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The Bush administration prepares for war against Iran
US President Bush’s January 10 speech was far more than the announcement of a surge of 20,000 US troops and an escalating bloodbath in Iraq. It signalled an intensification of his administration’s efforts to refashion the entire Middle East under the domination of US imperialism. The central target of this strategy is Iran.
“Succeeding in Iraq requires defending its territorial integrity and stabilising the region in the face of the extremist challenge,” Bush declared. “This begins with addressing Iran and Syria.” “Defending Iraq’s territorial integrity” means, of course, defending the criminal US military occupation of Iraq and “stabilising the region” signifies extending US domination in the Middle East.
Bush declared the US military would “interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria” and “seek out and destroy” networks providing arms and training. Just hours after Bush finished speaking, American troops conducted an early morning raid on an Iranian diplomatic office in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil. The operation followed the similarly provocative detention in Baghdad on December 20 of at least five Iranians, including two credentialled diplomats.
Tehran protested strongly. Iraqi officials cautiously pointed out that the Iranians were in Iraq at Baghdad’s invitation. All this was ignored by US military authorities who continued to maintain, without offering a shred of evidence, that the Iranians had been assisting anti-US militia. The message to all, including Washington’s closest allies in Iraq, was that the White House and the Pentagon decide what takes place in Iraq.
In his speech, Bush also announced: “We are taking steps to bolster the security of Iraq and protect American interests in the Middle East.” These steps include the dispatch of a second carrier strike group to the Gulf, for the first time since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and the deployment of Patriot anti-missile systems in the Gulf states. The USS John C. Stennis has already set out from its homeport of Bremerton, Washington, and will be in place in the Persian Gulf with seven other warships and nine air squadrons in a matter of weeks.
Bush administration officials have openly explained the purpose of the deployment is to menace Iran. Newly installed Defence Secretary Robert Gates, who, along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has been crisscrossing the region to line up support for the Bush escalation, declared in Kabul: “The Iranians clearly believe that we are tied down in Iraq, that they have the initiative, that they’re in a position to press us in many ways... We are simply trying to communicate to the region that we are going to be there for a long time.”
There are also broader strategic reasons for the US seeking to dominate Iran, which lies at the crossroads between the Middle East and Central Asia. To the north, it borders on the Caucasus—Armenia and oil-rich Azerbaijan—as well as the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan. It lies between two countries currently occupied by US forces—Iraq and Afghanistan—and controls the entire northern coastline of the Persian Gulf. A US-dominated Iran would link up with Iraq and Afghanistan and open enormous opportunities for the transport of oil and gas from Central Asia via pipelines to the Persian Gulf. If, on the contrary, Iran formed alliances with other powers, such as Russia and China, it would become a serious obstacle to US ambitions in the region. Some steps have already been taken in that direction with the admission of Iran as an observer to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)—an alliance being developed by Russia and China to counter US influence in Central Asia.
The strategic significance of Iran is underscored by the fact that it has long been an object of Great Power rivalry. During the nineteenth century, Persia was a key element in the Great Game played out between Russia and Britain for domination in the Middle East and Central Asia. The Anglo-Russian Entente of 1907—a major settling of issues between the two powers in Iran, Tibet and Afghanistan—reduced Iran to a semi-vassal. The north was transformed into a Russian sphere of influence, the south became a British Zone and the rest became a neutral zone. The Iranian regime was not consulted or informed of the terms of the treaty, which was only made public by the Bolsheviks after the Russian revolution in October 1917.
After World War I, Britain sought to extend its control over the entire country by imposing the 1919 Anglo-Persian Treaty, which would have effectively turned Iran into a British protectorate. Such was the opposition generated in the wake of the October revolution that Britain was compelled to back away from the Treaty while seeking to maintain control in the oil-rich south with the continued presence of British troops. Britain increasingly threw its weight behind the government of Reza Khan, head of the elite Cossack Brigade (formed in the nineteenth century with Russian backing), who seized power in a coup in 1921, became prime minister in 1923 and installed himself as Shah in 1925.
Britain continued to be the major power in Iran, extracting considerable profits through the dominant role and lucrative concessions of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. To counteract British dominance, Reza Shah increasingly turned to Germany for support and espoused Nazi ideology to justify his dictatorial rule. On the eve of World War II, the government made political and economic commitments tying it to a pro-German stance. In 1941, Britain and the Soviet Union issued an ultimatum to Reza Shah to expel German officials. When the Shah prevaricated, Soviet and British troops entered and forced him to abdicate—carving the country into a northern Soviet Zone and a southern British Zone.