopped," the broadcast quoted Mottaki as saying.
Mottaki condemned the raid, saying it contravened the Vienna Convention. "This behavior by the United States contradicts its claims of providing security in Iraq," he was quoted as saying.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin also harshly criticized the detentions, calling them a "flagrant violation" of international conventions.
"It's absolutely unacceptable when the military storms a foreign consular office on the territory of another state," Kamynin said. "The unlawful actions by the U.S. servicemen mark an open abuse of a mandate issued to the multinational forces in Iraq."
The 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations says consular premises are "inviolable," but it was not clear how that would apply as the building was not a consulate.
Casey said there was no truth to reports that Iran was carrying out legitimate diplomatic activity at the site.
"It did not have the standing of a consulate nor did it have any other international diplomatic standing to speak of," Casey said.
He said the Iranian elements included Revolutionary Guards, a key part of armed support for Iran's Islamic government since it took power in 1979.
Zebari also said U.S. forces tried to seize more people at the airport in Irbil, 220 miles north of Baghdad, prompting a confrontation with Kurdish troops.
A Pentagon official in Washington said that after troops detained the Iranians, they learned another person might have escaped and fled to the airport. An American team went to the airport, where they "surprised" Kurdish forces, who apparently had not been informed they were coming, said the Defense Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the incident.
Meanwhile, sectarian violence persisted. Suspected Shiite militiamen attacked a Sunni mosque in a religiously mixed neighborhood of Baghdad, prompting clashes that wounded two guards, police said.
Attackers later blew up a Shiite mosque that was under construction in the northern city of Kirkuk, police Col. Anwar Hassan said. No casualties were reported.
At least 19 people were reported killed or dead nationwide, including 10 bullet-riddled bodies found in Baghdad and an Iraqi journalist who was killed in a drive-by shooting in the northern city of Mosul.
Khudr Younis al-Obaidi was the second journalist killed this year. Associated Press staffer Ahmed Hadi Naji was found shot in the back last week.
--Associated Press writers Pauline Jelinek in Washington and Nasser Karimi in Tehran contributed to this report.
DETAINED IRANIANS HAD IRAQ APPROVAL
By Bassem Mroue
** Iraqi foreign minister says detained Iranians worked at government-approved liaison office **
January 12, 2007
BAGHDAD -- The Iraqi foreign minister said Friday that the five Iranians detained by U.S.-led forces in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq were working in a liaison office that had government approval and was in the process of being approved as a consulate.
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, also said U.S. forces tried to seize more people at the airport in Irbil, 220 miles north of Baghdad, prompting a confrontation with Kurdish troops guarding the facility that was resolved without casualties.
A Pentagon official in Washington said that after troops detained the people in the first building, they learned another person may have escaped and fled to the airport.
An American team went to the airport, where they "surprised" Kurdish forces, who apparently had not been informed they were coming, said the Defense Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about the incident on the record.
"No shots were fired, no one was injured, it was just a tense situation," said the official.
Local Kurdish authorities protested that they were not informed in advance about the arrests and raised fears that tensions between Iran and the United States were hurting Iraq's interests.
"We don't want Iraq to be a battleground for settling scores with other countries," Zebari told CNN in an interview.
Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's office, meanwhile, rejected President Bush's plans to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq as part of a new effort to curb rampant sectarian attacks.
"We reject Bush's new strategy and we think it will fail," said Abdul-Razzaq al-Nidawi, a senior official in al-Sadr's office. He said Iraq's problems were due to the presence of U.S. troops and called for their withdrawal.
In Washington, Sen. John McCain defended Bush's plan as difficult but necessary, parting company with lawmakers questioning the wisdom of the military build up.
"I believe that together these moves will give the Iraqis and Americans the best chance of success," said the Arizona Republican, a leading presidential contender for 2008.
