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Iran Now Is Pressed To Change Behaviour As USA Wants An Honourable Exit From Iraq.

*** Even Muqtada Al-Sadr Is Relying On A US Stay In Iraq To Keep Growing In Strength Against His Armed Rivals And His Alliance With The Sunni AMS 'Is Only A Mirage', Says One Of His Shi'ite Critics Who Insists That The AMS Is Made Up Of Scholars Who Used To Work For Saddam's Intelligence And Now Are Close To Neo-Salafis Establishing A Caliphate To Rule All Iraqis

*** A War Between The Caliphate & The Ja'fari Theocracy Will Engulf The Whole Muslim World; In That Case The Saudis Could Price Iran's Oil Out Of The World Markets In A Way Worse Than In 1986, When The IRGC Conquered A Southern Bit Of Saddam's Sunni/Ba'thist 'Empire To Be'

NICOSIA - The war of words between Republican President George W. Bush and a Democratic Party-controlled Congress over the latter's pressing for an early US military withdrawal from Iraq has alarmed the Middle East allies of Washington. It is seriously worrying those moderates in the Iran-led axis of states and movements who are opposed to a US-imposed world order, including anti-US opportunists among Shi'ite Islamists in Iraq who have only gained strength from the American presence there and are likely to be leading sufferers of a Sunni-led offensive in the wake of an early withdrawal.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has urged Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki to join her at the May 3-4 ministerial conference on the future of Iraq, signalling Washington was ready for a serious exchange of views with Tehran after several months of resisting Iran's advances in the region. She says it would be a "missed opportunity" if Mottaki did not attend the meeting to be hosted by Egypt at its Sinai resort of Sharm el-Shaikh.

Ms Rice denies Bush's Iran policy has been directed at regime change, insisting the aim is a "change in regime behaviour". Washington's need to secure the right regional environment for its eventual withdrawal from Iraq is growing ever more acute as its "surge" of extra troops is failing to contain the violence, with the number of people dying at the hands of Neo-Salafi insurgents on a steady rise.

Rice's efforts to draw Iran into the conference - to include Iraq's neighbours as well as the permanent UNSC members and the G8 powers - contrasted with her previous resistance to such talks. Since then, she says, there has been a "rebalancing", particularly after President Bush's speech on Jan. 10 announcing the extra troops and recently a more aggressive response to Iran's perceived role in arming and training Iraqi Shi'te militias. Now even Iraq's most radical Shi'ite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, is worried by an early US withdrawal (see omt18IraqProspctApr30-07).

It remains to be seen whether the US has what Defence Secretary Robert Gates says the "leverage" it needs before engaging Iran. Iran will decide on its attendance at the May 3-4 conference after analysing the outcome of the first round of new talks with the Western powers over Tehran's nuclear and regional ambitions - rather than the April 18-19 meeting in Tehran with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

The odd polarisation in the Muslim World is reminiscent of the Cold War years, when the globe used to function under a bi-polar system of control by the US and the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union collapsed in late 1991 and has since been replaced by a Russia trying to re-impose itself as one of the balancing powers. But in the Muslim World it is the Iran-led axis, not Russia, which is trying to fill the vacuum.

In the meantime, the Neo-Salafis are trying to emerge as a rival to the Iran-led axis. But they are more determined than this axis in trying to win the new cold war against the US. The axis is led by a Shi'ite theocracy, while the Neo-Salafis regard the Shi'ites as heretics and now are killing them in Iraq on a daily basis. In fact, the Neo-Salafis have already established the nucleus of their "Caliphate" in Iraq from which they intend to conquer the world and where they claim to be producing their own long-range rockets.

The theocracy of Iran seems to be playing a double-game. This is the result of a power-struggle between its supremacists, including the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) which is said to be also arming Sunni insurgents in Iraq, and a conservative wing worried by the likely implications of the double-game.

While the theocracy as a whole is facing rivalry from the Neo-Salafis, the IRGC is said to be helping both al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan with arms and its immediate purpose is to undermine the US military presence in the two countries. So it is a tactical/short-term alliance (see ood4-IraqComplicationsApr23-07), set to be followed by a universal war in which even some moderate but oil-rich Sunni Arab states might be forced to be involved (see news17-QaedaApr23-07).

Lt Gen David Petraeus, the four-star US officer who assumed command of coalition forces in Iraq earlier this year, on April 26 said the overall level of violence in Iraq remained unchanged from January despite a recent decrease in sectarian killings. But he warned the security situation could deteriorate before any improvement was seen, telling reporters at the Pentagon: "This effort may get harder before it gets easier".

