Iran’s provocations

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Wall Street Journal – REVIEW & OUTLOOK: U.S. military officials finally laid out detailed evidence on Sunday that Iranian-supplied weapons are killing American soldiers in Iraq. The issue now is the lesson the Bush Administration and the American political establishment draw about dealing with Iran. The Wall Street Journal

REVIEW & OUTLOOK

February 13, 2007; Page A24

U.S. military officials finally laid out detailed evidence on Sunday that Iranian-supplied weapons are killing American soldiers in Iraq. The issue now is the lesson the Bush Administration and the American political establishment draw about dealing with Iran.

Our guess is that a large part of Washington will pretend the evidence doesn’t exist, or suggest the intelligence isn’t proven, or claim that it’s all the Bush Administration’s fault for “bullying” Iran. This was the impulse behind the Baker-Hamilton Commission’s recommendation late last year that the U.S. “engage” Tehran to help us find some honorable diplomatic or political solution in Iraq.

But the evidence about Iranian-style munitions shows how wishful such thinking is. The Iranians don’t want a political solution that would allow a U.S.-backed moderate Shiite government to rule in Baghdad. Their goal is to make us bleed in order to drive us home and so allow their radical Shiite allies to hold sway and Iran to become the dominant regional power. They also figure that the bloodier the defeat they can impose, the less likely the U.S. will be to ever consider promoting regime change in Tehran or Damascus.

Pentagon sources have been saying for several years that Iranian-style munitions have been appearing in Iraq, and arms smugglers have been caught coming across the Iranian border. What’s new is that the Iranian-marked weapons have actually been put on display and an estimate of their toll made public: more than 170 Americans killed in action and more than 600 wounded.

The main culprit is a specially made roadside bomb the Army calls an EFP, or “explosively formed penetrator.” Unlike the jerry-rigged Iraqi shells that Sunni extremists have used to inflict the vast majority of casualties against U.S. forces, the EFP is shaped to penetrate armor and hence effective against harder targets than Humvees. The U.S. Stryker brigade now in Baghdad has been finding them in the city with increasing regularity. In the past this type of roadside bomb has been used against Israeli tanks by Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

According to the Defense Department, Iranian officials detained recently by U.S. forces in Iraq possessed documents suggesting they might have been involved in this arms trade. One of them was Moshin Chizari, a very senior Revolutionary Guards commander arrested but later released because of his “diplomatic” status in December. “Iran is a significant contributor to attacks on coalition forces, and also supports violence against the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi people,” said a Defense official in Baghdad.

“Significant” is an important word here. Sunni extremists affiliated with al Qaeda and Saddam’s Baath Party remain by far the largest threat to American forces in Iraq. And we don’t believe that the news about Iran should cause anyone to lose sight of the primary U.S. mission in the coming months: securing Baghdad against Sunni terror, so that Iraqi Shiites won’t turn to militias for protection.

Still, it would be nice if the Bush Administration and Members of Congress would send Tehran the message that it will not be allowed to kill Americans with impunity. President Bush has been speaking out about this of late, but the main concern on Capitol Hill seems to be deterring Mr. Bush rather than telling Iran to stop killing GIs. Won’t any of the Democratic Presidential candidates speak out and say that, no matter what they think of Iraq, Iranian help for killing Americans is a hostile act?

Hitting Revolutionary Guards targets, or Iranian weapons factories if they can be located, also shouldn’t be out of the question when the lives of American soldiers are at stake. If General David Petraeus, the new and hardly reckless Iraq theater commander, thinks such pressure on Iran is crucial to securing his Baghdad mission, he deserves to get the go-ahead.

The larger lesson here concerns the nature of the Iranian regime and its nuclear ambitions. Iran’s provocations in Iraq have been deadly enough, but they might be far more aggressive if the mullahs no longer fear the ability of the U.S. to hit back. As a nuclear power, they may well become even more reckless in attacking the interests of the U.S. and its regional allies. Then we’ll see what a real bully looks like.

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