McCain spoke at the Senate Armed Services Committee, where Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spent a second day on Capitol Hill defending the president's strategy.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced last weekend his government would implement a new security plan for Baghdad, including neighborhood-by-neighborhood sweeps by Iraqi forces backed by U.S. troops. Similar efforts have failed in the past because of the Shiite-dominated government's resistance to cracking down on militias such as the Mahdi Army, which is loyal to al-Sadr.
The Bush proposal calls for up to 12,000 additional Iraqi troops to secure Baghdad, which has been beset by sectarian violence, much of blamed on militias. On Friday, suspected Shiite militiamen attacked a Sunni mosque in a religiously mixed neighborhood, prompting clashes that wounded two guards, police said.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh said the Iraqi government recognized that the country was in a precarious position.
"We all have to recognize that the situation in Iraq is serious, it's dangerous, and this dynamics of violence cannot be sustained," he said in an interview with National Public Radio. "It must be the political will by us to do it."
The raids in Irbil came as U.S. officials repeated long-standing accusations that Iran is encouraging the violence in Iraq by supplying money and weapons.
The Iranians were detained Thursday as multinational forces entered the building overnight and confiscated computers and documents, two senior local Kurdish officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
Six people suspected of being involved in attacks against Iraqi civilians and military forces were initially detained, the U.S. military said in a statement. One was later released. The statement did not identify the nationalities of the suspects.
Iraqi and Iranian officials initially said the Iranian office was a diplomatic mission, raising questions about whether those detained had diplomatic immunity. But Zebari told The Associated Press that the Iranians worked at a "liaison office" that was in the process of becoming a consulate.
"This office is not new and has been there for more than 10 years," he said. "We are now in the process of changing these offices to consulates and . . . we will open consulates in Iran."
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said the facility was an "office of relations" and that it was waiting for permission to operate as a consulate. The U.S. Embassy also said it was assured the building was not a consulate.
The regional Kurdish government condemned the arrests of the Iranians and called for their release. Many Kurds, including Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, have close ties to Iran. Last month, U.S. troops detained at least two Iranians and released two others who had diplomatic immunity. Two of those detained were visiting as guests of Talabani, his spokesman said.
Zebari also said American forces went to the Irbil airport on Thursday but did not identify themselves or give advance notice to local authorities.
"No party had knowledge of this matter and that is why the force protecting the airport tried to interfere and find out who they were and what they were doing," he said.
In Tehran, Iran's Foreign Ministry said it summoned the Iraqi and Swiss ambassadors and "demanded an explanation" about the Irbil incident. Switzerland represents American interests in Iran.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Thursday that the detained Iranians were being questioned. The U.S. Embassy declined to give an update Friday.
--Associated Press writer Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed to this report.
U.S. OFFICIALS NOW IDENTIFY THE TARGET OF THURSDAY'S RAID IN THE N. IRAQI TOWN OF IRBIL AS THE IRANIAN LIAISON OFFICE, LOCAL HQ OF IRANIAN REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS
** U.S. officials now identify the target of Thursday’s raid in the N. Iraqi town of Irbil as the Iranian Liaison Office, local HQ of Iranian Revolutionary Guards **
January 12, 2007
Kurdish officials report the American raiders came in helicopters before dawn Thursday, Jan. 11. They disarmed the security guards, broke through the gate, and detained six men. One was later released. Iraqi foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari reported a second, unexplained incident at Irbil airport, claiming U.S. forces tried to detain people until Kurdish troops intervened.
Later Thursday, Tehran reported three large explosions shaking the southern town of Khorramshahr north of the oil port of Abadan on the Shatt al-Arb waterway.
DEBKAfile: Khorramshahr, which faces the Iraqi town of Basra, is one of the key towns from which Iran delivers smuggled fighters, weapons, and explosives to its Shiite supporters in Iraq. Our sources also report that some hours before President George W. Bush’s policy speech, a series of explosions were heard in Iranian Baluchistan. Tehran imposed a blackout on the incident.
These statements and events tie in closely with the new Iraq strategy announced by the U.S. president of confronting Iran and Syria for “allowing networks to use their territory to attack US forces.”
