Wednesday, Oct. 5, the day before Iraqi president Jalal Talabani visited London, an anonymous British official came out with a surprising accusation to senior reporters. For the first time, he openly accused Iran of joining up with Iraqi Sunni insurgents to kill British and US troops in Iraq.
Prime minister Tony Blair was even more specific when he appeared before the press with the visiting Iraqi president at 10 Downing Street. He said London now had proof that the Iranians were in contact with Sunni Muslim guerrillas in Iraq who were fighting British and American soldiers. He accused them of passing weapons, explosives and advanced bombing technology through the Lebanese Hizballah to Iraq.
The British premier declared that the Iranian involvement would not stay the hands of Washington and London from keeping up the pressure on Tehran on the nuclear weapons question or referring the issue to the UN Security Council.
President George W. Bush, conscious of the cost in American lives of Syria’s aid to the insurgents, was exceptionally forceful in his condemnation of Damascus, in an address he delivered a few hours after Blair to a National Endowment for Democracy event in Washington. We make no distinction, he said, between those who harbor and support terror and the terrorists. Both are equally guilty of murder and must be held accountable.
Bush likened contemporary terrorists and their sponsors to the communist regimes of Russia and China and Germany’s Nazis.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s readers were the first to hear of Iran’s direct involvement in the Iraq war on the side of Sunni insurgents (DNW No. 224, Sept. 30 – Iranian Agents Employ Sunni Guerrillas against US Forces)
But by bringing it out in the open, US and British leaders have marked a new phase in the Iraq war and relations with the neighboring nations involved. Both have now labeled the Hizballah as Iran’s prime surrogate for terror in Iraq and underlined Syria’s role in its operations. Both issued Tehran and Damascus with a last warning.
Don’t mess with the referendum!
After accusing Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps of a hand in killing British soldiers, the British government can scarcely let it go without response. And London would not embark on retaliation without Washington.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence experts note that a military strike against the Revolutionary Guards need not necessarily take place on Iranian or Syrian soil. The Guards have bases in Iraq and a smaller military presence in Lebanon. The Iraqi president, who commands a highly efficient intelligence service headed by Kosrat Rasul, no doubt brought to the British capital a list of suitable targets inside Iraq.
Another option is a joint American-British raid of a Hizballah base in Lebanon, whether by a Marine landing from sea, an artillery-aerial strike from the US Mediterranean Fleet or US missile attack on Iranian and Hizballah bases in southern Lebanon.
Since early this week, Hizballah, branded as Iran’s main terror arm in Iraq, has placed its Lebanese units on the alert.
The stern rhetoric from Bush and Blair is above all meant to warn Tehran and Damascus not to dare try and disrupt the October 15 referendum on the new Iraqi constitution.
The very fact that the Iranians are prepared to join forces with Iraq’s Sunni Muslims who are against the constitution has told Washington and London that Tehran’s support for the Shiites of Iraq has its limits.