February 28, 2007

Is Iran an "unstoppable train?"

This article appeared on MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger

Just days after the United Nations declared that Iran failed to comply with a Security Council resolution demanding that Iran cease its uranium enrichment activities, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remarked, “Iran’s nuclear program is an unstoppable train without brakes.”

The Iranian “nuclear energy” program, which most analysts believe is a cover for a weapons development effort, is complemented by continued ballistic missile development. Last week, Iran announced that it had launched a rocket into earth orbit - nothing more than a test of long-range multi-stage missile. Iran has constantly reported developments and acquisitions of new and improved naval and air defense weapons.

In Iraq, American forces have detained members of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps special operations unit, the Qods (Jerusalem) Force. Iran is providing advanced weaponry to Shia militias, weapons that are killing American troops.

Against this backdrop, the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany are discussing how to deal with this “unstoppable train.” The obvious next step will be tougher sanctions, assuming that the Russians and Chinese agree – they basically gutted the sanctions effort two months ago.

It is doubtful stricter sanctions on Tehran will work, especially against a country that sits on the world’s second largest proved oil reserves and is OPEC’s number two oil exporter. As long as the world runs on oil, Iran will be difficult to cow. The world needs energy and will buy it. Taking almost four million barrels of crude per day off the world oil market is not likely to happen.

Assuming sanctions will not be effective in deterring Iran’s nuclear program, what’s next? We’re a long way from the military option, but the Iranians would be well-advised to realize that a military option down the track is a real possibility.

There is real discontent inside Iran. That discontent comes not only from the minority Azeri, Kurd, Arab and Baluch minorities, all of which have nationalist aspirations, but from the majority Persian population as well. The Persians fear that Ahmadinejad’s taunting of the West will further isolate Iran, viewed by many as a pariah state already. It is this fear that dealt a real blow to Ahmadinejad’s favored candidates in the recent municipal elections. The people are also blaming high unemployment and inflation on Ahmadinejad’s disastrous economic policies.

We should be, and probably are, cultivating these seeds of discontent. Radio broadcasts to these groups have struck a chord, evidenced by continued protests from the Iranian government. We should continue to drive a wedge between the government of Iran and the people of Iran – after all, this is not a government of the people.

Our objective should not be to change the regime, but to change its behavior. If the Iranian people want to change the regime, that should be up to them.

February 26, 2007

What happens in Iraq if Talabani can't serve?

This article appeared on MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger

On Sunday, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was flown by U.S. military aircraft from his residence in As-Sulaymaniyah to the King Hussein Medical City in Amman, Jordan, one of the best hospitals in the region. The reason for the medical evacuation is reportedly "exhaustion and a mild inflammation of the lungs."

Jalal Talabani and Rick Francona
Irbil, Iraq - 1996

I worked closely with “Mam Jalal,” as he is known to his friends, in northern Iraq while assigned to the Central Intelligence Agency in the mid-1990’s. Talabani, 73, is a Kurd with a long history of guerrilla operations against the Baath Party. In addition to serving as President of Iraq, he is the Secretary General of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). He has emerged as one of the few leaders in Iraq with the stature and political savvy to keep the nation from fracturing into three ethnic enclaves. Ironic – considering that for decades he was one of the key proponents of an independent Kurdistan.

Although the President of Iraq is the head of state, not the head of government, Jalal Talabani is well respected among both the Sunni and Shia communities – few Iraqi politicians can claim that distinction - making him a valuable member of the governance team in Baghdad. What happens if Talabani cannot return to his duties?Talabani was acceptable as a compromise candidate for president – both the Sunni and Shia Arabs were willing to have a Kurdish president, and it was an inclusive gesture to the non-Arab Kurds.

Should Talabani not be able to continue in office, succession may become a constitutional issue. The current Iraqi constitution states that “Presidential succession goes first to the deputy of the President of the Republic….” Currently, there are two deputies (vice presidents) as an interim measure until the second parliamentary elections. Which of the two vice presidents, one Sunni Arab and one Shia Arab, would take over? This will likely have to be decided in the Council of Representatives.

