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January 26, 2007
Getting Serious With Iran In Iraq

The Bush administration has decided to escalate the response to Iranian infiltration in Iraq by ending a "catch and release" program and operating more aggressively against Iranian agents, especially Revolutionary Guard elements. The new rules of engagement include the use of lethal force, and the White House may even consider naming the Iranian Army a terrorist organization for its connections to Hamas and Hezbollah:

The Bush administration has authorized the U.S. military to kill or capture Iranian operatives inside Iraq as part of an aggressive new strategy to weaken Tehran's influence across the Middle East and compel it to give up its nuclear program, according to government and counterterrorism officials with direct knowledge of the effort.

For more than a year, U.S. forces in Iraq have secretly detained dozens of suspected Iranian agents, holding them for three to four days at a time. The "catch and release" policy was designed to avoid escalating tensions with Iran and yet intimidate its emissaries. U.S. forces collected DNA samples from some of the Iranians without their knowledge, subjected others to retina scans, and fingerprinted and photographed all of them before letting them go.

Last summer, however, senior administration officials decided that a more confrontational approach was necessary, as Iran's regional influence grew and U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran appeared to be failing. The country's nuclear work was advancing, U.S. allies were resisting robust sanctions against the Tehran government, and Iran was aggravating sectarian violence in Iraq.

"There were no costs for the Iranians," said one senior administration official. "They are hurting our mission in Iraq, and we were bending over backwards not to fight back."

The numbers of Iranians in Iraq, especially in the Shi'ite areas in the south, do not appear to be very large, according to the Washington Post, but they are significant. Estimates put the number of intelligence agents at 150, a hefty commitment for Teheran. No estimates exist for the number of Revolutionary Guard soldiers, but their existence in Iraq at all would constitute an act of war on its own, both against Iraq and against the Coalition nations operating under the UN mandate.

That realization has given the impetus to the more aggressive strategy. The US intended on sending a message with catch-and-release, but the Iranians took a different lesson from it. They knew we knew they were running their own operations in Iraq, and saw us as unwilling to take the kinds of tough action needed to stop it. At the same time, they also saw the amount of pushback we got when pursuing a tough sanctions regime against Teheran at the UN, which resulted in a watered-down resolution with "smart" sanctions that will cost Iran little in the short run. Our subtlety in handling their agents was seen as a further sign of weakness.

The new effort has a focus that extends outside of the Iraqi theater. The US wants Iran on the defensive across the board and to understand that the rules have fundamentally shifted. It's the first time since the war on terror began that we have identified Iran as a hostile entity militarily and acknowledged in an operational way their support for radical Islamist terror groups. The war on terror at some point would have to target the Iranians, as they remain the chief sponsor of terrorists, especially proxy groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah, among others.

This new strategy has its risks. By getting more aggressive and applying lethal force against Iranian infiltrators, the White House runs the risk of escalating the conflict with Iran across the region. Mistakes can be made, and any time the scope of a mission gets widened, the risk of error is greatest at the beginning. The mullahcracy could decide they have nothing left to lose and start launching rocket strikes throughout the region, especially on Israel and American positions in Iraq, touching off a wider war.

The latter is most unlikely. Teheran understands that it cannot afford to use offensive action against the Americans and the British, or even Israel, until it possesses a nuclear weapon as a balancing threat. Even if it had one -- which only gets more likely as time goes on -- the Iranians will realize that it has essentially bought them nothing. The less-millenial factions among the Iranian ruling class will understand that a nuclear launch will invite a nuclear response, and the fact is that the US and Britain have a much larger inventory of such weapons, with much more accurate targeting.

Basically, Iran is taking what action we have been willing to allow to this point. We're about to redefine that, and while some will howl about "escalation", any war on terror would eventually have to address Iran. It's better to do it now by blunting their efforts in Iraq than wait until they have a nuke and have to fight them from Israel and Saudi Arabia. If they're stupid enough to continue provoking us in Iraq, then they have to pay the consequences -- and it's about time they did.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 26, 2007 5:11 AM

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» US Troops Going After Iran in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Palestine from "7.62mm Justice" ™
It’s nice to see us on the offensive with the damn Iranians for a change. They have been poking us with a stick for long enough, it’s time to “Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war”. The Bush administration has ... [Read More]

Tracked on January 26, 2007 6:09 AM

» Bush Gives Troops Authority to Kill or Capture Iranian Operatives in Iraq from Blogs of War
This is action is long overdue: The Bush administration has authorized the U.S. military to kill or capture Iranian operatives inside Iraq as part of an aggressive new strategy to weaken Tehran’s influence across the Middle East and compel it to ... [Read More]

Tracked on January 26, 2007 8:14 AM

» Troops Authorized to Kill Iranians in Iraq from JammieWearingFool
Well, it's about time. Granted, this is the Washington Post, so we need to wait a couple of news cycles to see how this pans out. I can just see the nervous libs fretting how we might upset the Islamofascists and create more terrorists. They missed t... [Read More]

Tracked on January 26, 2007 9:46 AM

» Good news in the WOT: Admin has authorized “kill or capture” program towards Iranian operatives in Iraq, elsewhere from Sister Toldjah
… authorized last fall, to be specific. Via the WaPo: The Bush administration has authorized the U.S. military to kill or capture Iranian operatives inside Iraq as part of an aggressive new strategy to weaken Tehran’s influence across the ... [Read More]

Tracked on January 26, 2007 10:05 AM

» Getting Serious With Iran In Iraq from Bill's Bites
WaPo: U.S. declares war on Iran in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, PalestineAllahpundit Page A01. I’ll do my best with the blockquote, but you’re crazy if you don’t read the whole thing.The Bush administration has authorized the U.S. military to kill or [Read More]

Tracked on January 26, 2007 11:04 AM

» Catch and Release vs Capture or Kill from Wake up America>
The Revolutionary Guards presence and Iranian supplied materilas used against our troops and coalition forces constitutes an act of war in and of itself. [Read More]

Tracked on January 26, 2007 11:18 AM

» Fighting Iran... In Iraq from Michael P.F. van der Galin
Perhaps it's something like a "damned if you do, damned if you don't"-situation, but one thing we know for sure: the U.S. is, surely, "damned if [it doesn't]" fight back against Iran. [Read More]

Tracked on January 26, 2007 1:57 PM

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