On Friday, through a high-profile interview with the New York Times by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice , the U.S. let it be known that "President Bush decided to issue [an order] several months ago to undertake a broad military offensive against Iranian operatives in [Iraq]."[1]  --  "Ms. Rice’s willingness to discuss the issue seemed to reflect a new hostility to Iran," David Sanger and Michael Gordon reported, "though some administration critics regard the talk about Iran as a diversion, one intended to shift attention away from the spiraling chaos in Iraq."  --  White House spokesman Tony Snow called the idea that the U.S. had belligerent intentions toward Iran "an urban legend that’s going around."  --  The Times made no allusion to rumors circulating of explosions in Iran that the web site Debka alleges are linked to an anti-Iranian offensive, despite the fact that it has been reported by reliable sources (Seymour Hersh, Scott Ritter, Ray McGovern) for years that the U.S. has special forces inside Iran and that aggression against Iran is among the administration's plans.  --  The Los Angeles Times, while reporting that the administration was trying to downplay talk of hostility and belligerence toward Iran, also said that "U.S. officials believe the Quds Force [which it described as "an elite intelligence and special operations group within the Revolutionary Guards, who were involved in transferring Iranian explosives to Shiite militias in Iraq"], is in control of elements of two powerful Shiite paramilitary organizations, the Badr Brigade and the Al Mahdi army."[2]  --  AP's Anne Flaherty reported that "U.S. officials said Friday there was no immediate plan to strike targets in Iran, but they also wouldn't rule out military action."[3]  --  An objective observer would be justified in concluding that the Islamic Republic of Iran and the U.S. national security state are engaged in a low-level war.  --  A Stratfor forum recently discussed the aptness of this term to describe U.S.-Iran relations....

1.

World

Middle East

RICE SAYS BUSH AUTHORIZED IRANIANS' ARREST IN IRAQ
By David E. Sanger and Michael R. Gordon

New York Times
January 13, 2006
Page A1

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/13/world/middleeast/13strategy.html

WASHINGTON -- A recent series of American raids against Iranians in Iraq was authorized under an order that President Bush decided to issue several months ago to undertake a broad military offensive against Iranian operatives in the country, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday.

“There has been a decision to go after these networks,” Ms. Rice said in an interview with the New York Times in her office on Friday afternoon, before leaving on a trip to the Middle East.

Ms. Rice said Mr. Bush had acted “after a period of time in which we saw increasing activity” among Iranians in Iraq, “and increasing lethality in what they were producing.” She was referring to what American military officials say is evidence that many of the most sophisticated improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.’s, being used against American troops were made in Iran.

Ms. Rice was vague on the question of when Mr. Bush issued the order, but said his decision grew out of questions that the president and members of his National Security Council raised in the fall.

The administration has long accused Iran of meddling in Iraq, providing weapons and training to Shiite forces with the idea of keeping the United States bogged down in the war. Ms. Rice’s willingness to discuss the issue seemed to reflect a new hostility to Iran that was first evident in Mr. Bush’s speech to the nation on Wednesday night, in which he accused Tehran of providing material support for attacks on American troops and vowed to respond.

Until now, despite a series of raids in which Iranians have been seized by American forces in Baghdad and other cities in Iraq, administration officials have declined to say whether Mr. Bush ordered such actions.

The White House decision to authorize the aggressive steps against Iranians in Iraq appears to formalize the American effort to contain Iran’s ambitions as a new front in the Iraq war. Administration officials now describe Iran as the single greatest threat the United States faces in the Middle East, though some administration critics regard the talk about Iran as a diversion, one intended to shift attention away from the spiraling chaos in Iraq.

In adopting a more confrontational approach toward Iran, Mr. Bush has decisively rejected recommendations of the Iraq Study Group that he explore negotiations with Tehran as part of a new strategy to help quell the sectarian violence in Iraq.

In the interview on Friday, Ms. Rice described the military effort against Iranians in Iraq as a defensive “force protection mission,” but said it was also motivated by concerns that Iran was trying to further destabilize the country.

Mr. Bush’s public warning to Iran was accompanied by the deployment of an additional aircraft carrier off Iran’s coast and advanced Patriot antimissile defense systems in Persian Gulf countries near Iran’s borders. Both the White House and the secretary of defense, Robert M. Gates, insisted Friday that the United States was not seeking to goad Iran into conflict, and that it had no intention of taking the battle into Iranian territory. The White House spokesman, Tony Snow, warned reporters away from “an urban legend that’s going around” that Mr. Bush was “trying to prepare the way for war” with Iran or Syria.

Mr. Gates said that the United States did not intend to engage in hot pursuit of the operatives into Iran.

