Ten years after the invasion of Iraq: war with Iran?
Alon Aviram looks at today’s threats against Iran ten years after the catastrophic invasion of Iraq
“Don’t repeat the Iraq war with Iran” said Hans Blix bluntly at a recent press conference in Dubai. Lest we forget, Blix is the former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)- the man who led the UN weapons inspection team in Iraq from March 2000 to June 2003 in search of WMD only to find nothing. 10 years after the bloody and costly invasion of Iraq (estimates of total casualties vary between 500,000 to 1.2 million), Blix spoke of his concern that “memories of the failure and tragic mistakes in Iraq are not taken sufficiently seriously.”
Blix is not alone in voicing concern that the West risks going to war with Iran. Recent media discourse increasingly frames diplomatic channels as exhausted and war with Iran seemingly inevitable. Yet as sanctions continue to be implemented and policymakers ratchet up the pressure against another country they accuse of developing WMD, a covert war is already being waged.
Obama is still engaged in negotiations with Iran and ‘red lines’ to militarily limit Iran’s nuclear capacity have yet to be formalized, much to the Israeli government’s dismay. But Washington has reiterated its commitment to military action should it deem Iran to be developing weapons-grade Uranium. Vice-president Joe Biden recently announced that the ‘military option remains on the table for Obama’. However, Biden’s comments are misleading. While a full scale military assault is not yet under way, things moved from the table to the field quite some time ago.
As far back as 2007, the Bush administration gave the CIA approval to launch ‘black’ operations in Iran to achieve regime change. And while some dismiss Biden’s and similar remarks as text book brinkmanship, others are rightly weary that fiery comments and military exercises aimed at flexing political muscle could quickly and undesirably turn an already heated situation into something far more serious.
Political and security pundits seem all too eager to hedge their bets on when war will start. Harrowing predictions are routinely cast where Iran approaches the ‘point of no return’ in its nuclear development capacity, or of an impending unilateral strike by Israel- subsequently generating waves of mass hysteria.
Press reports and policymakers have for years insinuated or outright declared that war with Iran is inevitable. This trend has to a large extent normalized a debate which should be far from normal. As a result, war with Iran seems to be no longer a question of if but when. Each time sanctions or diplomatic channels are described as exhausted and limited, the possibility of war appears to creep ever closer.
Similarly, in the years after the invasion of Iraq, the media has been repeatedly accused of manufacturing consent, and having allowed governments to use the press as a means to market the war, falsely linking Saddam Hussein with WMD and Al Qaeda. While the ‘Axis of Evil’ term has been dropped, fevered rhetoric has been in plentiful supply. “The U.S. will have to confront Iran or give up the Middle East” said Amitai Etzioni in the US army journal Military Review.
In the hyper-patriotic post 9-11 period, the media too easily allowed for the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan to be rationalized. 15 million people marched against the war around the world, but Churnalism ruled, with eager journalists uncritically transmitting official statements by hawkish foreign policy-makers. Misconceptions of Iraq and its capabilities were rife, notably Iraq’s 45 minute nuclear launch capacity, bolstering support for an invasion.
It is not only the language of the establishment print and online media that risks perpetuating the same lies and crimes of Iraq upon Iran. As journalist John Pilger writes, “Hollywood has returned to its cold war role, led by liberals.” The Oscar-winning film Argo is a prime example. Set in 1970s Iran amidst the US embassy hostage crisis, it solidifies notions of an Iranian threat today. Argo “is a propaganda movie in the truest sense, one that claims to be innocent of all ideology,” says Andrew O’Hehir, an independent critic.
An ABC/Washington Post poll asked “Based on what you’ve heard or read, do you think Iran is or is not trying to develop nuclear weapons?” 84% of respondents answered that they thought Iran was developing nuclear weapons. Yet some members of intelligence bureaus and the IAEA dispute such claims. Even US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper assured a Senate select committee that Iran would be unable to build a nuclear weapon without being detected. This begs the question: how is it that such views are so widely held?
Israeli and American intelligence experts, including Meir Dagan, former Director of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, forecast a terrifying conflict in the event of a strike on Iran which would most likely spill into a regional war. But Israeli President Netanyahu and numerous US congressmen continue to beat the war drums in the name of halting Iran’s nuclear programme. As this heated public debate continues, a covert proxy war between Iranian, Saudi and Western forces is already waging.
From assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, computer worms which have attacked Iranian industrial systems, to a bus bomb in Bulgaria which killed Israeli tourists, these events suggest that a covert and sometimes not so covert conflict of sabotage and terror is well under way.
As reported by investigative journalist and author Mark Curtis, covert operations launched by Washington back in 2007 involve a “propaganda and disinformation campaign and a strategy to stop Iran’s nuclear programme.” Washington and Whitehall have subsequently both been accused by Iran of financing militant Iranian opposition groups.
This strategy is by no means unique to Iran. The US and British conducted hundreds of bombing missions in Iraq during the late 1990s, and actively supported rival domestic organizations under Saddam Hussein in the run up to the invasion in 2003.
In an effort to destabilize Iran today, the US is also reported to be backing a group called Jundallah (‘Soldiers of Islam’), who are based in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province, and have conducted bomb attacks and suicide bombings against Iranian military and civilian targets.
Similarly, Whitehall and London empowered the principal Shia opposition group in Iraq, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, during the 1990s in order to destabilise Hussein’s regime, helping to lay the ground work for the war to come.
Only last week, affiliates of Mujahedin-e Khalq, an Iranian revolutionary organization, which was considered a terrorist organization by the U.S till late 2012, organized a conference on Capitol Hill which was addressed by several U.S. senators who advocated a military attack on Iran.
This covert proxy war has reached a new level of intensity amidst the conflict in Syria as States scramble to steer developments in ways which favour their geopolitical interests. Rebels are reportedly being trained in Jordan by Western forces in an effort to bolster secular elements in the Syrian opposition. And the head of Israeli Military Intelligence reported that Iran and its Lebanese ally, Hezbollah, are building a new paramilitary force of tens of thousands of Syrian fighters to protect their interests in a post-Assad Syria. These developments threaten to bring tensions between global and regional powers to a boiling point in what is an unpredictable and quickly transforming Middle East.
Military officials have described the Iraq war as a ‘cakewalk’ compared to a possible war with Iran. And Robert Gates, Former US Secretary of Defence, who is hardly a dovish character, said that “the results of an American or Israeli military strike on Iran could, in my view, prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations in that part of the world”.
Many analysts have described the Iranian threat in apocalyptic terms. No sane person wants Iran to develop nuclear weapons, or anyone for that matter. Some have suggested the creation of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East as a solution. However, there are some who remain intent on pushing for another military adventure in the Middle East. The press coverage and the covert war being waged share unnerving similarities to the West’s actions against the Saddam regime. In the context of a hyper-patriotic post 9/11 world, the press failed in their role as the so-called fourth estate in the run up to the Iraq war. 10 years on, the same mistakes risk being repeated with Iran.