CARRIER REAGAN TO DEPLOY TO PACIFIC
< By Andrew Scutro
January 12, 2007
Despite returning home to San Diego from her maiden deployment in July, the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan will deploy into the Pacific “within weeks," according to a Pentagon source familiar with Navy operations.
Reagan will serve as the U.S. carrier in the Pacific while the Japan-based Kitty Hawk undergoes maintenance. It's unclear whether the carrier will deploy with any escorts or a carrier air wing.
Reagan's unscheduled movement could closely follow the deployment of the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group, which officials say will leave in mid-month for the Central Command area of operations. The scheduled deployment will give the U.S. a two-carrier presence in the region.
The Norfolk-based Dwight D. Eisenhower, which began launching air strikes into Afghanistan in November, entered the Persian Gulf on Dec. 11. It's now operating off the coast of Somalia.
The Stennis deployment comes as the Bush administration announced plans to send an additional 20,000 troops to Iraq. A senior defense official didn't link the two but told reporters at the Pentagon today that having “two carriers in the region is an important way to demonstrate U.S. commitment and strength.”
With the Bremerton, Wash.-based Stennis in the Middle East and the Kitty Hawk undergoing maintenance, Reagan will serve as the U.S. carrier in the Pacific. The Pentagon source familiar with Navy operations did not think Reagan would be at sea as long as six months, the length of a typical deployment.
A precise deployment date is not yet available. Reagan will leave “at the appropriate time,” the source said.
The short-fuse Reagan deployment falls under the Fleet Response Plan, which ensures that naval forces are able to deploy on short notice.
The administration's planned buildup of forces in Iraq will also keep the Boxer Expeditionary Strike Group at sea for an additional 45 days.
Its Marine contingent, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, arrived in western Iraq on Dec. 4.
Those Marines, from Camp Pendleton, have been extended there for 45 days. As a result, their ride home, the Boxer ESG, will stay in the area.
That means sailors on the amphibious assault ship Boxer, amphibious transport dock Dubuque and the dock landing ship Comstock will all be extended as well. The Pentagon source said the ships would conduct maritime security operations, safeguard and control ship entry and transit in the region.
TWO U.S. AIRCRAFT CARRIER GROUPS PLUS A PATRIOT AIR DEFENSE MISSILE BATTALION PLANNED FOR THE MIDDLE EAST -- THE PENTAGON
January 12, 2007
The U.S. military spokesman said the carrier USS John C. Stennis will join the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower strike group. Both will be deployed in the Persian Gulf for a period of months. The second carrier will not just be showing force, but be actively involved in combat operations and providing air support across the region. U.S.-Iranian tensions are mounting over Washington’s charges of Iran’s disruptive interference in Iraq, which were spelled out by President George W. Bush Wednesday. U.S. forces detained six Iranian nationals in two raids in Irbil, northern Iraq Thursday.
SHI'ITE TIME BOMB HAS A SHORT FUSE
By Kaveh L. Afrasiabi
Asia Times Online
January 13, 2007
—"If you put a chain around the neck of a slave, the other end fastens itself around your own." &Ralph Waldo Emerson
In a recent conversation, U.S. author and linguist Noam Chomsky repeatedly faulted the Iraq Study Group's (ISG's) report for ignoring the sovereign rights of Iraqi people, the majority of whom favor the end of military occupation of their country. MO< "One notable feature of the report is its lack of concern for the will of the Iraqi people. The authors surely are aware of the polls that reveal that two-thirds of the population of Baghdad want U.S. troops to be withdrawn immediately, that 70% of all Iraqis want a firm timetable for withdrawal, most of them within a year or less, that 80% believe that the U.S. presence increases violence, and that almost the same percentage believe that the U.S. intends to keep permanent military bases." 
Chomsky's criticisms are particularly relevant in light of U.S. President George W. Bush's much-anticipated policy speech on Iraq on Wednesday, which was notable for the sheer absence of any major policy shift, other than an incremental troop increase, as well as the minutest reference to Iraq's sovereignty.