On April 20 alone over 200 Shi'ites died in Neo-Salafi suicide bombings, and since then more of them have been killed by al-Qaeda-affiliated bombers. That "hostile forces" would respond to the US security plan is to be expected, Ms Rice says, blaming al-Qaeda for the suicide bombings. She says two more US brigades are still to be deployed in Iraq, adding that the US needs "a little time" to judge the "trend lines".

Gen Petraeus was briefing politicians and military leaders in Washington about the US "surge" which began in February. He said: "I think there is the very real possibility that there is going to be more combat action and that, therefore, there could be more casualties", adding that the full complement of additional US forces should be in place by mid-June. He pointed to some positive signs, including a significant reduction in sectarian killings and an increase in the number of weapons caches discovered. But he also warned that Neo-Salafi groups affiliated with al-Qaeda continued to have success with spectacular car bomb attacks.

In September Gen Petraeus and new US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker will present President Bush with an assessment of whether the surge is working. Asked whether he could call for a withdrawal if he believed the surge was not working, Petraeus said it was his duty to provide a forthright assessment. He said interrogations of Iranians captured in Iraq this year had provided additional information about the role of Iran's IRGC in financing and guiding anti-US attacks in Iraq.

Petraeus' comments came just before the Senate approved by a 51-46 vote a $124.2 bn war-funding bill setting a timetable for withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. The House on April 26 passed the bill, calling for an end to combat operations by April 2008, by 218 votes to 208. Bush has promised to veto the legislation and demand a fresh bill stripped of the withdrawal dates. The legislation represents the most serious congressional challenge to Bush's policies in Iraq since the Democrats took control of Capitol Hill in January.

Following the vote, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: "The sacrifices borne by our troops and their families demand more than the blank cheques the president is asking for, for a war without end". The White House accused Democrats of "voting for failure". Democrats said the bill was likely to be delivered to Bush on May 1, the fourth anniversary of his "victory speech" on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln beneath a banner declaring "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. A Bush administration official described the timing as the "height of cynicism".

In public and private appearances in Washington, Petraeus continually noted that the counter-insurgency effort in Iraq had begun to show progress - but that it was an enormous task needing a continued commitment on the part of the US.

The problem for Petraeus and the White House is that this is not the first year of the war. Commanders have travelled to Capitol Hill over the past four years and said much the same thing about previous efforts. In public and private appearances in Washington, he avoided direct comment on congressional votes on a bill requiring US troop withdrawals to begin on Oct 1. But he did have a timetable of his own to discuss. He said the surge in Baghdad, needing the addition of five combat brigades, all of which will not be in Iraq until May or June, was still in its infancy. He said while there had been an increase in some forms of violence, there were signs of progress. But his message during the brief visit in Washington seemed to be that Americans - and, without saying it, Congress - needed to give the effort more time, saying: "The situation is exceedingly complex and very tough. Success will take continued commitment, perseverance, and sacrifice".

Petraeus, roundly thought to be the man who can do the job in Iraq if anyone can, arrived in February. He said he saw a security situation which was in many ways harder to understand than others he had experienced in places like Haiti or the Balkans. But the US plan of putting more boots on the ground has shown that it can have an impact on violence. He noted that there had been a drop in Sunni-Shi'ite violence, largely due to the increase in both US and Iraqi troop presence. He said a significant withdrawal of forces by late 2007 or next year, in which US forces retreated to centralised bases, could result in an increase in such violence.

Petraeus said: "My sense is that there would be a resumption of sectarian violence were the presence of our forces and Iraqi forces to be reduced and not to do what they are doing right now". In September Petraeus and Crocker will assess the surge and judge Iraq's level of security, its economy, and progress on rule of law and politics. Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will review the plan for this assessment in the coming weeks.

Petraeus said life in Baghdad now included robust marketplaces, people walking on the street, soccer games, and other forms of daily activity which most Americans may not appreciate because the number of sensational attacks, including an increasing number of suicide- and car-bombings, masked those routines. But the rise in suicide bombings - many by foreign fighters flowing in from Syria at higher speed in recent weeks than previously - indeed made the security situation an enormous challenge. He said: "I am not trying in any way, shape, or form to indicate that this is a satisfactory situation whatsoever. I am well aware that the sense of gradual progress and achievement we feel on the ground in many areas in Iraq is often eclipsed with the sensational attacks that overshadow our daily progress".