Given the existing animosity between the two sects and the raging sectarian violence, it seems logical that another Kurd would be elected as president. Two names come to mind: Barham Salih and Hoshyar Zebari. Both are filling key positions in the government – Salih is a deputy prime minister and Hoshyar Zebari is the foreign minister. I have worked with both – they are well-regarded across party and ethnic lines and either would make an excellent president.

Whether Talabani resumes his duties or is replaced by Barham or Hoshyar, they will have their work cut out for them – containing the savagery in Baghdad.

February 25, 2007

"To care for him who shall have borne the battle"…?

That is the motto of the Department of Veterans Affairs, what many of us refer to as the “VA,” the former Veterans Administration.

Recent reports of poor conditions in outpatient lodging at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington – the primary care facility for many of our returning wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan – call that motto into question. Granted, Walter Reed is not a VA facility but a U.S. Army operation (which for many of us makes this situation even worse). Regardless of who runs the facility, there is a social contract between those who serve in the armed forces and those they serve, a belief that the wounded will be cared for.

That contract is far from reality. Read the reports of rodents, mold and mildew in quarters at Walter Reed for our combat wounded. What’s worse, Congress has failed to appropriate monies for adequate medical care and rehabilitation for these troops, be it for the Department of Defense or the Veterans Administration. If Congress had been funding medical care adequately, there would have been no need for the Intrepid Foundation to raise private money for the $50 million state-of-the-art rehabilitation facility in San Antonio, Texas. The construction of that facility was a direct response to Congress’s failure to honor our combat wounded. It is an absolute disgrace that a non-profit organization had to raise funds to provide medical care that should have come from tax dollars.

Two senators running for president in 2008, John McCain and Hillary Clinton, attended the dedication of the facility in January. Given the fact that they should have been in the lead funding medical care for these wounded troops, I am surprised they were there at the opening of a facility that is in reality a testament to their failure. Shame on you both.

Caring for our wounded is not a partisan issue. Whether they support the war or not, Congress has an obligation to provide state-of-the-art medical care for the troops.

Want to support the troops? Then “care for him who shall have borne the battle.”

February 24, 2007

Senator Reid - Obviously, you can't spell either

Last week, I wrote my weekly piece for MSNBC's Hardball Hardblogger, REP. MURTHA, CAN YOU SPELL V-I-E-T-N-A-M? It generated quite a bit of comment, much of it not favorable to me. Still, I maintain that political meddling with the conduct of military operations is dangerous to the men and women of our armed forces - it puts them at greater risk.

Yet, the Congressional effort to put our troops at greater risk continues. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who I believe has never worn the uniform of his country (sorry, the Capitol Police doesn't count), plans to introduce legislation altering the 2002 authority given the President by Congress to conduct operations in Iraq. The legislation would restrict American military operations to fighting Al-Qa'idah, training Iraqi military and security forces, and maintaining Iraq's territorial integrity.

How dense can you be?

Of course, never having had to serve your country overseas in a combat zone, you don't get it. Our troops are only allowed to fight Al-Qa'idah? I don't recall Al-Qa'idah issuing uniforms that distinguish them from the Iraqi insurgents or the Shi'a militia. Are they supposed to ask before engaging them? Do you realize just how ridiculous this sounds to someone carrying an M-4 rifle in Baghdad?

Are we to expect this conversation?

"'Afwan ya sidi, qabl anta tirmi 'aliya bal-bunduqiyah taba'k, hal anta min al-tanzim al-qa'idah wala al-muqawamah al-'iraqiyah wala al-jaysh al-mahdi al-shi'a? Lazm 'arif iza 'andi al-sultanah al-haqiqah aqtilak."
(Excuse me, sir, before you fire your rifle at me, are you part of Al-Qa'idah, the Iraqi insurgency or the Shi'a Al-Mahdi Army militia? I need to know if I have the proprer authorization to kill you.)

