It is an open secret that Iran sees the current sectarian conflict in Iraq as an opportunity to reverse decades of isolation. Iran is the only predominantly Shia nation in the Middle East. All the other major players in the region are Sunni run, and always suspicious of Iran’s intentions. With the Iranian revolution, there was a major fear that Iran would seek to set itself as one of the custodians of Islam in the region. In this context, Iraq (ruled by a Sunni clique), was one of the major defense barriers against any attempts by Iran to extend its influence.

With the fall of Saddam Hussein, one of the consequences was that after a long time, the majority Shia community would regain political power. This was a development that was bound to happen with the advent of democracy (although getting democracy in Iraq is always a good thing).

Now, with the sectarian conflict, Iran sees this as a golden opportunity to influence the Shia political class. In fact, one of the parties in the governing coalition was actually based in Iran during Saddam’s rule. So, some extent of Iran influence is inevitable.

However, if Iran’s agents start helping in the conflict, and Iraqi / American troops are threatened, then no nation in the world will sit by and watch it happen. Hence the order by President Bush to take out Iranian agents who are actually involved in offensive action. This is distinct from Al-Qaeda operatives who are currently under threat no matter what they are doing. Excerpts from the New York Times article.

President Bush decided several months ago to allow American troops to make targets of select Iranian operatives inside Iraq whom military officials have accused of helping militants build sophisticated and powerful roadside bombs. He and other officials faced repeated questioning about the policy, which was disclosed in recent weeks, after The Washington Post published articles on Friday exploring Iran’s regional influence and the administration’s approaches to containing it. Officials said there was no blanket authority to take action against Iranian agents, only Iranian agents thought to be directly involved in planning or carrying out attacks against American and allied forces. That is a different standard than applied to foreign fighters of Al Qaeda in Iraq, they said. “If you are on the wire diagram as an Al Qaeda operative, you can be targeted just for reading the newspaper in your living room. These guys are not in that position,” said one senior Defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Given the political situation in the Middle East, hard action like this will give Iran some food for thought as well as make the other nations more comfortable with American strategy.
Ashish blogs at Musings of a Modern Man  and can be contacted at ashishblogs(at)yahoo(dot)co(dot)in

[Edited by Simon – Clarity]

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