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The War for Iran

NAJAF 2004

"From Iran's perspective, there is little question what
happens in Najaf is its business. Any damage there
cannot leave a single Iranian ruler the option of
remaining neutral, regardless of whether they are
among moderates or hard-liners. The Shiite religious
heritage is a shared one between Iraq and Iran."

"Iraq's interim vice-president on Wednesday called
on foreign troops to leave the holy Shia city of Najaf, as
American commanders launched US forces for a final push."

Mid-East Realities - MER - www.MiddleEast.Org - 12 August 2004:
At Camp David in 1978 the U.S. lied to and soon betrayed Egypt, humbling the greatest of the Arab countries. By 1981 Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated, the Israelis were readying to invade Lebanon, and the Palestinians were feeling increasingly sold out. It was in this historic crucible of events that Dr. Ayman Zawahri, today's #2 in al Qaeda, decided what he was going to do and that the Palestinian Intifada was born.

In Arabia in the 1990s uniformed military forces of the United States -- not just secretive CIA operatives and cash-hungry businessmen -- came to occupy the country representing the heart of Islam. From this historic development on top of those before came Osama bin Laden on the road to 9/11.

Now today in 2004 the Americans are rampaging and pillaging Najaf in Iraq - the heart of Shiite Islam. And as the very important article by Youseff Ibrahim that followed explains, this is having and will have major reverberations on Iran and Shiite Muslims worldwide now and in the future. No way to specificially predict what this will lead to and when, but the general direction of much more hatred, severe distrust, and future revenge-seeking seems guaranteed.

And as difficult as it may be for many to grasp provoking Iran and Muslims to defend and to counter-attack may in fact be just what the neocon Americans and their Israeli friends actually want so they can soon pursue their next crusading military adventures.

Iraq's phase II: Deadlier than ever

By Youssef M. Ibrahim*

GulfNews - Dubai - 10 August 2004) - Iraq entered a deadlier and murkier second phase of fighting and bloodshed this past week. This is certain to deepen the American quagmire, threaten the longevity of Prime Minister Eyad Allawi's government and, unfortunately for Iraqis, usher in a new phase of internecine killing via suicide and car bombings, such as the hideous attacks in Mosul and Baghdad against Christian worshippers.

By far the most ominous new development could be a widening of the conflict that draws Iran into it. Allawi has officially named his giant neighbour, Iran, as trouble-maker-in-chief last week, accusing it of standing behind the rebellious cleric Moqtada Al Sadr and the fighting that left more than 300 dead in the holy city of Najaf.

This is a serious charge as grievous damage was done to innocent people, their commerce, their homes and some of the holiest Shiite sites there.

From Iran's perspective, there is little question what happens in Najaf is its business. Any damage there cannot leave a single Iranian ruler the option of remaining neutral, regardless of whether they are among moderates or hard-liners. The Shiite religious heritage is a shared one between Iraq and Iran.

It is possible to see Iran pushing a fight against American troops, but standing behind damage to Shiite shrines is not credible. Yet, Allawi, a feisty and tough customer, has now officially thrown the gauntlet, as if he were asking for a fight at a time when he has yet to demonstrate his government can protect all Iraqis against insurgents, domestic and foreign alike.

Iran wasted no time pointing it out. In his toughest speech yet, former Iranian President Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani, currently head of the equivalent of the Iranian National Security Council - Majlis Tashkhis Masaleh Al Nizam - minced no words in last Friday's sermon in Tehran, when he warned the Americans and Allawi's government of a rise in the number of suicide bombers targeting them inside Iraq in "defence of Islam".

New turn of events

Iraqi nationalists are split over the meaning of the new turn of events. Some argue that the Iranians and their various militias and supporters started the trouble, taunting the Allawi government and the Americans.

Other, equally sincere Iraqi nationalists say it is the Americans who are encouraging the whole mess in order to turn Iraq into the one area where they can trap all fundamentalist-inspired militant movements, Iraqi or foreign, and kill their members.

