While the PKK has been in the international spotlight in recent weeks, with Turkey mounting cross-border raids and threatening to launch an invasion of Iraq, not so much attention has been given to the Iranian offshoot, the PJAK. The group has been waging an insurgency against Tehran since 2004, which recently has escalated. A guerrilla leader told the New York Times last month that PJAK fighters had killed at least 150 Iranian soldiers and officials in Iran since August.
Iran accuses Washington of backing the group, and while the US denies this, local and foreign intelligence sources say the accusation is most likely true. According to a former US Special Forces (SF) commando currently based in Iraq who spoke on condition of anonymity, Special Forces troops are currently operating inside Iran, working with insurgent forces like the PJAK. “That’s what the SF does,” he said. “They train and build up indigenous anti-government forces.”
“The primary function of the Special Forces is to stand up guerrilla forces or counter-guerrilla forces,” said another former SF soldier, retired Major Mark Smith. While he was not specifically aware of SF teams training the PJAK, he said it would not be surprising if they were. And “they would be training in an obscure border area or in a location denied to anyone not directly involved”, he said.
He added that SF teams in Iran would be conducting strategic reconnaissance of possible nuclear and biological weapons sites, army headquarters, and significant individuals. “If they’re not doing these things in Iran, then they are remiss in their duties at the upper echelons of their command,” he said. [complete article]
Recent statements by the U.S. military that Iran had pledged to stop supplying weapons to Shi’ite militias in Iraq and that this alleged flow of arms may have stopped in August were part of a behind-the-scenes struggle over whether the George W. Bush administration should make a gesture to Iran by releasing five Iranian prisoners held since January.
When U.S. military experts found evidence that recently discovered weapons caches probably dated back to early 2007, it strengthened the hand of those in the administration arguing for the release and weakened the position of Vice President Dick Cheney and Gen. David Petraeus, who sought to scuttle any release by insisting that there was no evidence that Iran had changed its alleged policy of destabilizing Iraq. [complete article]
Is there room in these last months of a lame duck presidency to craft a modest opening to Iran, while maintaining a stout anti-Iranian coalition? Well, if we are to heed the cries of alarm emanating from the neo-conservatives as they watch their grandiose plans to add a third front to the War on Terror crumple into the dustbin of history, perhaps there really is something going on here.
Nevertheless, since this is a policy that dare not speak its name, even if these titillating signals are true, no turning point will be announced in blaring trumpets, and the message about Iran will be cloaked in vitriol and bile to prevent creating undue alarm among American conservatives and among the Arabs who are only now signing on to a long-term strategy to counter the “Iranian threat” but who also deeply fear the possibility of a sudden deal between the United States and Iran. (They can’t forget the shah and Iran-contra.)
The two individuals most likely to view these developments with quiet satisfaction are James Baker and Lee Hamilton, whose original policy prescriptions in the Iraq Study Group all seem to be coming true as George W. Bush approaches the precipice of his presidency. [complete article]
Editor’s Comment — The fundamental problem in trying to decipher the intention behind the administration’s mixed messages on Iran is that this presumes that the administration has an intention. Just as likely, these mixed messages are the expression of multiple intentions as conflicting factions inside the administration jostle for the upper hand, each acutely aware that a president who does not know his own mind, can be swayed.
Banks HSBC, Credit Suisse and UBS cut business ties with Iran last year followed by Deutsche Bank, Commerzbank and BNP Paribas in 2007.
“Almost every month we get notes from European banks about ceasing their cooperation with Iran,” said an employee of an Iranian bank, who asked not to be identified.
A doctor, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “We cannot open Letters of Credit in banks. Importing necessary material for medicines to treat patients who suffer cancer is becoming more difficult every day.”
Personal stories are common of how the financial sanctions are affecting those mostly well-off people who have foreign bank accounts or earn income from abroad.
Some say they will leave Iran if the United Nations imposes tougher sanctions; others are forced to use unofficial channels to get their cash.
Maryam Sharifa is one of many Iranians whose dollar account with a Western bank was closed in the past few months. Like many Iranians who lived abroad, she had kept her account open since returning to Iran.
“I had this account for 13 years in France. Do I look like a terrorist? Should I be punished just for being an Iranian?” said the 39-year-old mother of two. “I had to bring all that money with me here and buy a small apartment in Tehran.” [complete article]
The diplomatic chess game around Iran’s nuclear program includes an unlikely bishop. According to several well-placed Rome sources, Iranian officials are quietly laying the groundwork necessary to turn to Pope Benedict XVI and top Vatican diplomats for mediation if the showdown with the United States should escalate toward a military intervention. The 80-year-old Pope has thus far steered clear of any strong public comments about either Iran’s failure to fully comply with U.N. nuclear weapons inspectors or the drumbeat of war coming from some corners in Washington. But Iran, which has had diplomatic relations with the Holy See for 53 years, may be trying to line up Benedict as an ace in the hole for staving off a potential attack in the coming months. “The Vatican seems to be part of their strategy,” a senior Western diplomat in Rome said of the Iranian leadership. “They’ll have an idea of when the 11th hour is coming. And they know an intervention of the Vatican is the most open and amenable route to Western public opinion. It could buy them time.” [complete article]