MILITARY ACTION 'WOULD DESTABILIZE IRAQ'
By Patrick Cockburn
July 5, 2008
Iraq will be plunged into a new war if Israel or the US launches an attack on Iran, Iraqi leaders have warned. Iranian retaliation would take place in Iraq, said Dr. Mahmoud Othman, the influential Iraqi MP.
The Iraqi government's main allies are the U.S. and Iran, whose governments openly detest each other. The Iraqi government may be militarily dependent on the 140,000 U.S. troops in the country, but its Shia and Kurdish leaders have long been allied to Iran. Iraqi leaders have to continually perform a balancing act in which they seek to avoid alienating either country.
The balancing act has become more difficult for Iraq since George Bush successfully requested $400m (£200m) from Congress last year to fund covert operations aimed at destabilizing the Iranian leadership. Some of these operations are likely to be launched from Iraqi territory with the help of Iranian militants opposed to Tehran. The most effective of these opponent groups is the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), which enraged the Iraqi government by staging a conference last month at Camp Ashraf, north-east of Baghdad. It demanded the closure of the Iranian embassy and the expulsion of all Iranian agents in Iraq. "It was a huge meeting" said Dr. Othman. "All the tribes and political leaders who are against Iran, but are also against the Iraqi government, were there." He said the anti-Iranian meeting could not have taken place without U.S. permission.
The Americans disarmed the 3,700 MEK militants, who had long been allied to Saddam Hussein, at Camp Ashraf in 2003, but they remain well-organized and well-financed. The extent of their support within Iran remains unknown, but they are extremely effective as an intelligence and propaganda organisation.
Though the MEK is on the State Department's list of terrorist groups, the Pentagon and other U.S. institutions have been periodically friendly to it. The U.S. task force charged by Mr. Bush with destabilizing the Iranian government is likely to co-operate with it.
In reaction to the conference, the Iraqi government, the U.S., and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) have started secret talks on the future of the MEK with the Iraqi government pressing for their expulsion from Iraq. Dr. Othman, who speaks to the MEK frequently by phone, said: "I pressed them to get out of Iraq voluntarily because they are a card in the hands of the Americans."
An embarrassing aspect of the American pin-prick war against Iran is that many of its instruments were previously on the payroll of Saddam Hussein. The MEK even played a role in 1991 in helping to crush the uprising against the Baathist regime at the end of the Gulf war. The dissidents from Arab districts in southern Iran around Ahwaz were funded by Saddam Hussein's intelligence organizations, which orchestrated the seizure of the Iranian embassy in London in 1980 which was supposedly carried out by Arab nationalists from Iran.
The one community in Iran most likely to oppose the Tehran government is the Iranian Kurds. There have been an increasing number of attacks by PJAK, the Iranian wing of the Turkish PKK, which claims to be a separate party. Based in the Kandil mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan, PJAK has carried out frequent raids into Iran and has reportedly been able to win local support. But it would be extremely dangerous for the U.S. to be seen as a supporter of PJAK as this would offend the Turks who have a military co-operation agreement with Iran against terrorism.
THE U.S. IN THE MIDEAST: IGNORANCE ABROAD
By Rami G. Khouri
Daily Star (Beirut)
July 5, 2008
One of the frightening lessons one learns from spending time in Washington is that most of the men and women who make, or influence, American policy in the Middle East actually have little or no first-hand experience of the region. They know very little about its people or its political trends at the grassroots level, as the Iraq experience reconfirms so painfully.
American policy-making throughout the Middle East remains defined largely by three principal forces: pro-Israeli interests and lobbies in the United States that pander almost totally to Israeli government positions; an almost genetic, if understandable, need to respond to the 9/11 terror attack against the U.S. by politically and militarily striking against Middle Eastern targets; and a growing determination to confront and contain Iran and its assorted Sunni and Shiite Arab allies.
A significant consequence of Washington's deep pro-Israeli tilt has been to ignore public sentiments throughout the region, which in turn generates greater criticism of the U.S. It is not clear if American policymakers ignore Middle Eastern public opinion because of ignorance and diplomatic amateurism, or because of the structural dictates of pro-Israeli compliance.
This is a regrettable situation, given that we now know quite well the sentiments of majorities of people in Middle Eastern lands. A significant factor in people's attitudes toward the U.S. is its policy toward Israel and Palestine. Other issues also influence how Middle Easterners see the U.S. -- such as Iraq, oil, and promoting democratic or autocratic regimes -- but the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains a huge determinant of America's standing in Middle Eastern eyes.
A historic new mindset has developed in recent years as a result of the consistent and often growing criticism of the U.S. and Israel: a penchant for militancy and defiance that continues to spread around the Middle East, transcending Iranian-Arab, Shiite-Sunni, or secular-religious divides that are so often highlighted and exaggerated in Washington's distorted view of the Middle East.
I have argued for years now that a new spirit of populist defiance, resistance, and self-assertion is the single most important strategic development in the Middle East. Large numbers of Arabs, Iranians, and Turks -- hundreds of millions of people -- have shed their legacy of passive acquiescence in their own suffering, weakness, marginalization, and victimization. Instead, they are determined to take their fate into their own hands, and to challenge and checkmate those who would keep them in their previous vulnerable, dehumanized state.
At the domestic level, more and more people around the Middle East actively demand, and when possible work to craft, a life and society that offer them more human dignity and citizen rights. These include such basic issues as security, opportunity, socioeconomic needs, and the ability to express their cultural or political identity. At the regional level, this spirit of self-assertive defiance is more difficult to manifest or actualize, but it comes through very clearly in people's attitudes, which are now well captured in public opinion polls.
A powerful new analysis of this phenomenon has just been published in Washington by the Brookings Institution, and deserves close study by anyone interested in the Middle East. The study by Shibley Telhami, the respected University of Maryland professor and senior fellow at Brookings' Saban Center, is titled "Does the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Still Matter? Analyzing Arab Public Perceptions." It reviews public opinion polling data from six Arab countries during the years 2002-2008.
Telhami concludes that "the Arab-Israeli conflict remains a central issue for most Arabs . . . [and] the prism through which most Arabs view the world." He adds that the Arab public consistently and overwhelmingly judges the U.S. according to its policies, not its values, and that the role of the Arab-Israeli conflict in forming people's view of the U.S. remains very important. Most of the Arab public believes that the U.S. attacked Iraq in order to help strengthen Israel, and Arabs see Israel and the U.S. as the two main threats to them. Israel and the U.S. are connected in the minds of most Arabs "in a way which makes anger with one hard to separate from the other."
The leaders of Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran rank highest among those whom Arabs respect, Telhami explains, a sign that Arabs like militants who defy the U.S. and Israel. This sense of defiant militancy seems to be spreading throughout the region. The gap between "militant" publics and conservative regimes also is growing in the Arab world, he says.
The importance of these findings is contained in their consistency over time, and their verification through multiple means. Washington policymakers and think-tank zealots who prefer to ignore these realities, and instead act mainly on the basis of pro-Israeli inclinations or arm-twisting, are free to do so, of course. The cost, however, becomes more obvious for those who wish to see the real world as it is: a place characterized by massive, region-wide militancy and defiance, anchored squarely in resistance to American-Israeli aggression.