The truth, as usual, lies in between, but the Bush administration and Iran have been heading for a high-noon duel for some time now. It is unfortunate that Allawi has chosen his camp with the Bush folks. It may cost him, and the whole Gulf region, dearly.

One way or the other, "pandemonium" best describes what is coming. The present mess has three components: American, Iraqi and foreign. It would seem the new American occupation authorities wasted little time repeating the same errors of the last administration of General Ricardo Sanchez and Paul Bremmer III.

They waged yet another "final" battle to "finish off" the ragtag Mahdi Army of Al Sadr, and this backfired. The Mahdi, as in the past, will disappear now and re-appear later, inside Baghdad itself - in Sadr City, home to two million Shiites, where an American helicopter was shot down in this latest fighting. Such is the nature of guerilla warfare.

Inside the Iraqi camp cards have been reshuffled too. The two Shiite figures locking horns are Allawi and the young Al Sadr. Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani, who until now presented the Americans with some hope of boosting their views among Shiites, has conveniently left Najaf just before the fighting began, for medical treatment in London.

Part of what he may have left behind too is his prestige and influence. Great Shiite religious leaders do not go away when their people come under attack.

The outsiders' card has also been thrown into the game. A real nightmare would start if Iran makes the decision - which Iranian officials assure me they have not yet done - to actively engage the harassed, tired, demoralised and overstretched American troops trapped behind their barbed wire enclaves in Iraq.

This would be a real war of attrition. It must be recalled that Iran has long arms inside Iraq, which have supported over 20 years of engagement ever since the eight-year-long Iraq-Iran war that started in 1980.

Iran has since built not one but several Iraqi militias, similar to the Hezbollah in Lebanon. It has a huge intelligence apparatus deeply penetrating the Iraqi army, police, security forces and government. And it has open borders from where more men and weapons can pour into Iraq.

Above all, it seems not to be intimidated by American reprisals. This is all reminiscent of the famous Ho Shi Minh trail in Vietnam through which, some 40 years ago, North Vietnamese troops and arms poured into South Vietnam to produce the first serious American military defeat since World War II.

Know how to fight

Should Iran start moving its chess pieces inside Iraq what will be America's and Allawi's counter-strategy? One is not aware of what more the Americans can do (invade Iran?) or what Allawi has up his sleeve.

Some in the Bush administration talk of bombing 50 Iranian sites, including the nuclear reactor. This would absolutely unite Iranians. And these guys know how to fight long wars and take huge losses until they prevail. As for Allawi, as tough as he is, we must remember he remains untested.

* Youssef M. Ibrahim , a former Middle East correspondent for the New York Times and Energy Editor of the Wall Street Journal, is Managing Director of the Dubai-based Strategic Energy Investment Group.

US troops launch offensive in Najaf
By Mark Turner in Baghdad

Iraq flag and map(Financial Times, London, 11 August) Iraq's interim vice-president on Wednesday called on foreign troops to leave the holy Shia city of Najaf, as American commanders launched US forces for a final push against the rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Fighting between the troops and militia broke out on Thursday, as US forces headed towards the holy city’s Shia cemetery, a stronghold of the militia.

Adding to international concern over the showdown, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, denounced the assault as “one of the darkest crimes of humanity”, and a “dark blemish which will never be wiped from the face of America”.

Ibrahim Jaafari, one of Iraq's two vice-presidents, is a leader of the Islamist Dawa party and has topped opinion polls as Iraq's most popular politician. “I call for multinational forces to leave Najaf and for only Iraqi forces to remain there,” he told al-Jazeera television. “Iraqi forces can administer Najaf to end this phenomenon of violence in this city that is holy to all Muslims.”

His demands were at odds with previous government warnings that it did not have the capacity to stop Mr Sadr alone. Diplomats suggested they could reflect political positioning ahead of elections scheduled for January.

But the statement also highlighted the disunity among Iraq's interim leadership, reflecting growing Shia concern over recent developments, and rising tensions with Iran. Sciri, the other major Iraqi Islamist Shia party, has also condemned the excessive use of forcein Najaf, although it has called on Mr Sadr to disarm.

