Monday, May 01, 2006

Iran Gets a Warning from Iraq

Eli Lake, The NY Sun:
Iraq's Defense Ministry will be preparing for more Iranian incursions into Iraqi territory this week after issuing a stern warning to its neighbor to end security sweeps and mortar attacks in Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels.

The warning from the ministry, currently headed by a Sunni Arab politician, Saadoun Dulaimi, comes after the Iraqi national security adviser, Muwafaq al-Rubaie, said this weekend that he expected all foreign troops to leave Iraq by mid-2008.

Mr. al-Rubaie's statement was immediately challenged by Secretary of State Rice. "The president has made very clear that he's going to listen to his commanders for what troop levels are needed," she told ABC's "This Week."

The repeated Iranian incursions into Iraq could complicate any coalition plans to speed up the withdrawal of the 130,000 American troops and others from Britain and elsewhere on the ground in Iraq, a number that has been criticized as both too large and too small by critics of the White House war policy.

As America presses the United Nations for the diplomatic isolation of Iran, which will be the subject of further discussions at the Security Council this week, the Tehran regime has become increasingly anti-American and bellicose in its statements, dismissing threats aimed at curbing its nuclear program.

Due to a history of supporting its core members when they were exile, Iran also wields considerable influence over the majority Shiite party that is negotiating the new government in Baghdad.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry issued a statement accusing Iranian soldiers of bombing border areas near the town of Hajj Umran, the BBC reported yesterday. While this is not the first time the ministry has accused Iran of invading its territory, its timing is significant because the new government is being put together in Baghdad after the United Iraqi Alliance - the Shiite bloc - nominated Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister. READ MORE

Mr. al-Maliki promised over the weekend to reserve appointments to the Defense Ministry for political independents unaffiliated with the major ethnic parties. Mr. Dulaimi was such a candidate.

The details of the charges against Iran are also important.When the Iraqi government was under the control of Ayad Allawi, the Sunni-partisan Defense Ministry made numerous accusations against the Iranians for crossing the border. American commanders in Iraq believe the improvised explosive devices planted on the roadsides that make routine troop patrols so treacherous are being designed in and exported from Iran.

Despite the border incursions, Iran and Iraq have strengthened their ties since the fall of Saddam. Both countries have kept the border between them open; both have agreed in principle to counterterrorism pacts,and Iraqi regional governments allow Iranian spies a free run of the southern Shiite majority provinces.

Yesterday the Defense Ministry said Iranian forces were rounding up members of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, an organization that conducted a wave of terror against Turkey for much of the 1990s. At that time, legitimate Kurdish parties in Iraq, particularly the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, enjoyed friendly relations with Iran.

While mortar attacks and troop movements across the Iranian border might underscore the need for a strong American troop presence in Iraq, this is not how Mr. al-Rubaie sees it. "By the end of this year, the number of multinational forces or the coalition forces probably would be less than 100,000," he said. "By the end of next year, the overwhelming majority of the coalition would have left the country, and probably by the middle of 2008 there will be no foreign soldier in the country."

Yesterday Secretary of State Rice differed from this assessment. "Let's get their security forces ready. Let's see what they're capable of doing," she said. "They are taking more territory themselves. They are taking on more responsibility, for instance, for the highway between the airport and the international zone, which they've done in some ways better than we did. They've been able to secure it better than we did ...So we will take this a step at a time."

The Sun reported last year that America had already begun soliciting contracts for a military communications network in Iraq that some experts associated with permanent bases.

To date, America and Iraq have not negotiated a status of forces agreement that would establish the conditions for the permanent maintenance of American troops in Iraq, similar to the agreements reached with Japan and Germany after World War II.

Speaking yesterday in New York to about 350 Jews from the former Soviet Union, Senator Clinton said terrorism and the Iranian nuclear threat are global problems from which no nation is immune.

She criticized Russia, which has a number of lucrative arms contracts with Iran. "If the current Russian government thinks it can control Iran and that they won't turn on them, I think they have a very short-sighted view of history," Senator Clinton said at the annual gala of UJA-Federation of New York's Russian Division.

She also criticized China for its economic ties to Iran, whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has repeatedly stated his desire to obliterate Israel.

The international community, she said, must present a united front against a nuclear Iran, and against Hamas, the terrorist organization at the helm of the government of the Palestinian Authority. "No one in the world should recognize Hamas until it renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel's right to exist," she said.