If you want to put American troops in even more danger, pass this legislation. Obviously, you can't spell any better than your House colleague John Murtha.

February 21, 2007

Al-Qa’idah moves to Pakistan

According to recent news reports, Al-Qa’idah is reconstituting its centralized command and control structure as well as it training camps across the Afghanistan border in the Pakistani province of Waziristan, a tribally administered area barely under the sovereignty of the government in Islamabad.

The new training camps are smaller than their predecessors in Afghanistan, handling groups as small as 10 men. It is in these camps that Al-Qa’idah hopes to export its terrorism around the world. Of particular concern is the potential for Al-Qa’idah-trained operatives to strike Europe and eventually the United States.

It is believed that the initial threat will be to Great Britain. Over the last few years, there has been a increase in the number of British-born subjects of Pakistani descent who make trips to Pakistan, some of whom end up in these training camps. It was this pattern that was noted in the subway bombings of July 2005, and again in the August 2006 transatlantic airliner-bombing plot. As long as these camps in Pakistan are allowed to exist, the global war on terror cannot be won.

What are the options in Pakistan, and the consequences?

Unfortunately, the options are limited, and dictated by the internal situation in Pakistan. The gut reaction is to conduct strikes (air, missile, or special operations) and remove the camps as a threat. However, these camps are purposely built in crowded civilian areas that will result in “collateral damage,” military-speak for civilian casualties.

The resulting public outcry combined with outrage in Pakistan may cause problems for the government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf is not popular and has survived several assassination attempts. His unpopularity extends to the military and intelligence services, long accused of being allies of the fundamentalism movement, including Al-Qa'idah. There is a real possibility that he may be overthrown.

The bottom line: Anything that undermines the viability of the Musharraf government probably is too risky, as a follow-on government will likely be Islamist. As I have said before, we're just one bullet away....

Just what we need – a fundamentalist Islamic government with a nuclear arsenal.

February 20, 2007

Colonel Murtha – can you spell Vietnam?

An edited version of this article appeared on MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger

According to recent remarks by Representative John Murtha, he intends to cripple President Bush’s “surge” plan in Iraq by placing numerous restrictions on how money can be spent, stating, “They won’t be able to do the deployment. They won’t have equipment, they don’t have the training and they won’t be able to do the work. There’s no question in my mind. We have analyzed this and there’s no way this can be done.”

Perhaps the colonel – Murtha is a retired US Marine Corps reservist – has forgotten the lessons we Vietnam veterans learned the hard way. You cannot prosecute a war effectively with interference from Washington. What he proposes, labeled the “slow bleed” by Murtha's opponents, is exactly the type of interference and micromanagement we faced 40 years ago in Southeast Asia.

During that conflict, there were so many conditional rules of engagement and outright restrictions on the use of military power that our forces were not only fighting the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces, but the bureaucracy inside the Beltway as well. For example, for years we were not permitted to bomb North Vietnamese targets north of 20 degrees north latitude – even when the North Vietnamese Air Force built an airfield just north of the line.

When President Nixon finally unleashed American airpower in December 1972 (Operation Linebacker II), Air Force, Navy and Marine aircrews brought North Vietnam to its knees in a matter of days, only to be called off before delivering the final blow. Contrast that to the Gulf War. President Bush gave the Pentagon the mission – defend Saudi Arabia and liberate Kuwait – and let them execute it.

Mr. Murtha wants to restrict how specific monies can be spent, how troops are trained prior to deployment, how the services determine rotation policies and manage their retention programs, etc. He wants to require that the Defense Department allow combat veterans to have at least one year stateside before returning to the combat zone. An admirable goal, but these are decisions best left to those prosecuting the war. Marines normally deploy for seven months – are they expected to also wait one year before redeployment? Where does this end – will the Pentagon have to clear each troop movement with Congress?

The congressman also wants to prevent the services, particularly the Army and Marine Corps, from using the Stop Loss program, a program that allows the services to retain members on active duty to the full extent of their enlistment contract (the contact includes a reserve portion). In other words, he wants the military to stop using a legal, authorized force management tool.

