Guardian promotes mythical “proxy war”


Richard Moore

Original source URL:,,2169798,00.html

Proxy war could soon turn to direct conflict, analysts warn

US strikes on Iran predicted as tension rises over arms smuggling and nuclear 

Julian Borger and Ian Black
Saturday September 15, 2007

The growing US focus on confronting Iran in a proxy war inside Iraq risks 
triggering a direct conflict in the next few months, regional analysts are 

US-Iranian tensions have mounted significantly in the past few days, with 
heightened rhetoric on both sides and the US decision to establish a military 
base in Iraq less than five miles from the Iranian border to block the smuggling
of Iranian arms to Shia militias.

The involvement of a few hundred British troops in the anti-smuggling operation 
also raises the risk of their involvement in a cross-border clash.

US officers have alleged that an advanced Iranian-made missile had been fired at
an American base from a Shia area, which if confirmed would be a significant 
escalation in the "proxy war" referred to this week by General David Petraeus, 
the US commander in Iraq.

"The proxy war that has been going on in Iraq may now cross the border. This is 
a very dangerous period," Patrick Cronin, the director of studies at the 
International Institute for Strategic Studies, said.

Iran's leaders have so far shown every sign of relishing the confrontation. The 
supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, declared yesterday that American 
policies had failed in the Middle East and warned: "I am certain that one day 
Bush and senior American officials will be tried in an international court for 
the tragedies they have created in Iraq."

In such circumstances, last week's Israeli air strike against a mystery site in 
northern Syria has triggered speculation over its motives. Israel has been 
silent about the attack. Syria complained to the UN security council but gave 
few details. Some say the target was Iranian weapons on their way to Hizbullah 
in Lebanon, or that the sortie was a dry run for a US-Israeli attack on Syria 
and Iran. There is even speculation that the Israelis took out a nuclear 
facility funded by Iran and supplied by North Korea

The situation is particularly volatile because the struggle for influence 
threatens to exacerbate a confrontation over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

The US has called a meeting of major powers in Washington next Friday to discuss
Iran's defiance of UN resolutions calling for its suspension of uranium 
enrichment. It comes amid signs that the Bush administration is running out of 
patience with diplomatic efforts to curb the nuclear programme. Hawks led by the
vice-president, Dick Cheney, are intensifying their push for military action, 
with support from Israel and privately from some Sunni Gulf states.

"Washington is seriously reviewing plans to bomb not just nuclear sites, but oil
sites, military sites and even leadership targets. The talk is of multiple 
targets," said Mr Cronin. "In Washington there is very serious discussion that 
this is a window that has to be looked at seriously because there is only six 
months to 'do something about Iran' before it will be looked at as a purely 
political issue."

US presidential elections are due in November 2008, and military action at the 
height of the campaign is usually seen by voters as politically motivated.

Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA counter-terrorism chief who is now a security 
analyst, said: "The decision to attack was made some time ago. It will be in two
stages. If a smoking gun is found in terms of Iranian interference in Iraq, the 
US will retaliate on a tactical level, and they will strike against military 
targets. The second part of this is: Bush has made the decision to launch a 
strategic attack against Iranian nuclear facilities, although not before next 
year. He has been lining up some Sunni countries for tacit support for his 

US and British officials have complained to Iran about the use by Shia militias 
in Iraq of what they say are Iranian-made weapons. The main concern is the 
proliferation of roadside bombs that fire a bolt of molten metal through any 
thickness of armour, which the officials say must have been made in Iran.

A US military spokesman in Baghdad, Major General Kevin Bergner, raised the 
stakes when he said the 240mm rocket that hit the US military headquarters 
outside Baghdad this week, killing an American soldier and wounding 11, had been
supplied to Shia militants by Iran.

Gen Bergner used to work in the White House, where he was aligned with 
administration hawks, and his dispatch to Baghdad was seen by some as a move to 
increase pressure on Iran.

"There are an awful lot of lower level officers who are very angry about the 
deaths from explosively formed projectiles said to come from Iran. There is a 
certain amount of military pressure to do something about this," said Patrick 
Clawson, the deputy director for research at the Washington Institute for Near 
East Policy. "That said, it is very difficult for us to do anything without much
better evidence. In that respect, border control is a sensible solution."

Any US decision to attack Iran would force Gordon Brown to choose between 
creating a serious rift in the transatlantic alliance and participating in or 
endorsing American actions. British officials insist that Washington has given 
no sign it is ready to abandon diplomacy and argue that UN sanctions are showing
signs of working. They point to the resurgence in Iran of Hashemi Rafsanjani, 
seen as a pragmatic counterweight to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Hopes that a new war could still be avoided have also been boosted by Gen 
Petraeus's claim that Iran's covert Quds force alleged to be supporting Shia 
attacks on coalition forces had been pulled out of Iraq. If true, it could be 
that in the stand-off between the US and Iran, Iran has blinked first.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007

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