“We believe that we can interrupt these networks that are providing support, through actions inside the territory of Iraq, that there is no need to attack targets in Iran itself,” Mr. Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I continue to believe what I told you at the confirmation hearing,” he added, referring to last month’s hearings on his nomination, “that any kind of military action inside Iran itself would be a very last resort.”

Ms. Rice’s comments came just a day after the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, issued a sharp warning to the administration about the recent raids against Iranians in Iraq, including one in Erbil early Thursday.

He said the vote to authorize the president to order the use of force to topple Saddam Hussein was not a vehicle for mounting attacks in Iran, even to pursue cells or networks assisting insurgents or sectarian militias. “I just want the record to show -- and I would like to have a legal response from the State Department if they think they have authority to pursue networks or anything else across the border into Iran and Iraq -- that will generate a constitutional confrontation here in the Senate, I predict to you,” Mr. Biden said.

In the view of American officials, Iran is engaged in a policy of “managed chaos” in Iraq. Its presumed goal, both policymakers and intelligence officials say, is to raise the cost to the United States for its intervention in Iraq, in hopes of teaching Washington a painful lesson about the perils of engaging in regime change.

Toward this end, American officials charge, Iran has provided components, including explosives and infrared triggering devices, for sophisticated roadside bombs that are designed to penetrate armor. They have also provided training for several thousand Shiite militia fighters, mostly in Iran. Officials say the training is carried out by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security.

In the interview on Friday, Ms. Rice said, “We think they are providing help to the militias as well, and maybe even the more violent element of these militias.”

In addition, American officials say the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force is active in Iraq. A senior military official said last week that one of the Iranians seized in Baghdad late last month was the No. 3 Quds official. He said American forces uncovered maps of neighborhoods in Baghdad in which Sunnis could be evicted, and evidence of involvement in the war during the summer in Lebanon.

That Iranian official was ordered released, by Ms. Rice among others, after Iran claimed he had diplomatic status.

This week, American forces in Iraq conducted at least two raids against suspected Iranian operatives, including the raid in Erbil. The United States is currently detaining several individuals with Iranian passports who were picked up in those raids. The Iranians have said that they were in the process of establishing a consulate, but American officials said that the Erbil operation was a liaison office and that the workers there did not have diplomatic passports.

A defense official said Friday that such raids would continue. “We are going to be more aggressive,” he said, referring to the suspected Iranian operatives. “We are going to look for them and to try to do what we can to get them into custody.”

--Thom Shanker contributed reporting.

2.

The conflict in Iraq; cooled rhetoric; troop levels

WHITE HOUSE SOFTENS TONE
By Julian E. Barnes and Solomon Moore

** The administration tries to assure the public and lawmakers that it isn't planning a second war in the Middle East. **

Los Angeles Times
January 13, 2007

http://www.latimes.com/la-fg-iraq13jan13,0,4253496.story?track=mostviewed-homepage

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration sought to assure lawmakers and the public Friday that despite harsh new rhetoric, it did not intend to go to war with Iran, even as U.S. sources charged that Iranians captured in Irbil, Iraq, were suspected members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

President Bush accused Iran in a speech this week of helping launch attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq. His remarks were followed by combative comments from his top war advisors, new moves by U.S. naval forces and a raid Thursday in the Kurdish-controlled city of Irbil.

The administration moved Friday to defuse concerns that it was planning or inviting a confrontation with Tehran. At a news conference, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow dismissed as an "urban legend" suggestions that the United States was preparing for another war. Similar denials were issued by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

But other U.S. officials pressed the case that the Islamic Republic was helping foment violence in neighboring Iraq.

One Western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, charged that the Iranians captured in Irbil were suspected members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and were suspected of involvement in bomb smuggling.

The raid followed another U.S. operation last month in Baghdad that netted several high-level members of the Quds Force, an elite intelligence and special operations group within the Revolutionary Guards, who were involved in transferring Iranian explosives to Shiite militias in Iraq, the source said.

Iraqi officials say the building raided Thursday was a long-standing Iranian liaison office. The Kurdistan government said it was a consulate and called for the U.S. to immediately release the detainees, who it said were protected by the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

But Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. Army spokesman, said that it was not an accredited consulate and that the officials did not identify themselves as diplomats or have diplomatic credentials when detained. Although witnesses reported gunfire, Garver said the soldiers used only nonlethal concussion grenades to force the Iranians from the building. They surrendered without incident, he said.

"The operation was conducted without a single shot," Garver said.

He declined to say where in Iraq the Iranians were being held.

