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An intensifying US campaign against Iran

Amid US charges of Iran's hand in Iraq's instability, some counsel caution.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / August 24, 2007

Istanbul, Turkey

Somalia, 1993: During the darkest days of the American military intervention, when US troops were taking casualties from drug-addled gunmen wearing flip-flops, US officials pointed to a familiar nemesis.

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It was Iran, warned Madeleine Albright, then-US envoy to the United Nations, that had forged a "tactical alliance" with a Somali warlord and "terrorists" in Sudan. Intelligence sources for the first time spoke of smuggled Iranian weapons. In Mogadishu, journalists were told that Iranian agents were training Somalis to make car bombs. But no proof was ever presented.

US charges against Iran's role in Iraq are mounting. But analysts say that a history of unsubstantiated US claims against Iran should serve as a cautionary tale. The lesson to be drawn is not that Iran is guiltless in Iraq, they say, but one of restraint as a familiar drumbeat sounds.

The latest step in the Bush administration's intensifying campaign to depict Iran as a disruptive force in Iraq is a decision to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard force a "terrorist" group. That label, and a push for more UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, and continued charges of training, funding, and supplying anti-US militants in Iraq, experts say, could harm Iraq security talks between US and Iranian diplomats in Baghdad.

"The Americans are blaming Iran for everything that goes wrong, even if it's not Iran's fault, and Iran does the same with the US," says Trita Parsi, the Washington-based author of the forthcoming "Treacherous Alliance: Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the US."

"Decisionmakers in Washington are by-the-minute limiting their own maneuverability in how to deal with Iran, [thereby] making it more difficult to put the relationship on a positive track," he says.

The US case against Iran

This week, the US commander of central Iraq claimed that 50 officers of the Revolutionary Guard's elite Qods Force were in Iraq, training militants.

Top US officers also charged this month that lethal roadside bombs called explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) from Iran were used in 99 attacks in July and caused one-third of US combat deaths, an "all-time high," Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, deputy US commander in Iraq, told The New York Times.

General Odierno claimed the "Iranians are surging support" to Iranian-trained cells to influence US decisions about the Baghdad troop surge. "Over the past three to four months, [Iran's support] has picked up in terms of equipment, training and dollars," Odierno told the Times.

Some US charges appear to stick. US forces earlier this month captured homemade video of preparations for two Shiite militant attacks on a US base southeast of Baghdad on July 11 and Aug. 5. The footage showed 50 fresh-from-the-box 107-mm rockets being lined up on metal stands in daylight, to fire upon the base.

Intelligence officers told Fox News that there was "no doubt" the rockets – still with some packing grease and English lettering for export, the year 2006, and color-coded – were made in Iran. How they got to Iraq, and carried by whom, they could not say. Fourteen of those rockets were fired at the base, killing one soldier; 36 others were found primed, but their timers failed. Three more larger rockets were fired Aug. 5.

Still, other charges have not stuck and some have been retracted. US intelligence sources claimed in Baghdad in February, for example, that the sophisticated manufacture of EFP parts led them to believe that they could only have been made in Iran and that Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would almost certainly have been aware of it.

Shortly afterwards the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Peter Pace, said that he could not confirm that Iran's government "clearly knows or is complicit." US forces have also raided numerous EFP workshops inside Iraq and found such explosives ; they are often used in the oil industry.

Likewise, initial speculation by US officials pointed to "Iranian-trained operatives" in a January attack in Karbala, in which militants dressed as US soldiers and speaking English drove into a US base, kidnapped US troops, and killed five. Months later, the top US general in Iraq denied finding any tie to Iran.