In a surprising statement, Mr. Murtha called for the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo (not sure what that has to do with Iraq) and the bulldozing of the Iraqi prison at Abu Ghraib. Can we assume he will allocate funds to build a new terrorist prison in his congressional district? As for Abu Ghraib, shouldn’t we allow the Iraqis to decide what to do with their facilities?

All of this boils down to congressional (political) micromanagement of the Defense Department’s conduct of a war – all the things he no doubt complained about (or should have) when he was a Marine Corps officer.

Congratulations, Colonel – you propose to do to the troops in Iraq what the Johnson and Nixon administrations did to us in Vietnam. I hope it doesn’t turn out the same way.

February 19, 2007

Non-binding resolution - A cowardly act

This article appeared on MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger

On Saturday, the Senate failed to pass a non-binding resolution condemning President Bush’s plan to increase the number of American troops in Iraq by 21,500 over the next few months. The House passed such a resolution on Friday.

What does a non-binding resolution accomplish?

It does nothing but harm the morale of American forces in a combat zone and send a message to those we are fighting that the American Congress does not support their troops. It is a cowardly act – if those supporting the resolution truly have the courage of their convictions, they would introduce a bill cutting off funding for the war and force the withdrawal of the troops. Anything less is merely grandstanding at the expense of American troops in harm’s way.

The subtle nicety of the “we support the warriors but not the war” drivel is lost on the bad guys. They see it as a victory in a war they cannot win on the battlefield – it reinforces their will to outlast the Americans. It says to them, “Keep this up and the Americans will call it quits.”

Anyone who believes that passage of the House resolution on Friday and attempts to do the same in the Senate does not hurt American troop morale and embolden the enemy has either never worn a uniform or has forgotten what it’s like to be deployed to a combat zone.

Senators, America needs heroes. Fortunately, it has them -
they’re serving in Iraq. If you voted for this resolution, you’re not fit to be among them.

Initial thoughts on the Baghdad security operation

Baghdad - February 18, 2007Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki claims that the nascent Baghdad security operation is already showing signs of success. That was shattered on Sunday when two bombs exploded in a crowded market in the Al-Baghdad Al-Jadid (New Baghdad) section of the capital. This is a Shi’a area of town on the east side of the Tigris River.

What is behind this bombing?

This attack is clearly an attempt by Sunni extremists, most likely affiliated in some way with either Al-Qa’idah in Mesopotamia (the late Az-Zarqawi group) or the umbrella organization the Mujahidin Shura Council, to incite the Shi’a into continuation of the civil war in the country. Over the last week or so, Shi’a militias, including the jaysh al-mahdi militia of Muqtada Al-Sadr, have withdrawn from the fight, preferring to sit out the security crackdown. Most of the Al-Sadr leadership, including Muqtada himself, has sought refuge in Iran or the southern governorates.

In the absence of sectarian violence, the Shi’a-dominated government of Nuri Al-Maliki grows stronger – an outcome that is not favorable to the Sunnis in general and the insurgents in particular. They need sectarian violence to continue their efforts to undermine the government. I suspect we will see continued attacks on Shi’a areas as well as Sunni insurgent attacks on U.S. forces involved in the security operation.

If the Shi'a are smart, they will resist these attempts to goad them into renewed sectarian violence. If they can do that, American and Iraqi forces will concentrate on the Sunni insurgents - both Iraqi and Al-Qa'idah affiliates. The Shi'a will emerge as the winners.

February 18, 2007

Targeting Helicopters in Iraq

In the last four weeks, as many as seven American helicopters have been shot down. It appears that these shoot downs have been caused by coordinated automatic weapons fire - ambushes along known flight routes. Although the insurgents have shoulder-fired surface to air missiles like the SA-7, SA-14 and even the more advanced SA-16, the main threat to U.S. military helicopters is the machine gun. The infrared jammers on American helicopters have proven to be effective against the missile threat.

