The latest silly article on Iran…

Aside

Possibly one of the most ridiculous articles I’ve read in a while: Why Iran’s Top Leaders Believe That The End Of Days Has Come | Fox News.

Yeah, I know. “Fox News”, right? But one of the reasons Iran is so mysterious is because US and other western leaders don’t know what the regime’s leadership is thinking, much less that they’re obsessed with the “end times.”

Iranian Hegemony: What’s Not to Like?

This week’s kerfuffle over Iranian President Ahmadinjad’s speech to Columbia University and his request to go to Ground Zero indicates that we, as a country, have indeed bought tickets to absurdistan. I was in New York City for the dustup, rousting editors from their desks and pitching stories, so I got to see the crazy headlines and massive mediagasm.

“The Evil Has Landed” screamed the New York Daily News. “NYers In Rage over ‘Tehran’ting Lunatic” exclaimed the New York Post. (Why not “‘Iran’ting Lunatic”?) Overall, it was a week of ugly intolerance for even the idea of discussion. Apparently some things are out of bounds even to talk about, and allowing the Iranian president to present his views was well beyond the pale.

Which is a shame, considering how necessary Iran is to the United States’ plans in the Middle East. Iran is a major power that has its own interests which could be brought in line — a little, at least — with America’s. So, just to be a little bit naughtier than the New York tabloids, let’s talk about an idea that’s probably beyond discussion. Given the charges that Iran is on the march across the Middle East, is looking to “take it over” and drive the United States back into its own hemisphere what’s so bad about Iranian hegemony?

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Heading to the Gulf

Hello all. I’ll be in the Northern Arabian Gulf for a few days starting tomorrow to check out the training of the Iraqi Navy, the two oil terminals there (which supply Iraq with 90%+ of its income) and maybe I’ll even bump up against some Iranians. Stay tuned…

Iran attack this Friday? Not Likely

There’s some buzz that the U.S. is readying an attack on Iran, possibly as soon as this Friday.
Don’t believe it. I’m due to be on board the _USS Stennis_, believed to be one of the ships taking part in this attack, next week — and it won’t even be in the Persian Gulf.
I’m not inclined to believe the US military would be taking reporters on boat rides in the Indian Ocean, for example, just a few days after the start of a new war. Maybe I’m wrong on this, but my hunch is this is one more rumor that got started by Debka and the usual suspects.

Iran supplying Zarqawi?

Omar over at Iraq the Model translates an article from az-Zamman that claims Iranian Revolutionary Guards are supplying Abu Musab al-Zarqawi with advanced weaponry, with Lebanese Hizbollah as the intermediary.
Here’s what you should know about this: Zarqawi _hates_ the Shi’a community, with the fiery passion of the Sun’s core. When I was with TIME, we monitored al Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI) pronouncements through the Web, market DVDs and audio tapes. If the stack of Zarqawi fulminations against the Americans and Jews were a foot high, for example, his tirades and sermons against the Shi’a were 10 times that. He hates ‘em, which is pretty much in tune with hard-core Wahhabi doctrine.
On the other hand, he never said a word against Iran. Instead, it’s the Ba’athists who see the Persians as the bogeyman to the east. Thanks to an 8-year war with Iran, the Ba’athists are fighting an insurgency against the Iraqi government, which they consider an Iranian plot. Zarqawi’s aims are much bigger than that, and focus more on the American presence.
Now, one of my old sources — who I hear has since been picked up by the Iraqi Interior ministry, the poor guy — told me once that Iran _was_ supplying Sunni insurgents in Iraq in a bid to keep the Americans bogged down to the tune of $100 million to $200 million a year. The Iranians were acting through what the CIA would call “cut-out” groups and the Sunni insurgents often didn’t know who their ultimate bankrollers were. My source was neither insurgent, nor American, nor tied to the Shi’ite parties. He moved between all the parties because of his apparent neutrality and his information was always top-notch. He told me about the shaped charges of IEDs months before they started becoming mainstream knowledge.
Back to Zarqawi. Thanks to Zarqawi’s virulent anti-Shi’ism, it is highly unlikely that he would deal with Lebanese Hizbollah, or that Hizbollah would want to deal with him anyway, unless they’re complete lapdogs to Tehran. I don’t believe they are, despite such accusations from right-wingers in Washington and Tel Aviv Israel.
So what are we are to make of all this?
# Probably, the story is fundamentally true, in that Iran is sending advanced weaponry, including Strela-7 missiles and lots of Kalashnikovs, to Sunni insurgents. Some of these weapons will inevitably find their way to Zarqawi’s boys. Iran is also lending support to the Shi’ite militias such as the Badr Organization and Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. A certain amount of chaos next door benefits Tehran.
# Thanks to a network of middlemen, it is unlikely the Sunnis fighters know the ultimate source of the weapons, and if they do, they possibly don’t care. The Ba’athists, mainly, are fighting alongside Zarqawi now because their enemies are more or less the same, but Ba’athist commanders know that should they dislodge the Shi’ites from power — a highly unlikely event, in my opinion — Zarqawi will turn his guns on them. They (mostly) cooperate with AQI anyway, because he’s got the money.
# Iran is willing to fund guys to blow up Shi’ites if their larger aims — keeping America off-balance and bogged down, and cementing their hold on Iraq’s government — are met.
No. 3 is a controversial claim, I know, and some people (*cough, cough* Juan Cole) refuse to entertain the idea that Iran would sacrifice Iraqi Shi’ites for their plans.
That kind of thinking works well in logical, algebraic formulations of the issue, but it doesn’t work well with the hard, geopolitical facts on the ground in Iran and Iraq. Iran was _quite_ willing to send 15-year-old Shi’ites to their deaths on the front-line with Iraq in that 1980-88 war because they’d be martyrs, which has a long tradition in Shi’ism. Plus, they’re dealing with Iraqi _Arab_ Shi’ites. A lot of Iraqi Shi’ites died so that Iran wouldn’t break out of the Fao during the Iran-Iraq War, and it’s unlikely Tehran has forgotten that. Iraqi Shi’ites may share a faith, but they don’t always see eye to eye.
So, the mullahs in Tehran could regard the Shi’ite losses in Iraq as a) regrettable but acceptable losses and b) a convenient reason to expand their influence next door, in much the same way that Turkey regards violence against Turkomans as a reason to keep their fingers in Kurdish affairs. (“We must protect our Shi’ite brothers!”)
Hard-nosed power politics makes for strange bedfellows indeed.

