The latest liberal "spin" on the discovery of Iranian weapons in Iraq is that we don't know if this represents a "conscious" policy by the Tehran government, or elements within regime. In today's Boston Globe, reporters Farah Stockman and Thanassis Cambanis eagerly sought the opinions of "experts" and self-styled Bush Administration critics, who are questioning the quality of intelligence on Iranian support for Iraqi insurgents, presented at a news conference in Baghdad on Sunday.
Daniel Serwer, a specialist at the US Institute for Peace, a Washington-based think tank, said he was not convinced that the Iranian government had decided "at the highest levels" to provide weapons to target US troops, as the three US officials told reporters.
"The question is not so much about whether there are Iranian weapons inside Iraq," said Serwer, who served as executive director of the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan commission on Iraq. "Sure there are. The question is whether there is a conscious policy by the Iranian government or some part of the Iranian government to support lethal attacks against Americans. I haven't seen any proof of that yet."
Readers will note that Mr. Serwer's group advocated some sort of regional "dialogue" with Iran and Syria, in an effort to get the U.S. out of Iraq. Obviously, evidence of Iranian troops and weaponry being used to kill American soldiers would undercut the approach advocated by the ISG. As the group's executive director, is Mr. Serwer an unbiased observer of Iranian actions in Iraq, and their potential impact on U.S. policies? You be the judge.
Ditto for Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, who sees parallels between the intel offered on Iranian involvement in Iraq, and information provided on Saddam's purported WMD programs before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Dodd, who gives new meaning to the term "partisan hack," did everything short of accusing the administration of "cooking the books" on intelligence about Iran's support for Shia militias:
"I am deeply troubled by this administration's escalating rhetoric against Iran, especially intelligence from unnamed officials that is not fully documented," Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, said in a statement. "It is frighteningly reminiscent of the pattern we saw in the drumbeat that led to the war with Iraq."
Clearly, intelligence assessments are never perfect, but the officials who spoke in Baghdad on Sunday offered a compelling case. Forensic evidence determined that the weaponry on display had been manufactured in Iran, and serial numbers linked the devices to suppliers in that country.
Beyond that, we can also assume that those six members of the Qods force, arrested recently in Irbil, have been talking to interrogators, and have provided more evidence of Tehran's complicity. Obviously, not all of this information is not going to be divulged to the public and the press before U.S. and Iraqi security forces have a chance to roll-up some of the terror cells, bomb-making networks and smuggling operations. The Globe sniffs that "only two" Iranian identification cards were displayed at the Baghdad news conference, ignoring reports that documents were also recovered in the raid. You may also recall that the Iranians tried to flush some of those documents down a toilet when coalition forces burst into their offices. But I'm sure the Globe would describe that as a mere coincidence, and when we put those Iranian agents in front of the cameras, the paper will claim that their "confessions" were coerced.
Meanwhile, it would be helpful if President Bush and other senior officials offered a bit more support for the recent discoveries in Iraq. In his news conference today, Mr. Bush said "he did not know" if Iran's leaders ordered the Qods force to provide IEDs to the Shia militias in Iraq. General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made similar comments yesterday in Indonesia, saying that evidence of Iranian bomb-making material in Iraq "does not translate that the Iranian government per se, for sure, is directly involved in doing this."
Give me a break. Given the relationship between the Qods force and the upper levels of Iran's government, I'd be greatly surprised if senior officials in Tehran weren't aware of what was going on. Support for the militias--and attacks on U.S. troops--has been part and parcel of Iranian policies in Iraq for more than two years. In fact, the Globe does ask one useful question, namely why it took so long for the administration to make its case against Tehran.
The answer is probably rooted in several factors, including U.S. efforts to "reassure" Iranians that we had no plans to attack their country, and EU-led diplomatic efforts to deter Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Based on available evidence, it appears that the U.S. was willing to tolerate Iranian interference in Iran (up to a point), in hopes of achieving broader, regional goals. If it took the administration four years to figure out that Iran will inevitably work against our interests, shame on them.
Unfortunately, members of the left-wing "security establishment" (yes, that is an oxymoron) are even more myopic in their views, quite willing to give Iran a pass on activities that kill U.S. soldiers. One of the more ludicrous "statistics" cited in the Globe story is the correlation of combat deaths among Shia and Sunni neighborhoods. The paper notes that only four percent of U.S. casualties occur in areas when Shia insurgents are active; by comparison, at least 60% of our combat deaths have occurred in areas when Sunni terrorists operate. Even the Globe admits that one-quarter of our combat fatalities have been recorded in an area--Baghdad--where Shia and Sunni fighters operate.
What the paper conveniently fails to mention is that Iran's support is not only limited to Shia groups; as the respected private intelligence firm Stratfor noted last month (hat tip: Lebanonwire):
"Iran's primary militant assets in Iraq are Shiite militias and unaffiliated gunmen. But Iran's support for the Iraq insurgency is not limited to its Shiite allies. Tehran also has been providing support to segments of the Sunni insurgency. Though it might sound like a contradiction for Shiite Iran to support Sunni groups in Iraq, it is not unprecedented -- and there is a certain logic behind the groups the Iranians choose to support..."
" Tehran also wants to avoid overusing Shiite militants in Iraq in order to prevent a rift between Iraqi Shia and the United States; it intends to use its Arab Shiite allies as an instrument in consolidating its interests in Iraq. At the same time, the Iranians need to ensure that the Sunni insurgency would keep the United States tied down in Iraq so that U.S. forces would not be in a position to threaten Iran.
To those ends, Iran has had to gain some influence within the complex universe of Iraq's Sunni insurgency. The Iranians have backed certain elements of the insurgency -- such as Kurdish Islamist militant organization Ansar al-Sunnah -- that are Sunni Islamists, are not part of the jihadist alliance and are opposed to the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Many elements of Ansar al-Sunnah reportedly have been operating from inside Iran."
"Iran actually has a long history of supporting Sunni groups under the guise of promoting pan-Islamist causes. Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hamas are two prime examples of Arab Sunni groups that have received Iranian assistance. In fact, PIJ's founders were heavily influenced by the 1979 Islamic revolution that brought the current Iranian regime to power.
In Iraq, Iranian support for Sunni militants will further complicate an already complex insurgency, making it all the more difficult for U.S. and Iraqi forces to contain it. It will also create suspicions and rifts among various Sunni groups that will cause intra-Sunni violence. On the other hand, the situation provides an opportunity for Washington to drive a wedge between the Iranians and their Iraqi Shiite allies by showing that Tehran has actually been backing their enemies. This is why Iran has tried to encourage the Sunni militants it supports to focus on U.S. and other non-Shiite targets."
But you wouldn't know that Iran has a history of backing various Sunni insurgent groups from reading the Globe's account. In fact, the only encouraging element from the entire story is that quote from an unnamed defense official, saying that the Baghdad briefing grew out of a larger decision to neutralize the Qods force in Iraq. That's a policy that makes perfect sense--and it's long over-due.