It is important to put these losses into perspective. Helicopter losses, despite this recent spate, have declined every year since 2003, even though they are spending more time in the air. It remains the safest means of travel from place to place.

So what is going on?

There is a concerted effort on the part of the insurgents, specifically Al-Qa’idah in Iraq, to down American aircraft. Although attacks on the ground are easier and more deadly, downing helicopters has a psychological impact. Think about the mental image generated by the words “Blackhawk down.” Insurgent videos of helicopters going down, the scenes of burning wreckage and the abuse of remains have that same impact.

There is an even older historical reference for this effort against helicopters, one that Al-Qa’idah knows well. In Afghanistan, it was the introduction of the American Stinger shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile that forced Soviet helicopters – particularly the feared Mi-24 Hind gunship – from the skies, making the battle on the ground much more difficult for Soviet troops.

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the United States provided the Stinger to the Afghan mujahidin, not to Usamah Bin Ladin’s fledgling Al-Qa’idah organization. However, it was inevitable that they would get their hands on the Stingers – all support was routed through the Pakistani intelligence service, and Pakistan supported both the Afghan as well as the Arab fighters.

The effect of neutralizing Soviet army aviation is largely credited for ending the Soviet occupation of that country. It was a lesson learned for Al-Qa’idah – they are attempting to apply it in Iraq.

February 15, 2007

More US troops to Afghanistan - What of NATO?

Reuters photo According to a news report, President Bush has ordered that an additional U.S. Army brigade (3,200 troops) be deployed to Afghanistan instead of Iraq. The reason given is to beef up American and NATO forces in the country in preparation for a spring offensive against the Taliban and Al-Qai'dah remnants.

In addition, a brigade that is scheduled to return home will be extended in Afghanistan for an additional four months to maintain the higher level of American troops there.

What is going on?

Last month, the President announced that he was going to deploy an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq. In the middle of that "surge" a brigade is being diverted to Afghanistan. Why? The situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated sharply since American forces turned over primary responsibility for military operations to NATO.

NATO troops, for the most part, are good, but they're not at the same level as American troops. Since the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, NATO countries have been cutting back on their already low levels of military spending. NATO military forces - actually units drawn from the member countries' militaries - have had little upgrading and reduced training opportunities. This, of course, hurts readiness and force capabilities.

The so-called "resurgence" of the Taliban is a reflection of the replacement of U.S. forces with NATO troops. When NATO units arrived in the area, many of the countries placed restrictions and conditions on the use of their forces. For example, Germany refuses to allow deployment of its forces to the area where the Taliban is the strongest, the south and east of the country.

The lion's share of the toughest fighting is being done by troops from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. You might remember that when you plan your next vacation.

If the other NATO countries want to be treated like allies, they need to start acting like allies.

February 14, 2007

Mr. President, what are you prepared to do?

This article appeared on the MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger

In his press conference Wednesday, President Bush said he is convinced that the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force is providing components to Shia militias for use in roadside bombs. He also said he is not sure if the supply of the munitions was “ordered from the top echelons of government.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Peter Pace seemed equally vague, saying, “…I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit.”

Having worked the “Iranian problem” for many years while in the intelligence community, the thought that the Qods Force could supply weapons and deploy personnel to Iraq without the knowledge and complicity of the Iranian government is ludicrous.

Iranian-made weapons components are being used in roadside bombs that are killing American troops. American forces have detained Qods Force personnel in Iraq, recovered documents indicating their involvement in a variety of operations in Iraq, and captured weapons that were manufactured in Iran. Whether or not the orders came from the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Khamenei, President Ahmadinejad, or the commander of the IRGC, the bottom line is that someone in the Iranian regime authorized these operations.

The president at one point remarked, “I’m going to do something about it.”

If it was up to me and I believed that the IRGC Qods Force has American blood on its hands (it does), there would be strikes on IRGC facilities in Iran. How’s that for dialogue with Tehran?

Mr. President, just what are you prepared to do?

February 13, 2007

U.S. policy - Is the focus now on Iran?