It is worth remembering that the bipartisan ISG rejected troop increases "because we do not believe that the needed levels are available for a substantial deployment." This aside, the panel's claim that "no country in the region will benefit in the long term from a chaotic Iraq" deserves a pause, because Israel is the sole exception, benefiting from such chaos that diverts attention from its own policies toward the Palestinians.
Military reductionism is a poor substitute for the multi-layered recommendations of the ISG focusing on a diplomatic offensive. War and military solutions cannot be the extension of diplomacy by other means. A political solution with regional dimensions is needed, which is precisely what is missing in Bush's outlook.
Of course, Bush's omissions are understandable within the context of a U.S. interventionist policy that, nearly four years later, is incapable of coming to terms with the unwanted consequences of the post-Saddam Hussein political process, i.e., that the Iraqi government is firmly opposed to the idea of a U.S. troop "surge" and their "embeddedness" with the Iraqi army.
According to John Burns of the New York Times, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki actually wants U.S. forces out of Baghdad and moved to the city's "periphery." And it is not just the embattled prime minister either, recalling how Iraqi President Jalal Talabani lambasted the ISG report and its plethora of recommendations, such as troop embeddedness and various "benchmarks" for the Iraqi government, including a constitutional revision and re-Ba'athification, as a violation of Iraq's sovereignty.
Saving face, though, In Baghdad, according to Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, "President Bush informed the Iraq government in a phone call of the new strategy before announcing it." He added that Iraq would "demand adjusting anything unsuitable in the new U.S. strategy." The Iraqis can demand, but shouldn't count on much satisfaction from a superpower more used to imposing demands.
Unfortunately, news of the objections of Iraqi government leaders does not seem to have reached the White House, nor the fact that per a CNN poll, some 61% of Americans are not in favor of a troop surge. Instead, Bush unveiled a "new strategy" that is helplessly bereft of imagination and relies one-dimensionally on coercive counterinsurgency tactics to salvage the sinking ship of the U.S.-British gambit in Iraq.
The new plan is, in Bush's words, to compensate for past "mistakes," one being that "there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have." What about the restrictions placed by the Iraqi government? Will Bush respect the wishes of Iraq's elected leaders or, instead, contemplate adding the feather of a military coup, harking back to the overthrow of the government in South Vietnam, to his hat?
Indeed, the comparisons with Ngo Dinh Diem's fate in South Vietnam and Iraq are becoming more pronounced. Just as Diem was pressured with conditions on economic aid before his overthrow, Washington is now imposing "benchmarks" on the Iraqi government, such as how to divide up the oil revenue. These demands, irrespective of their merits, have the undesirable consequence of perpetuating the image of Baghdad's regime as a client state pure and simple, hardly conducive to the government's legitimacy requirements, and quest for internal peace and stability.
But don't expect any of the policy hawks behind Bush's make-believe "new strategy" to bother themselves with such details, given their imperial mindset on preventing the impression of an astounding failure. Yet few even in Washington seriously believe that such prescriptions falling seriously short of a "comprehensive new approach" as called for by the ISG and others have even a moderate chance of success. This save for the Israelis and their influence peddlers, who are quietly happy that Bush disregarded the panel's "linkage approach" that would have put the Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians on the United States' policy agenda.
Not only that, instead of adopting the panel's key recommendations for a vigorous U.S. diplomatic initiative in the region by engaging Iran and Syria, Bush, much to the chagrin of the panel's members, opted for the opposite path of confrontation by accusing Tehran and Damascus of harboring "terrorists and insurgents." He also said they were providing material support for attacks on U.S. troops, and promised that he would root out Iranian and Syrian support networks and protect Iraq's borders.
