Washington takes aim at Iran as destabilizing force in Mideast

Date: 08-24-06

by Jerome Bernard

Thu Aug 24, 3:13 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Facing a spiral of sectarian violence in Iraq, the United States is pointing the finger at Iran, accusing it of playing a destabilizing role in the Middle East.

Brigadier General Michael Barbero, deputy director of operations of the Joint Staff, said Wednesday "it is irrefutable that Iran is responsible for training, funding and equipping some of these Shia extremist groups (in Iraq)."

He said there was "clear evidence" of Iran's role though he had seen no reports of "direct contact" involving Iranian paramilitary and intelligence forces.

One Washington analyst said Barbero's comments were part of a move by the US administration to prepare the US public for war on Iran.

"One reason they are saying it is that it is true. I think another reason they are saying it is that they are going to bomb Iran next year, and they want to explain to the world why Iran is part of the problem and not part of the solution," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.Org, a Washington-based research group.

The Iranian question has moved to the center of debate in Washington political and media circles, contributing to the sense that the administration of President George W. Bush is preparing Americans for war against Iran.

During the conflict in Lebanon, Washington blamed Tehran, reproaching it for providing military support to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia.

This week, the United States said it was "unsatisfied" with Iran's response to an offer by the major powers of incentives to abandon its nuclear program. Tehran on Tuesday proposed "serious negotiations," but showed no willingness to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

With that as a backdrop, the intelligence committee of the House of Representatives on Wednesday released a report that complained of "significant gaps" in US intelligence on Iran and excessive caution in assessing its weapons of mass destruction programs.

"The United States lacks critical information needed for analysts to make many of their judgments with confidence about Iran," said the report.

The concerns raised in the report were reminiscent of the tensions between the CIA and the Bush administration before the war in Iraq over Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, which never materialized, and his regime's links to Al-Qaeda.

The New York Times, quoting anonymous officials, said the report reflects the views of officials in the White House and Pentagon who advocated going to war against Iraq and now are pressing for a confrontation with Iran.

A more bellicose note has been struck in some newspaper editorials as well.

"By sending conflicting signals about its intentions, Iran has divided its critics and staved off sanctions, all the while continuing with its efforts to amass enriched uranium. The question now is whether the world will allow itself to be manipulated once again," the Washington Post editorialized Thursday.

George Perkovich, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote in the Wall Street Journal Thursday that it was "not too early to build a framework for deterring Tehran from acting outside its borders.

"It's now time for the US to quietly rally defense and foreign ministries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia to develop operational plans for containing and deterring a nuclear-armed Iran," he wrote.

In Pike's view, the Bush administration is preparing the public for war "so that people won't be bewildered when it happens.

"But I don't think we are going to see this crescendo of rhetoric that we saw in these previous wars, because this one would be a surprise attack," he said.

Michael O'Hanlon, an expert at the Brookings Institution, is skeptical.

"The idea that we would undertake another war of choice right now is far-fetched," he said. "In other words, a war that was not absolutely critical, or the timing of which could be delayed or varied based upon policy decisions. Those kinds of wars we are not going to choose to fight."


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