Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Iran is playing payback

Ed at Vitriolic Pulpit put me onto this story by Patrick Cockburn. At first read I thought Cockburn was making a bit of a stretch, but after going through it a second time, it actually makes sense.
A failed American attempt to abduct two senior Iranian security officers on an official visit to northern Iraq was the starting pistol for a crisis that 10 weeks later led to Iranians seizing 15 British sailors and Marines.

Early on the morning of 11 January, helicopter-born US forces launched a surprise raid on a long-established Iranian liaison office in the city of Arbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. They captured five relatively junior Iranian officials whom the US accuses of being intelligence agents and still holds.

In reality the US attack had a far more ambitious objective, The Independent has learned. The aim of the raid, launched without informing the Kurdish authorities, was to seize two men at the very heart of the Iranian security establishment.

Better understanding of the seriousness of the US action in Arbil - and the angry Iranian response to it - should have led Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence to realise that Iran was likely to retaliate against American or British forces such as highly vulnerable Navy search parties in the Gulf. The two senior Iranian officers the US sought to capture were Mohammed Jafari, the powerful deputy head of the Iranian National Security Council, and General Minojahar Frouzanda, the chief of intelligence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, according to Kurdish officials.

The two men were in Kurdistan on an official visit during which they met the Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, and later saw Massoud Barzani, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), at his mountain headquarters overlooking Arbil.

The raid in Arbil resulted in the capture of five Iranian officials. The captives have disappeared. That is to say, there is no word of where they ended up or what the US did with them.

In a little-noticed remark, Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian Foreign Minister, told IRNA: "The objective of the Americans was to arrest Iranian security officials who had gone to Iraq to develop co-operation in the area of bilateral security."

US officials in Washington subsequently claimed that the five Iranian officials they did seize, who have not been seen since, were "suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraq and coalition forces". This explanation never made much sense. No member of the US-led coalition has been killed in Arbil and there were no Sunni-Arab insurgents or Shia militiamen there.

And it does raise questions. The capture of Jafari and Frouzanda would have tied in nicely with the Bush speech announcing the "surge" and at the same time accusing Iran of "providing material support for attacks on American troops." No matter the official status of the visit by the two Iranians.

It could well be that the British ended up paying the toll on the attempted capture of Jafari and Frouzanda. Naval boarding parties are easy targets. It also serves the purpose of driving a wedge between the British and the Americans. Blair needs things to remain very calm while the dialog actually starts to produce results. Bush, on the other hand is ratcheting up the pressure on Iran. Iran's best retaliation for having an official visit targeted for a raid would be to have Blair and Bush working against each other.

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