(www.latwp.com) вЂ" Iranian officials Monday called U.S. accusations that it is arming Shiite militias in Iraq with tank-piercing explosives ``unfounded'' and insisted that Iran is committed to joining a regional effort to halt the violence.
The back-and-forth charges between Tehran and Washington highlight a growing recognition of Iran's substantial influence on its next-door neighbor and its ability, if nothing else, to prevent the United States from untangling the political conflicts that have plunged Iraq into sectarian warfare, reports Trend.
Here in the capital of the Shiite republic, it is an open secret that Iran is operating a quiet network of influence in Iraq that it can use either to help settle the conflict or to prevent the United States from reaching its goals there. Iranian officials insist they are committed to quelling instability they see as a threat to their own security.
Indeed, Iranians say, their image of an ideal settlement in Iraq looks remarkably like America's: a strong, democratically elected government in Baghdad (that would, by dint of Iraq's Shiite majority, be a natural ally of Iran's); an end to the violence, and preservation of Iraq's territorial integrity.
``The difference is, Iran doesn't want to see the U.S. claim victory. The U.S. shouldn't come out of this battle victorious. And Iranians perceive that the dominant part of that objective has been achieved,'' Tehran political scientist Nasser Hadian-Jazy said. ``It is no longer plausible for the U.S. to claim victory in Iraq.''
U.S. defense and intelligence officials' claims to have found Iranian-manufactured weapons in Iraq, including armor-piercing projectiles similar to those believed to have killed 170 U.S. soldiers, have placed a heightened focus on long-standing U.S. claims about Iranian involvement in the war.
In Washington, a U.S. official acknowledged Monday that the U.S. material formed a ``circumstantial'' case but said military commanders in Baghdad provided solid evidence of Iranian involvement.
``So while they presented a circumstantial case, I would put to you that it was a very strong circumstantial case,'' said Sean McCormack, State Department spokesman. ``The Iranians are up to their eyeballs in this activity, very clearly, based on the information that was provided over the weekend in Baghdad.''
Here, the assertions serve a belief that America is using what Iran views as its natural influence on its neighbor as an opportunity to make Iran a scapegoat for U.S. failures.
``Right now, I think the United States wants to find someone to share this loss. Because they have indeed lost,'' said Mosayeb Naimi, a Tehran newspaper editor with long experience in the Arab world.
``The problem in Iraq is not just the (al-)Mahdi army militia or al-Qaida or any of the other military groups. It's the Americans lack a strategy to govern Iraq,'' he said. ``Today, many of the groups of Iraq are making war against each other, and it's clear that Iran is more worried about security and safety in Iraq than the United States is. Because when violence increases in Iraq, it means the violence comes to Iran, also. So it's not unreasonable that Iran is increasing its (presence) there.''
Iranian officials went out of their way to discount the evidence of weapons without issuing a specific, direct denial.
``They condemn us for making problems in Iraq, but they don't have any documentary proof,'' foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hossaini told reporters.
``Lots of this evidence is fake, artificial. For example, when they wanted to start a war in Iraq, they made plenty of evidence that there were lots of weapons in Iraq, though the investigators of the International Atomic Energy Agency said they couldn't find any weapons in Iraq,'' he said. ``Right now they're using weapons (with certain markings), but it doesn't prove where these weapons came from.''
Political scientist Hadian-Jazy said it was relatively well known that Iran had developed a substantial network of support and resources in Iraq for use as a deterrent should the United States threaten aggression against Iran.
``Iran has developed an important infrastructure in Iraq. Intelligence, security, organization, people, weapons, networks, resources,'' he said. ``But these are principally for deterrence. In case anything happens. In case of a U.S. attack, these are there. And, in fact, they would like very much for the U.S. to know about it.''
At the same time, Hadian-Jazy said, it is not credible to believe Iran has engaged in large-scale weapons deliveries to the Sunni Iraqi insurgents who have been responsible for the bulk of U.S. casualties.
``They're not going to support al-Qaida and the Baathists in Iraq. Because they're the ones who are killing the Shia. Yes, they're killing the Americans. But they're killing the Shia. By no means is it acceptable for Iran to support groups in Iraq who want to destabilize a friendly government and kill Shias,'' he said.
In Baghdad, a lawmaker close to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the Iraqi leader visited Tehran several months ago and asked Iranian officials not to allow weapons and support to cross the Iran-Iraq border into the hands of militants.
Officials there, he said, are surprised Washington is only now bringing it up.
``These are not new allegations,'' said Sami Askari, a Shiite member of parliament. ``I am sure that the Americans are escalating this matter with Iran during this interval because of domestic pressures in the U.S.''
Askari and other government officials accuse the Bush administration of using Iraq as a battlefield to settle old scores with Iran and prevent implementation of the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton report, the U.S. study that in December advocated diplomacy to deal with Iran's regional ambitions.
``One way to look at our whole nuclear issue is that the United States has not been successful in Iraq,'' said Abbas Maleki, a former deputy foreign minister for Iran. ``I think it was Winston Churchill who said that if you cannot solve a problem, you create a bigger problem.''