Frederick Kagan, a resident scholar at the neo-con American Enterprise Institute, who, along with others, proposed the plan for success in Iraq largely adopted by the administration in January, on April 25 said he thought the war could still be won, adding: "I can't promise you that we will win, but I can promise you that we haven't lost yet. We can win".

Larijani's Ankara Talks: Iran on April 26 saw "new thinking" in the dispute over its nuclear plan amid scepticism that a breakthrough was imminent. This came at the end of an April 25-26 meeting in Ankara - the first in seven months - between EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iran's negotiator Ali Larijani. Later Larijani told CNN Turk TV "new ideas" had emerged that would allow further talks to proceed, adding: "I can't give exact details because these ideas need time to be developed, but I can call them a very positive, concrete first step".

Larijani had earlier said a "united view" was emerging in some areas of the discussion with Solana. The FT on April 27 quoted diplomats as saying the meeting focused on the conditions for beginning formal negotiations, but that no breakthrough had occurred, or seemed likely at the moment. Senior diplomats from the US, France, Germany, the UK, China and Russia were to meet this week to discuss further steps ahead of Solana's next talks with Larijani in a fortnight.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is for purely peaceful purposes and that it has the right to enrich uranium. The US and EU suspect it of trying to develop nuclear weapons. The UN Security Council (UNSC) has imposed two sets of Chapter 7 sanctions on Iran in recent months for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment and Tehran is facing another UNSC deadline of May 24 to suspend enrichment or face further action. Asked if he and Larijani had discussed a limited suspension as a compromise to enable negotiations to begin, Solana told reporters: "We didn't enter any specific discussions of that nature. We have moved on in general terms. Some progress has been made. As you know, the situation is difficult".

Speaking on April 26 before a NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Oslo, Secretary Rice said Iran could not be allowed to practice enrichment and reprocessing "because if that's what they're doing, you get better at it over time - at the same time that we are in negotiations". The FT quoted Rice as saying: "I have not yet seen signs of [Iranian] flexibility. I don't know what the outcome of the talks is. I hope that they were positive".

The FT on April 24 quoted former ambassador to Paris Sadegh Kharrazi as saying Larijani had been given "the authority for compromise" with Solana. Kharrazi signalled that Larijani had been given backing from Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This was lacking in 2006 as Larijani's last talks with Solana failed to resolve the impasse.

In the September talks the EU side was frustrated by Larijani's failure to make a clear proposal with the explicit backing of the leadership in Tehran. The deeper reason for the impasse was Iran's reluctance to give up key parts of its nuclear programme. Kharrazi told the FT: "Of course the art of negotiation is that both sides emerge as heroes".

Kharrazi, close to Khamenei, is a key diplomat at the moderate end of the conservative camp which is strongly opposed to the supremacists who include the IRGC and President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad. Kharrawi played a central role in nuclear talks with Europe under the previous government and was the author of a letter sent by Tehran in 2003 to Washington proposing improved relations. He was removed from office under the government of Ahmadi-Nejad but he retains access to top officials, being a close relative of Khamenei.

Kharrazi told the FT in an interview last year that Tehran was ready to accept a limitation on its atomic programme as long as it kept a research and development scheme. Iranian newspapers have in recent days highlighted the growing strength of Iran's position after Ahmadi-Nejad's April 9 pronouncement on 'Nuclear Day' that Iran had reached an "industrial level" of enrichment and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed it was using 1,300 centrifuges, devices used to convert feeder gas into enriched uranium. Conservative daily Resalat on April 23 said the "scale" in the talks had tipped in Iran's favour, while the reformist Etemad-e Melli wrote that, while the US "well understood Iran's weight and credibility", Tehran should reduce "international threats including the nuclear file" by re-energising its diplomacy.

The normally assertive Ahmadi-Nejad has been restrained in recent remarks over the nuclear issue, which also suggested Larijani was being given leeway by Khamenei. In remarks quoted on Iranian wires, Larijani on April 23 warned Europe against a "diplomatic dance" while adding that "if talks are serious, they can lead to a solution benefiting them". Kharrazi said in the background of nuclear talks - and other issues facing Iran - was Tehran's relationship with the US, adding: "This can develop either towards confrontation or normalisation. There is nothing in between". Kharrazi said Iran would only attend the May 3-4 Sharm el-Shaikh conference with an indication from the US that it will free five Iranians it is detaining. He said releasing the five - whom US forces seized in Arbil, northern Iraq, in January - "would show goodwill at a critical time". Kharrazi said only "an agreement between the US, Iran and Iraq can stabilise" Iraq, and that without one "not only Iraq, but the region, will deteriorate".
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Date:Apr 30, 2007
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