debkafile Reports: Washington again ups the military stakes against Iran, plans deployment of 600 Patriot anti-missile missiles in Middle East
For the first time, the Pentagon released the figures of US and British casualties in Iraq from the extra-lethal explosive devices manufactured in Iran: 198 dead and more than 600 wounded. These devices are smuggled in through the southern marshes and along the Tigris River.
The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress Friday that Iranians are now on the US target list in Iraq. He spoke of an “aggressive ground campaign” against Iranian networks operating inside Iraq. The Pentagon has also referred to possible cross-border raids into Iran, but so far none has been approved. The stakes have been rising since Wednesday, Jan. 10, when the US president vowed to seek out and destroy Iranian and Syrian networks disrupting US operations in Iran and fomenting violence.
Attempts to disrupt these networks combine with the decision to send a second aircraft carrier, the USS John. C. Stennis, to the Persian Gulf as a warning to Iran plus a Patriot air defense missile battalion to the Middle East and the deployment of a large number of warplanes in the Turkish base of Incirlik. A US military spokesman has said the two carrier strike groups will not just be showing force but actively involved in combat operations and providing air support across the region. Thursday, US forces detained five suspected Iranian Revolutionary Guards members operating out of the northern Iraq town of Irbil in Kurdistan.
All these actions are raising the ante of the conference Condoleezza Rice will lead in mid-week in Kuwait of Arab foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan. She will try to build a pro-American alliance by selling the argument that an American failure in Iraq would pose an existential threat to all their nations. She launched her Middle East tour Saturday in Jerusalem, meeting Israeli defense minister Amir Peretz and foreign minister Tzipi Livni and talking to Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah Sunday, on the assumption that some progress on the Israel-Palestinian front would help bolster her case.
debkafile adds: Saturday night, Pentagon sources were not holding out much hope that American military preparations would deter Iran from meddling in Iraq or reduce Iran-backed networks’ attacks on US and British forces.