Adding to the turbulence, Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi National Congress leader who has restyled himself as a unifying Shia politician, returned to Baghdad from Iran on Wednesday. The Iraqi authorities have threatened to arrest him on counterfeiting charges. The US military signalled on Wednesday that it was in no mood to back down. “Iraqi and US forces are making final preparations as we get ready to finish this fight that the Moqtada [al-Sadr] militia started,” said Colonel Anthony Haslam, commanding officer of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit in Najaf. He said his forces would take great care to avoid disturbing holy sites.

Mr Sadr urged the Mahdi army to stay firm. “Keep fighting even if you see me a prisoner or a martyr. God willing you will be victorious,” he said. Clashes also broke out in Baghdad's Sadr City slum, and in the southern towns of Kut and Amara, while demonstrators in Nassiriya torched prime minister Iyad Allawi's political party office and called for his downfall.

Falah al-Mahani, the top health official in Najaf, warned of “a real catastrophe” for emergency services. “Ambulances are prevented from reaching the injured people by the clashing parties. We are paralysed,” he said. There were reports of residents fleeing to the nearby city of Karbala.

Analysts fear that even if the government makes an example of Mr Sadr's forces, it will not ease tensions among Iraq's disaffected youth, who are suffering from wide-scale unemployment and poor services.

The violence also bodes ill for Iraq's national conference, due to start this weekend. The conference was intended to offer a peaceful forum for dialogue between Iraq's diverse communities.

Iran Tests Missile Capable of Hitting Israel

By Paul Hughes

TEHRAN (Reuters - 11 August) - Iran's defense ministry said on Wednesday it had carried out a field test of the latest version of its Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile which defense experts say can reach Israel or U.S. bases in the Gulf.

Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said last week Iran was working on improvements to the range and accuracy of the Shahab-3 in response to Israel's moves to boost its anti-missile capability.

A defense ministry spokesman confirmed a state television report that the test was carried out "to assess the latest developments implemented on this missile." He declined to give any further details.

Iran says its missile program is purely for deterrent purposes. Tehran also denies U.S. and Israeli accusations that it is seeking to develop nuclear warheads which could be delivered by the Shahab-3.

Based on the North Korean Nodong-1 and modified with Russian technology, the Shahab-3 is thought to have a range of 810 miles which would allow it to strike anywhere in Israel. Shahab means meteor in Persian.

Amid media speculation that Israel may try to halt Iran's nuclear program by carrying out air strikes on some atomic facilities in Iran, Iranian officials have said Tehran would retaliate promptly and strongly to any such attack.


"If Israel behaves like a lunatic and attacks the Iranian nation's interests, we will come down on their heads like a mallet and break their bones," the ISNA students news agency quoted Revolutionary Guards Commander Yahya Rahim Safavi as saying on Wednesday.

Israel successfully tested its Arrow II anti-missile project in the United States last month. It was the seventh time the Arrow II had worked but the first time it had destroyed a Scud missile -- similar to the Shahab-3 -- in flight.

"The Israelis have recently tried to increase their missile capability and we will also try to upgrade our Shahab-3 missile in every respect," the ISNA students news agency quoted Shamkhani as saying last week.

He said the improvements to the Shahab-3 "will not be limited to the missile's range and will include all its specifications."

Iran deployed the Shahab-3 missiles to its Revolutionary Guards last July after preliminary field tests were successfully completed.

Six of the sand-colored missiles, bearing slogans which said "We will stamp on America" and "We will wipe Israel from the face of the earth," were displayed at an annual military parade last September.

Iran has not said how many of the missiles it has so far manufactured. Military analysts say questions remain about its reliability and accuracy.

A senior Israeli defense source said Israel believed Tehran was developing a Shahab-4 missile with a range of 1,700 km capable of reaching Europe. Iran has denied this.

"This 'new and improved' Shahab-3 could well be Iran's way of producing the extended-range missile while avoiding the Mark-4 label which would draw international concern," he said. (Additional reporting by Amir Paivar in Tehran, Dan Williams in Jerusalem)

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