The failure of the US occupation in Iraq carries with it the threat of a pre-emptive war in the Middle East sponsored by Washington and launched with the support of the Israeli government. Evidence is mounting of a desperate, cornered White House that is not prepared to quit Iraq with its tail between its legs. In the past few weeks, president Bush has stoked up the tension in the region. The State Department recently placed Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards (IRG) on a list of what Washington claims are terrorist groups. This is despite the fact that the IRG are part of Iran’s state forces and not some freelance group (which leaves other countries free to designate, for example, the US Marines a terrorist force for their atrocities in Iraq). Bush has always reserved the “right” of the US military to attack terror targets and the fact the IRG are located in Iran means a strike against them would produce an immediate response from Teheran. The US might then use this as a pretext for attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities.
All this is linked to the growing crisis in Iraq, where Bush and his generals have publicly criticised prime minister Nouri al-Maliki for failing to unite the country and improve security in the wake of the deployment of thousands more US troops. Leaving aside the preposterous nature of this accusation, coming as it does from an occupying army, these are warning signs that the US government has plans to overthrow the Maliki government. Yesterday, a national intelligence estimate, the consensus view of the CIA and 15 other American intelligence agencies, predicted that the prospects for the Iraqi government are "precarious", and expressed fears of a surprise attack by insurgents comparable to the 1968 Tet offensive in Vietnam.
The real motive for the tirade against Maliki is his government’s increasingly close links with Iran and Syria, which have included an official visit to Damascus. Both Teheran and Damascus see an opportunity to play a role in a future Iraq split along ethnic and religious lines as a result of the US invasion. Maliki said his government would “pay no attention”, warning: “We care for our people and our constitution and can find friends elsewhere.” Meanwhile, Bush’s remarks linking the US’s defeat in Vietnam in 1975 to the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia have stoked up the flames even further. His analogy, although preposterous, is a sign that he does not intend to be the president who lost the war in Iraq.
He can always count on his friends in the Israeli government, who are the beneficiaries of a subsidised arms deal announced by Washington in July. This coincides with rising tensions between Israel and Syria, who went to war in 1967. Israel captured the Golan Heights and still holds them. Tensions are so high that recently senior officials from two Arab states passed on messages to Israel that Syria is not planning an attack in the coming months. Syria is itself carrying through an extensive rearmament programme while the Israeli army is carrying out training exercises on the Golan Heights. Syria has purchased sophisticated anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles from Russia as part of a $900m deal. Some of these have reportedly been bought with Iranian funds. The Syrians have also been putting in place extensive defence fortifications along the southern and northern part of the Golan Heights. According to reports in the Israeli press, Syria has deployed 200 of its most sophisticated surface-to-air missiles close to its border with Israel. The head of Israeli military intelligence, was reported as saying that there was a danger of a "miscalculation" scenario, where tensions between the two sides spiral out of control. If the White House has anything to do with it, this is precisely what the plan is.
Paul Feldman, communications editor
A World to Win