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The US moves to confront Iran and Syria

Both nations aid the 'flow of support' to 'terrorists' in Iraq, President Bush says.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 12, 2007



ISTANBUL, TURKEY

Close to the same hour Wednesday night that President Bush vowed to disrupt the "flow of support" from Iran and Syria to "terrorists and insurgents" in Iraq, US forces raided an Iranian consulate in northern Iraq, arresting five diplomats and staff and taking computers and files.

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The raid, and a buildup of US warships in the Persian Gulf, indicate that the Bush administration is ignoring the advice of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) to reach out to the two neighbors to help quell the violence in Iraq.

in the prickly US-Iran dynamic that could further complicate American efforts to calm the fires in Iraq and establish regional stability.

"It seems these 21,000 new troops Mr. Bush wants to send to Iraq are not just to calm [that] country," says Saeed Laylaz, a political and security analyst in Tehran. "It means the new strategy of the US in Iraq and the region is going to put more actual pressure against Iran – financial and military at the same time."

Iranian officials reacted angrily, calling the raid in the northern Kurdish city of Arbil illegal and a signal that US policy toward the Islamic Republic remained "hostile." Throughout 2006, the possibility of US-Iran talks about Iraq appeared to indicate the possibility that 28 years of bitter estrangement might be starting to fade.

There had been some hope in Syria, too, that the ISG's recommendations to engage Iran and Syria might improve strained US-Syrian ties. Bush's reference to deploying Patriot antimissile batteries to the region was aimed squarely at Iran – a point not missed in Tehran.

There had been some hope in Syria, too, that the ISG's recommendations to engage Iran and Syria might improve heavily strained US-Syrian ties. Bush's reference to deploying Patriot antimissile batteries to the region, to "reassure our friends and allies," was aimed squarely at Iran – a point not missed in Tehran.

Their arrival "is part of the US policy direction to create a support umbrella for the Zionist [Israeli] regime through an Islamic country," said Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini. The troop surge, he said, will only "extend insecurity, danger, and tension in the country. This will not help solve Iraq's problems."

Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa said that boosting US troops would "pour oil on the fire" in Iraq.

Bush's comments, in which he stated as fact that a consequence of US "failure" in Iraq would leave Iran "emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons," left many Iranians convinced that there is little chance of rapprochement during the remaining two years of his presidency, regardless of the results in Iraq.

Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful energy production, and denies that it wants the bomb. To date, UN atomic energy agency inspectors say they have found no evidence that Iran, a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has a weapons program.

"It appears that George Bush is hostile against the Islamic Republic, and is ruling out any compromise between Iran and the US," says Sadiq Zibakalam, a political scientist at Tehran University. "It was a bit surprising because after the [ISG] report, one thought that George Bush would be thinking seriously about its findings ... but he simply ignored it altogether."

The tough talk and military steps have led "many people in Iran [to] feel that if George Bush had not been bogged down in Iraq, he would have definitely attacked Iran long ago," says Mr. Zibakalam, adding that the current climate of suspicion resembles the period after Bush declared Iran part of an "axis of evil" three years ago.

"If the increase in [US] force levels in Iraq represents an escalation of the war as some insist," says Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University, "then the extension of US power, directly or indirectly, against Iran would represent an escalation of a different sort – and no less momentous in terms of its potential long-range implications." Mr. Sick was the principal White House aide for Iran during the 1979 Islamic revolution and hostage crisis.

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