The Time of the Assassins: Bushists Stirring Iraq, Iran Into a Bloody Stew

This weekend, as an assassination campaign continued to kill off the leaders of Iran's closest ally in Iraq, American officials ratcheted up their casus belli accusations against Tehran, now claiming that forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) -- which the Bush Administration is preparing to designate as a "global terrorist group" -- are actually on Iraqi soil, directly helping insurgents to kill American troops. The conjunction of these events -- the assassinations and the accusations -- reveals both the deadly murk surrounding the occupation and the transparent falsehood of the Bush Administration's increasingly frantic push toward a new war.

Yesterday, the governor of Iraq's Muthana province, Mohammed Ali al-Hasani, was killed by a roadside bomb. Just a few days before, the governor of Iraq's Diwaniya province, Khalil Jalil Hamza, was killed by a roadside bomb. Both governors were prominent members of the largest Shiite party in Iraq, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC). The SIIC is also the party in Iraq most closely aligned with Iran. Obviously, some entity with the power and connections to penetrate the heavy security surrounding Iraqi government officials is conducting a systematic campaign to decapitate the party's leadership.

Most reports on the killings note that SIIC's vast armed wing, the Badr Corps, frequently clashes with the Mahdi Army militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in turf battles over control of Shiite areas. If the Mahdi Army is indeed behind the assassination campaign, then it is eliminating Iran's staunchest allies in Iraq. Yet the Bush Administration insists that Iran is "actively supplying Shiite insurgents -- specifically, the Mahdi Army -- with deadly weapons that have killed dozens of U.S. soldiers," as McClatchy Newspapers reports.

So the Iranians are helping the Mahdi Army assassinate Tehran's best friends in Iraq -- this is the American claim. It is arrant nonsense, but it has a purpose: to further obscure from the American people the reality of what is being done in their name in Iraq. As Juan Cole points out, the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council is not only Tehran's best friend in Iraq -- it is Washington's best friend too. Its leaders -- violent extremist sectarians -- have been to the White House for cozy chats and cheesy grip-and-grins with the president. Bush is dependent on SIIC and other Shiite extremists allied with Iran to maintain control of Iraq's government.

But the American people are not to know this. They are to know only that the "democratic forces" of Iraq's government are being "attacked and destabilized" by the Iranians. They are to see only a cartoon portrait of "good guys" and "bad guys," and not the reality that Bush has wrought in Iraq: a savage, multi-sided conflict between armed gangs of thieves and zealots fighting it out for loot and power.  

And so the Mahdi Army and the Iranians are thrown together as a single monster to frighten and confuse the folks back home. As McClatchy reports:

U.S. military officials say that Iran has supplied the Mahdi Army, which is loosely controlled by radical anti-American cleric Moqtada al Sadr, with explosively formed projectiles, or EFPs. Such devices have proven much more lethal against armored vehicles than the notorious improvised explosive devices, also known as IEDs.

Spokeswoman Conway said that since April, the military has found 217 weapons in four provinces south of Baghdad that it suspects were supplied by Iran. She said the military has not caught any Iranians or Iraqis smuggling weapons across the Iran-Iraq border, but she believes it soon will. "Just because we're not finding them doesn't mean they're not there," Conway said.

"Just because we're not finding them doesn't mean they're not there." As Cole points out, this is a direct echo of the Bush gang's line on Saddam Hussein's non-existent weapons of mass destruction. As Donald Rumsfeld famously said, "The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence." Cole goes on to succinctly skewer the pretzel logic of the Bush gang's most recent accusation:

The Iraqi Badr Corps, tens of thousands strong, was trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and it has been alleged that some Badr corpsmen are still on the Iranian payroll. It is the paramilitary of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, America's chief ally in Iraq. What would the IRGC know that Badr does not? Why bother to send revolutionary guardsmen when the country is thick with Badr fighters anyway (who have all the same training)? ... Every day the Pentagon b.s. about Iran gets more fantastic and frantic."

The estimable Professor Cole does go astray in one element of his analysis, I believe, when he says: "What I cannot understand is why the Pentagon needs Iranians in Iraq as a plot device?" I would have thought this was obvious: they need it for propaganda purposes. The idea of Iranians actually on the ground in Iraq, killing American soldiers, will clinch the deal for a new war far better than the charges floated so far, which have kept at least one degree of separation between Iranian and American forces. It will also make it easier for the Bush gang to claim that a strike on Iran would only be a continuation of the Authorization to Use Military Force that Congress cravenly granted it for Iraq. What clearer cause for war can you have? "An officially designated Iranian terrorist group, which is an integral part of the Iranian government, has forces in Iraq, killing Americans."

This is the scenario that the Bush Administration has now presented to the public. Congress has already officially endorsed the notion that Iran is committing acts of war against the United States, as Arthur Silber notes. Robert Baer, the CIA man turned Time columnist, hears from his inside sources that an attack on Iran is a foregone conclusion in the White House, which remains swathed in the opium fumes of the bloodthirsty neo-con dreamers:

Strengthening the Administration's case for a strike on Iran, there's a belief among neo-cons that the IRGC is the one obstacle to a democratic and friendly Iran. They believe that if we were to get rid of the IRGC, the clerics would fall, and our thirty-years war with Iran [would be] over. It's another neo-con delusion, but still it informs White House thinking.

And what do we do if just the opposite happens — a strike on Iran unifies Iranians behind the regime? An Administration official told me it's not even a consideration. "IRGC IED's are a casus belli for this Administration. There will be an attack on Iran."

Adverse consequences are not even a consideration. Just as with Iraq, the drive for war overrides everything else. It is a form of madness, and we are in its power. They want the war; the war will come. No one will stop it. The gun has been loaded; the only question left now is when Bush will pull the trigger.