The blogosphere has buzzed since last night about a report that Iran has invaded southern Iraq and stunned the British contingent there. If true, it would provide a cassus belli for Coalition partners, including the US, to respond with military force against the mullahcracy in Teheran. However, the sourcing on this story leaves something to be desired (via Memeorandum):
Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces have been spotted by British troops crossing the border into southern Iraq, The Sun tabloid reported on Tuesday.
Britain's defence ministry would not confirm or deny the report, with a spokesman declining to comment on "intelligence matters".
An unidentified intelligence source told the tabloid: "It is an extremely alarming development and raises the stakes considerably. In effect, it means we are in a full on war with Iran -- but nobody has officially declared it."
"We have hard proof that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps have crossed the border to attack us. It is very hard for us to strike back. All we can do is try to defend ourselves. We are badly on the back foot."
The Sun said that radar sightings of Iranian helicopters crossing into the Iraqi desert were confirmed to it by very senior military sources.
If the Sun has it right, it would probably force Britain to stay in southern Iraq far past their announced withdrawal date. They would almost have to respond, given the criticism over the capture of their 15 sailors and Marines a few months ago, and that would require them not only to stay but to broaden their forces in the region first. It would also require the US to assist them in that response, or possibly to take charge of it. And since the Coalition has UN backing for its operations in Iraq, it would force the UN to at least sanction Iran for its attack.
That's why this makes little sense. The British will leave southern Iraq shortly. Iran doesn't need to chase them out, and as the above scenario demonstrates, they have more to lose than to gain in an invasion anyway. Why commit their military to touching off another border war with Iraq, in the region most sympathetic to them anyway, and undermining the Shi'ite government in Baghdad that has remained friendly with Teheran?
In reading the story, the issue becomes clear -- the Sun reported it. For those who don't know the British press, the Sun is a rough equivalent to the National Enquirer here in the US. They get some stories right, but far too often, they blow things out of proportion or just get entire stories completely wrong. It's not a reliable media outlet, except for those whose primary purpose in buying the paper is to see scantily-clad women, a market in which they excel.
The Sun could have gotten this word from senior British military officials, as they report, but consider this point. If you were a senior British military official who wanted to warn the nation and the world of the Iranian hordes streaming towards your positions, would you pick up the phone and call the Sun -- or would you call the Times of London?
I'll wait for better confirmation, myself.