This article appeared on the MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger

Over the past month or so, there appears to have been a subtle shift in the focus of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East from Iraq to Iran. There are ample reasons for this: the continuing Iranian uranium enrichment program in defiance of the United Nations, stepped up militarization including the development of longer range ballistic missiles, a budding Iranian space launch development program, and—probably the most troubling of all—provision of advanced munitions to Shia militias in Iraq. The United States has accused Iran of supplying “explosively formed penetrators,” a devastating anti-armor weapon employed in roadside bombs, to its Shia allies.

The Iranian-American relationship has been a key factor in our relations in the Persian Gulf for decades. Our assistance to Iraq during the latter years of the Iran-Iraq war was not about supporting Saddam Hussein, but about containing Iran.

Iran is currently involved in a proxy war with the United States over who will emerge as the power broker in the region. That proxy war is being fought in Iraq. An American defeat there will certainly embolden Iran even more.

For all their rhetoric, the Iranians fear the United States. When I served as a military attaché at various embassies in the region, I engaged my Iranian counterparts in conversation whenever possible. A consistent theme was that they feared we would bring our military might to bear on the Islamic Republic. One officer insisted that the mistaken downing of an Iranian airliner by the USS Vincennes in 1988 was a warning to Tehran that we would not tolerate an Iranian victory over Iraq. No matter how much I tried to convince him that we would not have taken such action, his mantra remained, “We got the message.”

It is perhaps good that the Iranians fear us, at least on the military level. They realize that we are not likely to conduct a ground invasion of Iran; it is a totally different situation than Iraq. They are afraid, however, of American air and naval power, especially given the increased reporting of American planning to attack key elements of the Iranian nuclear program. They learned about the U.S. Navy the hard way in 1988 when they challenged American warships in the Persian Gulf. The Economist described the resulting Iranian losses as “how to waste a navy.”

The Iraq Study Group report recommends that the United States enter into a direct dialogue with Iran. It is one of the few recommendations with which I agree. I believe Iran to be part of the problem in Iraq, not part of the solution. Therefore, our dialogue should be clear and compelling—cease your support of the Shia militias in Iraq or pay a price.

Only when the Iranian leadership believes that the United States is willing and able to back up the dialogue with force will they ameliorate their behavior.

They know we can, they’re betting we won’t.

February 9, 2007

'Against all enemies - the case of Lt Ehren Watada

This article appeared on the MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger

On February 5, the court martial of a U.S. Army officer began at Fort Lewis, Washington. Lt. Ehren Watada is charged with refusing to deploy to Iraq with his unit, a Stryker brigade combat team, and with two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer stemming from his public statements against the war in Iraq.

Several groups and activists have already rallied to Watada’s defense, including actors Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon. That is all well and good, but let’s take a closer look at the facts.

Lt. Watada volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army in 2003. Here is an excerpt from the oath he took as a commissioned officer in the armed forces of the United States: “…I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, …I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same….”

I took that same oath years ago. These are not mere words – they define who we are, they define a social contract between the military and the people of the United States. In the ensuing three decades, I was sent to wars, conflicts and “police actions” in Vietnam, Lebanon, Iraq, the Persian Gulf and Bosnia. Did I agree with all these operations or commitments? Maybe, maybe not – it did not matter. When you take the oath, you commit to defend the Constitution and obey the orders of those above you. I bore true faith and allegiance.

Lt. Watada did not enter the all-volunteer Army until after U.S. forces had invaded Iraq; he knew what he was getting into. Many Americans consider the war on terrorism more closely associated with the invasion of Afghanistan than the invasion of Iraq. That’s fine for those in the military, as long as you honor your oath – “against all enemies.”

Lt. Watada is not entitled to choose the venue of his battles – he volunteered after the invasion of Iraq. Refuse to serve, pay the price.

Our soldiers deserve nothing less.

