April 01, 2007

The Secret Hot War Against Iran: A pattern of hostage taking in Iraq by Iran

Has the hot war against Iran already begun, but we just didn't notice? Yes. Are the 15 British soldiers the first victims of Iranian attempts to take Coalition in Iraq forces hostage? No.

I think it is fair to say that there are several wars going on in Iraq. One of them is against Salafist (Sunni) jihadis--the war against al Qaeda and their fellow-travellers. But another front is against Shia millitia who's loyalty is not so much to Baghdad as it is to Tehran. This is a proxy war of the U.S. (and its allies) vs. Iran. This proxy war is just an extension of the Cold War between the Khomeinists and the West that has been ongoing since 1979.

The taking of the 15 British hostages should be seen in this light. Maneuvering by Iran to gain advantage in this Cold War game. Unlike most of Iran's acts of war against the West over the past 4 years, this one was not done by a proxy army. The benefit of getting a proxy to do your dirty work for you, as Iran is doing with Shia militia in Iraq, is that there is always a level of plausible deniability built into the relationship.

To commit troops with your nations flag to an act of war means something dramatic has changed. The nation no longer feels that it needs to hide behind its proxies. So, what has changed? The two main lines of thought are that either a) Iran needs some leverage in the conflicts over its nuclear ambition; or b) Iran needs leverage over the West due to information coming from the capture of 1) Iranian Quds agents helping al Qaeda linked terror organizations in Kurdistan 2) Iranian Quds agents behind the kidnapping and killing of American soldiers in Karbala 3) the possible defection of several high ranking Iranian general.

Either of these explanations work under the assumption that British hostage situation is a reaction to recent events.

But what if Coalition forces were already in a hot war with uniformed members of Iran's military? What if there was already a low-level shooting war going on between the U.S. and Iran in Iraq? And what if the 15 British soldiers were just the latest attempt by Iran to capture Coalition forces and hold them hostage?

Thanks to Scott, this Time article describes a firefight between U.S. and Iranian soldiers in Iraq on September 7th of last year:

Everyone seems to sense the possible consequences of revealing that a clash between U.S. and Iranian forces had turned deadly.....

A short Army press release issued on the day of the skirmish offered the following information: U.S. soldiers from the 5th Squadron 73rd Cavalry 82nd Airborne were accompanying Iraqi forces on a routine joint patrol along the border with Iran, about 75 miles east of Baghdad, when they spotted two Iranian soldiers retreating from Iraqi territory back into Iran. A moment later, U.S. and Iraqi forces came upon a third Iranian soldier on the Iraqi side of the border, who stood his ground. As U.S. and Iraqi soldiers approached the Iranian officer and began speaking with him, a platoon of Iranian soldiers appeared and moved to surround the coalition patrol, taking up positions on high ground. At that point, according to the Army's statement, the Iranian captain told the U.S. and Iraqi soldiers that if they tried to leave they would be fired on. Fearing abduction by the Iranians, U.S. troops moved to go anyway, and fighting broke out. Army officials say the Iranian troops fired first with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, and that U.S. troops fell further back into Iraqi territory, while four Iraqi army soldiers, one interpreter and one Iraqi border guard remained in the hands of the Iranians.

The official release says there were no casualties among the Americans, and makes no mention of any on the Iranian side. U.S. soldiers present at the firefight, however, tell TIME that American forces killed at least one Iranian soldier who had been aiming a rocket-propelled grenade at their convoy of Humvees.

The implication seems to be that the Iranians wanted to abduct U.S. soldiers as early as last September--at least if the soldiers interviewed were correct in their perceptions. Since this was very near to the border with Iran, would the Iranians have made the claim that the American soldiers had wandered into Iran?

One is left to wonder if this was an isolated case? Or if other firefights have broken out between U.S. and Iranian troops?

In addition, the operation against U.S. forces in Karbala on January 20th also seemed to have hostage taking as the goal. Four U.S. soldiers were abducted by people suspected to be linked to Iranian al-Qods forces. Those four soldiers were later murdered as they were transported in seperate cars away from the scene. The cars were found abandoned with the bodies of the victims. Speculation, at the time, was that those responsible had ditched the cars and hostages when they got nervous about getting caught.

Let's also not forget that an American soldier, Spc. Ahmed K. Altaie, was abducted by Shia militia in the home of his Iraqi wife's family in October of last year. At first it was believed he would be ransomed for money as part of a criminal hostage-taking ring. But later a video emerged of the American soldier which had the all too familiar demand of America leaving Iraq. There is now speculation that Altaie has been taken to Iran.

Add to all this the fact that the abduction of the British soldiers was videotaped--which suggests the operation was planned in advance-- and we seem to have a pattern emerging.

September: Uniformed Iranian military attempt to capture U.S. soldiers. At least one Iranian killed.
October: American soldier kidnapped by Shia militia. Either held by proxy agents of Iran or has been moved to Iran (if still alive).
January: Four American soldiers kidnapped by suspected Iranian agents, and then murdered. Presumably because there was a hot pursuit.
March: 15 British sailors abducted by Iranian forces.

And really, that's not all. There have been many other report, preceeding these, that Iranian al-Quods agents were operating in Iraq.

If all of these events are part of an orchestrated attempt by Iran to take U.S. or other Coalition soldiers hostage, then it would seem that recent events were not the motivation. Instead, these hostage takings should probably be seen as part of Iran's larger Cold War strategy.

For some reason, which is hard to fathom, Iran believes that taking hostages is a good tool to gain leverage over the West. Imagine. That.

This is not to say that the recent defections or events in Irbil and Karbala aren't the proximate cause of the present hostage crisis. Only that since it looks like Iran was already engaged in similar operations around Iraq that there might be an underlying cause. The best candidate for that underlying cause is that Iran wants leverage in its ongoing struggle to show that it is the only regional power capable of "standing up" to the West.

Iran's proxy war with Israel last summer was a different manifestation of the same underlying cause. They wanted to show Muslims in the region that its proxies in Hezbollah could "stand up" to the perceived U.S. proxies of Israel.

The underlying cause was this Cold War between the West and the Khomeinsts. But the proximate cause of that war, if you'll remember, was the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers.

But if I am right that Iran has been attempting to take uniformed hostages since last September, then what was the real proximate triggering event? Was there something that happened in late August or early September? That's not a rhetorical question. I'm open to suggestions.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 05:45 PM | Comments |