It is not an understatement to say that we sit on the edge of war with Iran. Earlier today a group of armed men wearing Iraqi commando uniforms siezed Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary at the Iranian embassy in Baghdad. The uniforms suggested a unit affiliated with the American command hierarchy, which only means so much when even US uniforms and vehicles can be bought and sold on the Iraqi street.
Spokesmen for US and Iraqi forces have denied any involvement, which also means only so much when both have already mortgaged their credibility over lesser matters. At this point Iran has some justification in treating official pronouncements as so much noise.
Some will scoff about Iranian respect for embassies and just desserts, and on a certain level they may be right. Hypocrisy, &c. I hope that leaves a warm feeling when the Sadrists and the Mahdi Army, which is to say a decent fraction of the Iraqi armed forces, turn their attention from sectarian war to supporting an Iranian campaign aginst us, when it isn’t just the Saudi-backed Sunni insurgents downing our helicopters with modern shoulder-fired missiles and when daily casualties reach the mid double digits. People often forget that
150,000 180,000 US forces in Iraq are essentially hostages to Iran’s good will. Our huge bases depend on resupply convoys which cross hundreds of miles of Shiite territory. Ammo, food, water and fuel gets through because the locals let it through.
1st Lt. Dan Quinn of the 1st ID:
“People (in America) think it’s bad, but that we control the city. That’s not the way it is. They control it, and they let us drive around. It’s hostile territory.”
Denials notwithstanding, we can nonetheless rule out several major players. The Mahdi army is clearly out, unless someone thinks that Iran will attack itself. Giving some weight to the rumors of Iranian support, the Sadrists have little to gain by cutting off their own food chain. That would seem to rule out most local forces given that important ministries are thinly disguised fiefdoms of Sadrists and SCIRI. Ahmad Chalabi, himself a likely agent of Iran (a surprising number of those in postwar Iraq, n’est-ce pas?), seems unlikely to send his goon squad after his primary patron. In fact I’m having a very hard time imagining the US giving an order this sensitive to any Baghdad army unit and trusting them to carry it out unsupervised. When was the last time an Iraqi unit under the US chain of command managed anything unsupervised?
Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt that our airhead leaders would love to cook up a convenient Gulf of Tonkin incident. I just doubt that even the geniuses in VP Cheney’s office would start it off with an act as inexcusable and undeniably a first-shot provocation as abducting a senior diplomat at gunpoint in broad daylight.
At this point I’m simply thinking out loud, but I suspect that the story has more to do with this.
A growing number of Iraqis blamed the United States on Sunday for creating conditions that led to the worst single suicide bombing in the war, which devastated a Shiite market in Baghdad the day before. They argued that slowness in completing the vaunted new American security plan has made Shiite neighborhoods much more vulnerable to such horrific attacks.
The chorus of critics said the new plan, which the Americans have barely started to execute, has emasculated the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia that is considered responsible for many attacks on Sunnis, but which many Shiites say had been the only effective deterrent against sectarian reprisal attacks in Baghdad’s Shiite neighborhoods.
[…] In advance of the plan, which would flood Baghdad with thousands of new American and Iraqi troops, many Mahdi Army checkpoints were dismantled and its leaders are either in hiding or under arrest. With no immediate influx of new security forces to fill the void, Shiites say, Sunni militants and other anti-Shiite forces have been emboldened to plot the type of attack that obliterated the bustling Sadriya market in central Baghdad on Saturday, killing at least 135 people and wounding more than 300 from a suicide driver’s truck bomb.
With Sunni insurgents free to roam Baghdad one has to wonder what other atrocities they have planned. Former Baathists and al Qaeda (far from the same thing of course) have means, motive, opportunity. From their perspective it’s hard to imagine an act more immersed in classic military doctrine than provoking one enemy, the Iranian-backed Shiites, into open conflict with the other, us.
As I said, thinking out loud. But something to keep in mind.