February 5, 2007

Iraq NIE: The outlook is bleak

This article appeared on the MSNBC Hardball Hardblogger

Last week the National Intelligence Council released an unclassified version of the key judgments of its recent National Intelligence Estimate, “Prospects for Iraq’s Stability: A Challenging Road Ahead.” It included some tough assessments of the situation in Iraq and a rather bleak outlook for the next 12-18 months.

It is refreshing to see the intelligence community produce a realistic estimate.

As I read over the estimate (I have been involved in the NIE process in the past), I noted one recurring theme: the greatest threat to stability in Iraq remains sectarian violence - the civil war between Sunni and Shia Arabs. Absent a solution to that crisis, there is little hope that the current government will survive, and the country will likely plunge into anarchical chaos.

I agree with that assessment. The depth of animosity between the two groups is astounding. Anyone willing to detonate a 2,000-pound truck bomb in a crowded marketplace, killing almost 130 people, anyone willing to fire mortars into a girls’ elementary school, anyone willing to attack Muslim religious observances is far removed from any political solution to the crisis.

The violence shows no signs of abating, yet it must before real progress can be made. Paraphrasing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Peter Pace and former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, there will neither be peace nor progress until the Sunnis and Shia both love their children more than they hate each other. Obviously, that is not yet the case.

The current plan to “surge” American forces with an additional 21,500 troops is aimed at curbing this sectarian violence. The goal is laudable, but the means to achieve it is questionable. According to senior Defense Department officials, the troops will be deployed in the mixed Sunni-Shia neighborhoods of Baghdad where violence has been the worst. This time, after clearing the area, the troops will remain to keep the area secure. This is a welcome change, getting us out of the Vietnam-style firebase approach of clearing an area and then returning to base, an approach which inevitably allowed the newly cleared area to fall back under insurgent control.

The ideal solution is to go after the source of the violence. As the NIE states, “…the Sunni jihadist group al-Qaeda in Iraq and Shia oppositionist Jaysh al-Mahdi—continue to act as very effective accelerators for a self-sustaining inter-sectarian struggle….”

These two major groups supporting the violence should be the focus of our surge efforts. The military operation must include a demonstrated commitment on the part of the Iraqi government to crack down on both Shia and Sunni fighters. Reports indicate that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has warned the Shia militia leaders to seek refuge in Iran or Syria ahead of the surge. This undermines any confidence that that Iraqi government – as currently constituted – is capable of solving the security situation.

Indeed, to the Sunnis within and without Iraq, the Shia-dominated government is the problem. Iraqi Sunnis perceive (with some justification) that many Shia who participate in ethnic cleansing operations and join the death squads are part of the Iraqi army. The Sunni Arab governments in the area (as well as the Turks) are justifiably concerned about the presence of a Shia-dominated government in Baghdad with close ties to Tehran, not to mention Iran’s ascendancy as a – if not the – regional power broker.

The American surge may be the last hope of avoiding just that.

February 4, 2007

Israeli Assassination of Iranian Nuclear Scientist

Mossad LogoAccording to press reports citing an American-funded Farsi-language radio station, Israeli intelligence service (Mossad) killed an Iranian nuclear physicist involved in Iran's uranium enrichment program. Radio Farda, part of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty program funded by the U.S. government, announced that Dr. Ardeshir Hassanpur died on January 15 of mysterious circumstances, hinting that it was actually an assassination orchestrated by the Mossad.

Killing Hassanpur would accomplish several things for the Israelis. Hassanpur worked at the Isfahan nuclear technology center, where uranium hexafluoride gas is produced. After the gas is isolated, it is sent to the enrichment facility at Natanz. The loss of Hassanpur may slow this effort, but more importantly it shows that Israel is both willing and capable of striking individuals inside Iran

There is precedent for this alleged assassination. In March 1990, Israeli agents killed Gerald Bull, a Canadian engineer involved in the Iraqi Scud modification program and the designer of the long-range cannon called Project Babylon. Both of these weapons were designed to allow the delivery of chemical (or possibly biological and nuclear) warheads to Israel. Bull was gunned down outside his home in Belgium

They've done it before - maybe they did it again.