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IRAQ: Iran debate heats up as testimony day approaches

April 5, 2008 | 12:33 pm

Iran's role in Iraq is going to be a huge question and topic of debate this coming week. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Gen. David Petraeus, head of the military mission in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, head of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, will speak before Congress about the situation in Iraq.

An advisor to Iraq's main Shiite political party told an Iranian news service that Tehran played a key positive role in brokering the peace between rival Shiite factions last weekend.

And in what can be construed as the first semi-official Iranian acknowledgment of the role, Tehran's state-controlled English-language daily carried the report in today's edition.

MohsenMohsen Hakim, a political advisor to the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, told Iran's Mehr News Agency that Tehran laid the groundwork for the end to the fighting between the government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and militiamen loyal to cleric Muqtada Sadr. He said that an Iraqi delegation led by lawmaker Ali Adeeb held talks with Iranian officials during a Friday, March 28, visit to Tehran.

Here's Hakim:

Tehran used its positive influence (on the Iraqi nation) to prepare the ground for returning peace to Iraq, and the new situation is the result of Iran’s efforts.

So will Crocker and Petraeus give Iran plaudits for helping bring peace to Iraq when they testify before Congress? Not likely.

Crocker A couple days ago, Crocker spoke to reporters in Baghdad about Iranian involvement in Iraq. He said he couldn't say whether Iran brokered any deal:

I am pretty modest about what I say I know about the Iranians.  I mean, I have not been in Iran for decades.  It is an extremely complicated place.  So, I can't tell you whether the Iranians were instrumental in bringing about the position that, as I said, Muqtada took, or whether they just didn't stop him from doing it.  I just really don't know.

Instead, he accused Iran of being behind the incessant barrages of rockets and mortars that land on the U.S.-protected Green Zone, the administrative headquarters of Baghdad:

[It's] very clear to us here, because we got the fins of — the tail fins of what was dropping on us, very clear to the prime minister down in Basra, because they were dropping on him, too.  And this was, quite literally, made in Iran.  All of this stuff was out of Iran, and a lot of it, you know, manufactured in 2007.

And he went further, speculating that perhaps Sadr called for a peace in spite of what the Iranians wanted:

You do wonder if, when Iranian munitions start flying all over the place, launched by elements that, at least in name, imply a connection to the whole Sadr movement, you wonder if that [Sadr] movement, in its political dimensions, doesn't get pretty uncomfortable, and say, "I don't want to go there."

Petraeus_3Petraeus, too, has been ramping up the rhetoric on Iran. In an interview with the BBC late last month, he also accused Iran of being behind the recent attacks on the Green Zone:

The rockets that were launched at the Green Zone yesterday, for example... were Iranian-provided, Iranian-made rockets. All of this in complete violation of promises made by President Ahmadinejad and the other most senior Iranian leaders to their Iraqi counterparts.

Some see a significant shift in such remarks, indicating the imminence of a tougher stance toward Iran. In an article citing unnamed British defense sources, the Daily Telegraph reports today of fears that the U.S. commander is going to use the hearings as a springboard for taking aggressive action against Iran.

Here's one British official, according to the London daily:

Petraeus is going to go very hard on Iran as the source of attacks on the American effort in Iraq. Iran is waging a war in Iraq. The idea that America can't fight a war on two fronts is wrong, there can be airstrikes and other moves. Petraeus has put emphasis on America having to fight the battle on behalf of Iraq. In his report he can frame it in terms of our soldiers killed and diplomats dead in attacks on the Green Zone.

Borzou Daragahi in Beirut

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, the war in Iraq and the confrontation between the West and Islam. You can subscribe by registering at the website here, logging in here and clicking on the World: Mideast newsletter box here.

Photos: From top, Mohsen Hakim (Presstv.com); Ambassador Ryan Crocker (AFP/Getty Images); and Gen. David Petraeus (AFP/Getty Images)

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