NEWS, ANALYSIS, INTERVIEW & EDITOR’S COMMENT: Foreign interference

Hezbollah trains Iraqis in Iran, Pentagon’s New York Times spokesman says

Militants from the Lebanese group Hezbollah have been training Iraqi militia fighters at a camp near Tehran, according to American interrogation reports that the United States has supplied to the Iraqi government.

An American official said the account of Hezbollah’s role was provided by four Shiite militia members who were captured in Iraq late last year and questioned separately.

The United States has long charged that the Iranians were training Iraqi militia fighters in Iran, which Iran has consistently denied, and there have been previous reports about Hezbollah operatives in Iraq.

But the Americans say the reports of Hezbollah’s role at the Iranian camp offer important details about Iranian assistance to the militias, including efforts Iran appears to be making to train the fighters in unobtrusive ways. [complete article]

Iraq: Al-Sadr refuses to meet Baghdad delegation In Iran

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki dispatched a delegation of leading Shi’ite figures to Iran last week in order to present Tehran with mounting evidence of Iran’s support for rogue militias in Iraq. But Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia continues to battle Iraqi and U.S. forces in Baghdad and other areas and who has been in Iran for months, refused to meet with the delegation.

The Iraqi delegation reportedly met with Qasim Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps’ Qods Force, on May 1, and was expected to meet again with him on May 2. The force is suspected of being the main supplier of Iranian-made weapons to Iraq. It has also been linked to the training of Iraqi militiamen. The delegation was also slated to meet with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

On May 2, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini downplayed the delegation’s visit, saying, “Iranian officials will hold talks with this delegation in line with helping settle differences and ongoing clashes in Iraq.” [complete article]

Interview with Mohsen Hakim

Mohsen Hakim is the Tehran representative of the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, and a son of the SIIC leader, Abdelaziz Hakim.

LAT: So why is there postponement of the next round of talks between Iran and the U.S.?
HAKIM: There are technical problems.

LAT: What do you mean by “technical”?
HAKIM: I mean, anything that happens in the negotiations has an impact on Lebanon, Palestine and Afghanistan. Look, Iraqi security issue is not separated from other issues in the Middle East. On the whole, security in the region is not divisible. If there is no security in Iraq, there is no security anywhere in the region. We look at the security of Iraq as a organic security package for the whole region.

LAT: In fact, you want Iran and U.S. negotiations in Iraq to be all-encompassing negotiations?
HAKIM: Look, we as Iraqis care most now about our own problems. But we look at the security of Iraq as a common case between Iran and the U.S. I tell you with 100% certainty that if the security of Iraq is settled, the region will be affected positively. Iraq is not an isolated issue. Remember that. [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — “Unobtrusive ways” — now Michael Gordon could have chose an equally suitable phrase: plausible deniability.

The fact that the US military keeps pushing the story that Hezbollah is training Shia militia fighters in Iran raises a question that, as far as I know, still remains unanswered: Did the US have a role in the assassination of top Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh on February 12 in Damascus? At the time it was assumed that Mossad was behind the killing, but last month M K Bhadrakumar wrote in >Asia Times:

Fars [the Iranian news agency, which is close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps] named Saudi Prince Banda al-Sultan, formerly Saudi ambassador in Washington, as responsible and that the Saudis were retaliating for the 1996 car bomb attack at the Abdul Aziz airbase in Khobar near Dahran in Saudi Arabia, which was allegedly planned and executed by Mughniyeh. The Fars report would have brought a welcome relief to Israeli intelligence, since the prevailing impression in the region was that Syria would accuse Israel of involvement in Mughniyeh’s assassination, which in turn would be the signal for Hezbollah to retaliate and for Israel to hit at Lebanon and possibly even Syria.

The fact that Iran would push a story blaming the Saudis may imply that they were willing to disown Mughniyeh and also that he wasn’t the strategic asset that the US imagined him to be.

If there is a consistent failing in American analysis it seems to be in, 1. over emphasizing the significance of individuals — we have a fascination with the acquisition of personal power and thus find it difficult to discern networks and social trends whose existence doesn’t depend on kingpins, and 2. in the homogenization of diversity — we see entities instead of seeing complexity. Any time anyone says “the Iranians”, one has to wonder, who are they talking about?

It’s not hard to understand why the US government has always found foreign relations easier when it can work with dictators. If you can cut deals with The Man, you don’t have to worry about the people.

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