April 15, 2004
Are the British allowing Iranian infiltration?By Michael Morris
Over the last couple of weeks, the UK media has been crowing about the relative peace within the British jurisdiction of Basra and Southern Iraq, compared to the difficulties the Americans have been facing in other parts of the country.
The press has been telling us that the Americans are just gung—ho buffoons, trigger—happy cowboys, and that they just don't understand how to nation—build with the same post—colonial finesse of the British. Very little of that is true of course, except for the fact that the British were once a colonial empire.
So what has been going on in Southern Iraq exactly? With all the firefights and kidnappings in the US jurisdictions, it's been relatively easy to forget about sleepy Basra and the activities of the British contingent stationed there. Right across the political spectrum, the British press has been so busy with their doom—mongering hysteria that one could be forgiven for thinking that the poor Americans are all alone in having to tame the nastier insurgents in Iraq.
Well, perhaps that veil over British strategy has been lifted with an interesting story that appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday. It carried a rather startling interview with Michael Rubin, who resigned from the Pentagon ten days ago, after having returned from CPA duty in Iraq.
Speaking on the record, Mr. Rubin indicated that the British were not keen on pursuing the US vision for democracy in Iraq, and were being too soft in dealing with dissent and insurgency in the Southern region of the country.
He also went on to state that there were suspicions amongst the US chain of command, that the British were exploiting their position in Basra to foster warmer relations with Iran, a policy which would be in direct contrast to the tougher US policy towards Tehran.
We got a sense that Britons were using the CPA as an outreach to Iran, which was not the Americans' intention.
When I travelled [sic] down to the British zone in southern Iraq I was amazed at what the British were not reporting with regard to what the Iranians were up to....
So is there any truth in Mr. Rubin's comments? It's hard to believe that he would openly make these statements, without using the cloak of anonymity, if he were in fact telling fibs.
Unlike the 'anonymous' British officer who last week ridiculously claimed that the US military were pursuing a policy of treating ordinary Iraqis as 'untermenschen'(a Nazi code—word), Mr. Rubin has stepped up to the plate, as they say, and spoken in a very public manner.
Of course, it would be wrong to rush to judgment based purely on the comments of one American who has just left his job at the Pentagon.
However, there are other reasons to believe that Mr. Rubin is at least close to the truth, in regard to British policy in Iraq and towards Iran.
For a start, the EU foreign policy towards Iran is based on the naive concept of 'constructive engagement,' and the British Foreign Office has long been a champion of that policy. Europe's meddling in Iran has been detrimental to US efforts to bring about real pressure on Tehran and, in particular, on the issue of Iran's nuclear weapons program —— which just about everyone knows exists.
Even the apologists and appeasers know that Iran is making tremendous efforts in order to build a nuclear capability, but their misguided belief that one can negotiate with the Mullahs in Iran is diluting Washington's firm stance.
It's a very disturbing policy from the British and Europeans when one considers the following statement that was made by Rafsanjani, the Iranian ex—President and hard—line cleric in 2001:
If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession, the strategy of colonialism would face a stalemate because application of an atomic bomb would not leave any thing in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world....
It was a clear and unequivocal message that Iran would consider a first strike policy against Israel, and use a nuclear weapon to do so, if and when they'd developed such a capability. No wonder the Israelis aren't keen on the EU or the British at the moment.
Another odd policy from the EU is that they seem to be comfortable with the outcome of the last Iranian elections, which were unashamedly rigged. The hardliners once again have become the dominant force in the Iranian parliament, by virtue of these fraudulent votes.
The British and Europeans have buried their head in the sand over what was clearly Iran's rejection of true democratic principles. They didn't criticize the elections or the fact that thousands of the reformists were illegally barred from standing as candidates. As usual, it was left to Washington to act like the bad guy and condemn the anti—democratic events in Iran.
So we know that the British and EU are pursuing a very different policy towards Tehran than that of Americans. And all this gives credence to the publicly articulated thoughts of Michael Rubin.
It appears that in the south of Iraq, the British aren't in fact working in tandem with the Americans, but instead, are continuing to pursue a flakey EU policy towards Iran, under the nose of the US led CPA. This would also explain why Paul Bremer didn't get on with Jeremy Greenstock, the highest ranking British official in Iraq, who also resigned a couple of weeks ago.
If this is all true, and not just a figment of Rubin's imagination, then there could be serious implications for the safety of US military forces in Iraq, let alone future co—operation between London and Washington.
If the British are allowing Iranian insurgents to flow into Iraq through Basra, then it poses a significant risk to the lives of American soldiers. The Iranians are known to be operating in Iraq and getting money and arms to al—Sadr's Mehdi army. Where are they coming from and how are they getting into the country?
Another potential hint that Iran is using the British in the south to get into Iraq is that there have been almost no disturbances in Basra, at least not on the same level as that faced by the Americans.
The whole idea —— propagated consistently by the anti—American British press —— that this is due to the British not wearing flak jackets or sunglasses, is ridiculous and simplistic to the extreme.
Perhaps when President Bush welcomes Tony Blair on his upcoming visit this week, plain speaking should prevail. There is no point in having the British in the south if they are being counter—productive to the roll—out of democracy in Iraq. There's even less of a reason to have them there if the British pro—Iranian policy is endangering American soldiers dealing with the insurgents farther to the north.
The British need to make up their minds whether they are part of the CPA and believe in its democratic objectives, which happen to be far nobler than colonialism. Otherwise they should leave Iraq before more American lives are lost to their duplicity.
It's really that simple. The British are either with the Americans, or not.
Michael Morris is our London correspondent