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Dear list members, FYI. Best andreas A N U Assyrian News Watch * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Assyrian Chaldean Syriac --------------------------------------------------- Making enemies make friends The self-defeating ineptitude of George Bush's strategies may well push Iran and Iraq into a dangerous alliance of expediency, writes Simon Tisdall Thursday July 25, 2002 Amid great pomp and ceremony, Iran this week laid to rest the remains of 570 soldiers who died during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war or in the long years of captivity that followed it. Their remains were returned under a bilateral prisoner exchange programme, facilitated by the Red Cross, that until relatively recently had appeared to be almost as moribund as the deceased POWs. To outside observers, this stepping up of the exchanges - Iraq now claims it is no longer holding any Iranians, although this is disputed in Tehran - looks like nothing much. But a closer look might be wise. This development signifies a possibly much broader shift. Pentagon war planners, White House strategists and Washington's European allies can be forgiven for exhibiting little interest in the mechanics of POW handovers. But placed in the context of widely-anticipated American military action against Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad, the prospect of a thawing in relations between Iraq and Iran gains a perhaps disturbing importance. Since the Iraqi foreign minister, Naji Sabri, visited Iran last January, there have been a series of indications that the old enemies may be moving towards some kind of limited rapprochement - or at least, greater mutual understanding. Tensions and suspicions naturally remain. Both harbour dissident groups opposed to the ruling regimes in either country. The ancient rivalries between haughty Persia and the Arab population of Mesopotamia, in the plains between the Tigris and Euphrates, die hard. But fearing US intentions, Iraq has been working hard in recent months to improve its ties with all it neighbours, in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia to the south and east and with Jordan, Syria and Turkey to the west and north. Baghdad's charm offensive has met with some success, in that Iraq has been more or less accepted back into the Arab League fold and is enjoying an increase in trade, commercial and transport links within the region. Kuwait alone steadfastly rebuffs Saddam's blandishments, for very understandable reasons. An important part of this strategy has been Iraq's ostentatious championing of the Palestinian cause vis-a-vis Israel, currently the pre-eminent issue in the Islamic world, through (for example) its generous, direct cash payments to the bereaved families of Palestinian "martyrs". In its fierce hostility to Israel, Iraq finds an enthusiastic partner in the Shi'ite clerical establishment that controls Iran. Unlike some Arab states, Iran's theocrats have never relinquished their hopes of destroying the Jewish state. But Israel apart, the uppermost, mutual concern for both countries is the Bush administration. On the basis of the well-established axiom that my enemy's enemy is my friend, Iraq has never had a clearer interest in rebuilding bridges to Tehran. And this week, Iran appeared to accept that that this logic might increasingly apply to it, too. Speaking during a visit to Malaysia, the Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami, issued a blunt warning to the US to keep out of Iraq. "Any interference in the domestic affairs of Iraq would be against the interests of the people of Iraq and the interest of the countries of the region," he said. When it came to George Bush's concept of "regime change", Khatami said, "no one has the right to decide for the people of Iraq. The people of Iraq should decide for themselves." These words must have read pleasantly in Baghdad. It is one thing for China, for example, to urge peaceful solutions on the US when it comes to Saddam. If and when push comes to shove, the US knows that Beijing will not seriously try to block it and will keep out of any fight. The same almost certainly goes for Vladimir Putin's Russia. But Iran, a major regional power armed (according to US claims) with weapons of mass destruction and harbouring an unresolved, post-1979 revolution grudge against the "great satan", is a different matter entirely. If George Bush is serious about removing Saddam (as he repeatedly vows he is), Washington might have been expected to be doing all it can to undermine any fence-mending between Iran and Iraq. Bush clearly cannot bring himself to make friends with Tehran. He opposes British and EU attempts to forge partnerships through trade and diplomacy with Khatami and his fellow moderate reformers. But if only for obvious military reasons, he must, surely, want to keep Iran neutral, isolated and unengaged in any coming war in Iraq. Strange to say, Bush and his Pentagon and National Security Council advisers are doing the exact opposite. The president loses no opportunity to alienate and enrage Iran. He labelled it a "rogue state" before and after becoming president. Last January, he named Iran as a member of the "axis of evil", deliberately lumping it together with Iraq. He has renewed US sanctions on Iran, refused to pursue a resumption of diplomatic relations, moved to punish third parties (such as Chinese companies) doing business with Iran, and has placed enormous (and unwelcome) pressure on Russia to end its nuclear energy development assistance to Tehran. Bush shows no gratitude for the important Iranian assistance that was provided to the US before and during the launch of the US campaign in Afghanistan, on Iran's eastern border, last autumn. Instead, his administration has been at pains to emphasise Iran's alleged links to terrorism, be it via Hizbullah in Lebanon, via arms shipments to the Palestinians, through the affording of sanctuary to fleeing al-Qaida gangsters, or in respect of anti-Jewish attacks in Argentina or elsewhere. Meanwhile, expanding US military bases and facilities proliferate in the Gulf, in Turkey and possibly Jordan, in Afghanistan and former Soviet central Asia - indeed everywhere Iranians look. Then, earlier this month, Bush upped the ante, appealing directly to the Iranian people, in effect, to assert their democratic rights and overthrow their theocratic leadership. In a White House statement, Bush accused Iran's leadership of "persistent, destructive behaviour" and of corruption. Officials later said the US was washing its hands of the twice-elected Khatami and the reformists, since it no longer believed they would deliver on their mandate, and would henceforth engage directly with the Iranian public (and, implicitly, anti-government forces). The hardening US posture has understandably been interpreted in Iran as a blatant attempt to foment internal insurrection and revolt. In Malaysia, Khatami denounced US "meddling". Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was even more forthright, saying Iran would "never retreat" in the teeth of US threats of war. The former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, weighed in on Wednesday, insisting that the US, "this crazy demon", was trying to overthrow Iran's government. "Those who think they can turn their backs on the system, the revolution, the martyrs and Islamic and Koranic values and hope for a helping hand from the White House are making a serious mistake," he thundered. Reformists in Tehran are meanwhile appalled at Bush's blundering. They see his intervention as disastrously counter-productive and, with conservative elements now denouncing them as "stooges" of the US, fully expect the current crackdown on dissenters, independent newspapers, and advocates of engagement with the west to intensify. How delightful all this must be for Saddam Hussein! What music to the ears of his wretched regime! If Iran, fearing US intentions as much as Iraq and goaded beyond endurance by myriad US provocations, enters into some sort of alliance of expediency with Baghdad, Bush and his risibly inept, self-defeating strategists will only have themselves to blame. Yet this is where their policy is leading. What a way to fight a war. What a way to lose one. Email email@example.com _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. 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