Update on Iranian trip

BEIRUT — Things are moving along, albeit slowly, for “my Iranian trip”:http://www.back-to-iraq.com/archives/2006/04/iran_reporting_trip.php. I’ve discovered that I can’t just get a tourist visa and then write, although some people do that. Instead, I need to get a journalistic visa because if I go the tourist route, and I publish articles, the Iranians will likely not let me back in the country. This is unacceptable to me, as I don’t think you can do very good journalism with a one-off, parachute trip. You have to get to know the place, return many times, etc.
So, going the official route, with my hands raised and showing the Iranian information ministry that I mean no harm is the best route for me.
Many of you have already been exceedingly generous, and the fund is up to almost $1,600 now. I reckon about $4,000 is needed for a good two-week excursion to the Islamic Republic, as I’ll have to hire fixers, cars, hotels, etc. So if you want to contribute, please feel free to “hit the tip jar, donation fund, whatever you want to call it”:https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_xclick&business=chris%40back%2dto%2diraq%2ecom&item_name=Back%2dto%2dIraq%2ecom&no_shipping=1&return=http%3a%2f%2fwww%2eback%2dto%2diraq%2ecom&no_note=1&tax=0&currency_code=USD&bn=PP%2dDonationsBF&charset=UTF%2d8.
Things here in Beirut, however, have entered a weird stasis. The National Reconciliation Council, which has been billed as the first time all the leaders of the various political factions have sat down together, seems intent on institutionalizing itself into a feckless club house in which “Michel Aoun”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michel_Aoun, the former Army general stamps his feet to become president and Hizbollah’s General-Secretary backs him up on the conditions that they don’t have to disarm. This is, needless to say, unacceptable to the March 14 coalition that includes “Walid Jumblatt”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walid_Jumblatt, the Druze leader, and “Saad Hariri”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saad_Hariri, the son of the slain “former prime minister”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rafik_Hariri whose assassination Feb. 14, 2005 started this whole thing.
People in Beirut are pretty fed up, but at least the security forces aren’t shutting down all of downtown every time the Council meets now, pissing off all the merchants there. There’s a real sense of disappointment among the young people I talk to that the so-called Cedar Revolution, which looked great on television and succeeded in getting the Syrian Army out of Lebanon (mostly), has run out of steam and has been hijacked by the same old families that have run this place (some would say into the ground) for decades.
One of my friends, the scion of a powerful Shi’ite political family opposed to Syrian influence, has pretty much thrown in the towel. The Syrian Army has left, but the influence is still there, he says, and “Émile Lahoud”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emile_Lahoud, Lebanon’s president and Syrian protégé, will serve out his term and the same old politics of old will prevail. Syrian President Basher Assad will wait out the Bush administration and things will return to the bad old days of the 1990s. He does allow that it won’t be quite as bad, but the days of total Lebanese sovereignty seem far away still.

Munich 2006

Go read Billmon, please. I wish I were this smart:

And so the most promising opportunities for a rational settlement have all passed us by. Instead of a moderate reform president and a group of nervous ayatollahs anxious to cut a deal, America now has Ahmadinejad — and the dawn of what could conceivably become an explicitly fascist regime in Iran, or at least a very close substitute for one.
The good news, such as it is, is that Ahmadinejad’s end-times ideology doesn’t seem to include any grand territorial ambitions: no “Greater Iran” (Iran is already a greater Iran), no lebensraum in the east. We also have time — time to see how things shake out, to see if the ayatollahs can hamstring their troublesome protege, to see if the democracy movement can make a political comeback. Time for Ahmadinejad to lose some of his popular shine as Iran’s internal problems worsen. Time for our own hardline warmongers to be booted out of power.
But unfortunately, our divinely ordained president may not be prepared to wait (and the last sentence of the preceding paragraph appears to be one of the reasons.) Which means at this point we probably should be worrying less about what happened in Munich in 1938, and more about what happened there in 1972, when the German police moved in and tried to disarm the terrorists.
Multiply that carnage by a thousand, or a million, and you’ve got more than a political slogan; you’ve got a war.