The George W. Bush administration recently concluded
that the increase in rocket attacks on coalition targets by Shi'ite forces over
the summer was a deliberate move by Iran to escalate the war in order to put
pressure on the United States to accept Iranian influence in Iraq, according
to a senior US government official.
The reported conclusions reached by administration officials suggest that the
advocates of war with Iran, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, have won at least
one phase of the policy battle within the administration over the option of
broadening the war into Iran.
The official, who spoke to IPS on the understanding that there would be no
identification other than "senior government official," said the increased
attacks represent "not just some new kinds of weapons but a new dynamic"
in the conflict with Iran over Iraq.
The official said the attacks had a "very specific strategic purpose,"
which was "at a minimum to push the United States to accept certain Iranian
desiderata" apparently referring to Iranian negotiating aims.
The official did not specify what the administration believed those aims to
be. But it seems likely that the new conclusion refers to long-established Iranian
desires to have the United States recognize its legitimate geopolitical and
religious interests in Iraq.
The Iranian ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, was quite explicit in his
May 28 meeting with US Ambassador Ryan Crocker that Iran wanted Washington to
accept that Iraq is Iran's "backyard," according to a report on the
Iranian Baztab news website in June. Iran's secret negotiating proposal to the
Bush administration in May 2003 included a similar demand for "respect
for Iranian national interests in Iraq and religious links to Najaf/Karbala."
The administration now believes Iran's "larger strategic aim" in
allegedly providing modern weapons like 240 mm rockets to Shi'ite militias targeting
US and coalition forces in Iraq is "to attempt to establish escalation
dominance in Iraq and strategic dominance outside," according to the official.
The official said, "Escalation dominance means you can control the pace
of escalation." That term has always been used in the past to refer to
the ability of the United States to threaten another state with overwhelming
retaliation in order to deter it from responding to US force.
The official defined "strategic dominance" as meaning that "you
are perceived as the dominant center in the region."
The Bush administration has never used the term "strategic dominance"
in any public statement on Iran. According to a concept of regional "dominance"
defined by perceptions which would mean the perceptions of Sunni Arab states
who are opposed to any Shi'ite influence in the region Iran could be seen
as already having "strategic dominance" in the region.
The reported conclusion that the increased attacks by Shi'ite forces represent
an effort to achieve such dominance could be the basis for a new argument that
only by reducing Iranian influence in Iraq through US military action can
the United States avert Iranian "strategic dominance" in the region.
That conclusion about "strategic dominance" thus implies that destroying
what is perceived to be the political-military bases of Iranian influence in
Iraq has become the key US war aim.
The conclusion that the Shi'ite militias' rocket attacks on coalition targets
represent a bid to "control the pace of escalation" could be interpreted
as expressing a concern that the United States lacks the military capacity to
suppress those forces. That raises the question whether the advocates of war
against Iran have introduced the concept of "escalation dominance"
as a way of supporting their favorite option attacking targets inside
Further evidence that the administration has taken a step closer to geographic
escalation of the war came in a Sep. 10 interview by Brit Hume of Fox News with
Gen. David Petraeus, the top US commander in Iraq. Hume, who appeared to have
been tipped off to ask about the option of broadening the war into Iran, asked
Petraeus whether the "rules of engagement" allowed him to "do
what you think you need to do to suppress this activity on the part of Iran,
or perhaps do you need assistance from military not under your command to do
Pressed by Hume, Petraeus said, "[W]hen I have concerns about something
beyond [the border], I take them to my boss...and in fact, we have shared our
concerns with him and with the chain of command, and there is a pretty hard
look ongoing at that particular situation."
Joe Cirincione, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a Washington
think tank, said if the report of the administration's conclusions about Iranian
aims is true, "it is a disturbing sign that the hardliners have regained
the preeminent policymaking position."
The use of the term "escalation domination" in the Iraq context
suggesting that Iran is responsible for the conflict is "wildly inappropriate,"
Cirincione observed. He said the reported conclusions sound like the viewpoint
of a "group of people inside the administration who view Iran as Nazi Germany"
and who are "constantly exaggerating" the threat from Iran.
The view that Iraq has become a U.S-Iranian "proxy war," with Iran
pulling the strings in the Shi'ite camp outside the government, was apparently
rejected by the US intelligence community in its National Intelligence Estimate
on Iraq issued last February. The brief summary findings statement released
to the public stated, "Iraq's neighbors influence, and are influenced by,
events within Iraq, but the involvement of these outside actors is not likely
to be a major driver of violence or the prospects of stability because of the
self-sustaining character of Iraq's internal sectarian dynamics."
(Inter Press Service)