These are, indeed, tall orders for a U.S. military stretched thin and plagued with low morale and troop exhaustion. Senator John Warner has warned that Bush's plan would embroil the U.S. in a bloody civil war, thus further complicating the U.S. mission in Iraq, which has led to a "U.S.-Shi'ite alliance", per the words of Washington pundit Edward Luttwak.
Yet a point missed by Luttwak and many other U.S. analysts is the fragility of this alliance and the distinct possibility that under undue pressure by a combined force of Arab Sunnis, Israelis, and U.S. hawks, the alliance might crumble and thus turn the majority Shi'ites in Iraq into insurgents.
Should that happen, it is a sure bet that a great deal more troops in Iraq would be needed to quell the Shi'ite-dominated provinces rebelling against the Americans. This nightmare scenario is probably the leading factor mitigating against the Diem scenario in Iraq, which in turn brings us back to the demands of the Iraqi government, due to take full responsibility for security matters by November.
That plan is, however, unreachable, given the abysmal security situation, such as the 11-hour full-scale military confrontation in central Baghdad this week. This reflected a substantive strengthening of the insurgents, who can now add to hit-and-run tactics disciplined attacks in "military formations."
Increasingly beholden to U.S. protectorate firepower, the Iraqi government will soon be caught between incompatible demands, of the radical Shi'ites led by Moqtada al-Sadr calling for U.S. withdrawal and the U.S. push to disarm his Mehdi Army and other militias.
But since the Iraqi army is heavily infiltrated by Moqtada loyalists, it is highly doubtful that the Iraqi government can appease U.S. military advice on the militias and, what is more, one can no longer discount the possibility of a confrontation between the U.S. and the Iraqi army in the near future.
In his speech, Bush vowed to correct the past mistake of vacating insurgent-infested neighborhoods after clearing them, claiming that the U.S. would now have the necessary troop levels to "hold" them. This may turn out a hope against hope, and could translate into nothing more than than more dead on the ground.
According to Leon Paneta, a member of the ISG, "Not one general we spoke to recommended the troop increase, and they all only saw temporary results from such an increase." By replacing his recalcitrant generals who saw the ultimate futility of bandaging a gaping wound through troop increases, Bush has reshuffled the military and diplomatic deck by bringing on board commanders favoring aggressive counterinsurgency tactics, such as forming a "giant security cordon" around Baghdad.
While Bush is adamant that "this plan can work", he has at the same time introduced a sober realism by calling for "patience, sacrifice, and resolve" on America's part, predicting that even if the plan is successful, bloodshed would continue and American lives would still be lost.
The consequences of failure, he has warned, would be dire in terms of "radical Islamists" posing even bigger threats to America's precious allies in the oil region and to the U.S. itself, and "Iran will be emboldened to pursue nuclear weapons and to dominate the region".
Thus the gist of Bush's "new strategy" is to make transparent the veiled purpose of long-term U.S .power in Iraq, which is to deter Iranian power, protect America's vital interests and act as a bulwark against Islamist radicals and terrorists, without even an indirect allusion to an exit strategy. In historical retrospective, all this will likely remind us of is yet another U.S. tragedy as previously seen in Vietnam, or the French in Algeria, tragedies inherited from the legacy of Western colonialism.
Avoiding Iraq as the flashpoint One net result of the White House's new strategy may indeed turn out to be the transformation of Iraq into a flashpoint between Iran and the US, in light of Thursday's news of a US raid on the Iranian Consulate in the city of Irbil, decried by Tehran as an act of provocation.
This will further fracture the US-Shi'ite alliance in Iraq and increase the prospect of a wider war that will not be in the interests of either Iran, the US or any of its allies save Israel. Prudent crisis management is needed whereby US and Iranian diplomats in Iraq meet face to face for constructive dialogue on issues of mutual concern. Sadly, despite strong recommendations for this course of action from the United States' European allies and even from within the US Department of State, there is now little or no prospect of anything but escalating crisis in the region.
1. See Noam Chomsky's comments.
Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Ph.D., is the author of *After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy* (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", *Brown Journal of World Affairs*, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.