Thursday, May 15, 2008

MALIKI REFUSES TO JOIN BUSH & PATREAUS IN CON ABOUT IRAN

GARETH PORTER, ANTI WAR Early this month, the George W. Bush administration's plan to create a new crescendo of accusations against Iran for allegedly smuggling arms to Shiite militias in Iraq encountered not just one but two setbacks. The government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to endorse US charges of Iranian involvement in arms smuggling to the Mahdi Army, and a plan to show off a huge collection of Iranian arms captured in and around Karbala had to be called off after it was discovered that none of the arms were of Iranian origin.

The news media's failure to report that the arms captured from Shiite militiamen in Karbala did not include a single Iranian weapon shielded the US military from a much bigger blow to its anti-Iran strategy.

The Bush administration and top Iraq commander Gen. David Petraeus had plotted a sequence of events that would build domestic US political support for a possible strike against Iran over its "meddling" in Iraq and especially its alleged export of arms to Shiite militias.

The plan was keyed to a briefing document to be prepared by Petraeus on the alleged Iranian role in arming and training Shiite militias that would be surfaced publicly after the al-Maliki government had endorsed it and it used to accuse Iran publicly.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, told reporters on Apr. 25 that Petraeus was preparing a briefing to be given "in the next couple of weeks" that would provide detailed evidence of "just how far Iran is reaching into Iraq to foment instability." The centerpiece of the Petraeus document, completed in late April, was the claim that arms captured in Basra bore 2008 manufacture dates on them.

US officials also planned to display Iranian weapons captured in both Basra and Karbala to reporters. That sequence of media events would fill the airwaves with spectacular news framing Iran as the culprit in Iraq for several days, aimed at breaking down Congressional and public resistance to the idea that Iranian bases supporting the meddling would have to be attacked.

But events in Iraq diverged from the plan. On May 4, after an Iraqi delegation had returned from meetings in Iran, al-Maliki's spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, said in a news conference that al-Maliki was forming his own Cabinet committee to investigate the US claims. "We want to find tangible information and not information based on speculation," he said.

Another adviser to al-Maliki, Haider Abadi, told the Los Angeles Times' Alexandra Zavis that Iranian officials had given the delegation evidence disproving the charges. "For us to be impartial, we have to investigate," Abadi said.

Al-Dabbagh made it clear that the government considered the US evidence of Iranian government arms smuggling insufficient. "The proof we have is weapons which are shown to have been made in Iran," al-Dabbagh said in a separate interview with Reuters. "We want to trace back how they reached [Iraq], who is using them, where are they getting it."

Senior US military officials were clearly furious with al-Maliki for backtracking on the issue. "We were blindsided by this," one of them told Zavis.

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