U.S. officials said both raids were intended to disrupt Iranian interference in Iraq. The Revolutionary Guards have been linked to transfers of Iranian-made bombs that are designed to focus a cone of concussive force so powerful that it can punch through a tank.

Increasing numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq are being killed by the bombs, particularly in Diyala, Kirkuk, Baghdad, and other areas where Shiite militias have a strong presence, commanders say.

U.S. officials believe the Quds Force is in control of elements of two powerful Shiite paramilitary organizations, the Badr Brigade and the Al Mahdi army.

In his national address Wednesday, Bush accused Iran of providing "material support" for attacks against U.S. troops. "We will disrupt the attacks on our forces," he said. "We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."

His comments were part of his new strategy on Iraq, a plan to add 21,500 U.S. troops that was unveiled to widespread opposition. He announced he was moving a second aircraft carrier group into the Persian Gulf and pledged to stop the attacks and Iranian support for insurgents in Iraq. Military officials also had announced plans to send Patriot missile batteries to the gulf region.

At a hearing Thursday in Washington, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, asked Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice whether Bush "has plans to cross the Syrian and-or Iranian border."

Rice did not answer directly. "Obviously, the president isn't going to rule anything out to protect our troops, but the plan is to take down these networks in Iraq," she told Biden.

Speaking to reporters Friday on her plane at the beginning of a trip to the Middle East and Europe, Rice said Friday that the United States would find ways to "adjust over time" to any difficulties in its new plan for Iraq.

Aides said during a fuel stop in Shannon, Ireland, that the raids against Iranian targets were not separately authorized by the president but were authorized under a decision made several months ago about how to approach Iranian influence in Iraq.

Congress showed concern over what could happen.

"Now we see the specter of a new war front in Iran," said Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.).

Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said an administration move against Iran would be reminiscent of the secretive U.S. incursion into Cambodia in 1970 under the Nixon administration.

After the criticism, Snow tried to temper the administration's rhetoric by emphasizing that war preparations were not underway for Iran or Syria.

At a meeting Friday of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) evoked Vietnam and again asked whether U.S. forces intended to cross into Iran in pursuit of the Iranian networks.

Gates and Pace said U.S. military forces in Iraq would not enter Iranian territory.

But both Gates and Pace emphasized that they believed Iranians were responsible for the deaths of American troops.

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Times staff writers Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Baghdad and Paul Richter in Shannon, Ireland, contributed to this report.

3.

Breaking news

International

ADMINISTRATION: NO PLAN TO STRIKE IRAN
By Anne Flaherty

Associated Press
January 13, 2007

http://www.abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=2791959

WASHINGTON -- U.S. officials said Friday there was no immediate plan to strike targets in Iran, but they also wouldn't rule out military action.

Their comments came after President Bush vowed in a prime-time address to the nation to go after Iranian terrorist networks feeding the insurgency in Iraq.

The U.S. and Iran have been involved in a bitter standoff over Tehran's nuclear program, a clash that has intensified because the United States says Iran helped provide roadside bombs that have killed American troops in Iraq. Tensions inched upward another notch this week after five Iranians were detained by U.S.-led forces after a raid on an Iranian government liaison office in northern Iraq.

Bush's remarks Wednesday in a prime-time speech announcing his plan to boost U.S. forces in Iraq, prompted questions from members of Congress about whether the U.S. is considering attacks on Iranian territory. Bush administration officials have long refused to rule out any options against Iran but said military action would be a last resort.

On Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that while U.S. forces are trying to prevent Iran and Syria from disrupting U.S. forces in Iraq, there were no immediate plans for an attack.

"We believe that we can interrupt these networks that are providing support through actions inside the territory of Iraq, that there is no need to attack targets in Iran itself," Gates told the panel, adding that he continues to believe that "any kind of military action inside Iran itself, that would be a very last resort."

Pace said special operations forces are continually battling insurgents who are getting aid from Iran.

"I think one of the reasons you keep hearing about Iran is because we keep finding their stuff in Iraq," Pace said.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to Bush on Thursday asking for clarifications on the administration's stance toward attacking Iran. Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., raised the issue at a hearing Friday.

"The president seems to have placed diplomacy on the back-burner again," Byrd said.

In his speech Wednesday, Bush chastised Iran and Syria for not blocking terrorists at their borders with Iraq. He specifically blamed Iran for providing material support for attacks on American troops.

"We will disrupt the attacks on our forces," Bush said. "We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."

On Friday, White House spokesman Tony Snow called the suggestion that war plans were under way an "urban legend."

"What the president was talking about is defending American forces within Iraq, and also doing what we can to disrupt networks that might be trying to convey weapons or fighters into battle theaters within Iraq to kill Americans and Iraqis," Snow said.