December 1, 2007


In Iraq, U.S. shifts its tone on Iran: Officials have backed off the accusations of arms smuggling and agreed to talk. It could be each side needs the other. (Tina Susman, 12/01/07, Los Angeles Times)

In the last two months, though, there has been a shift in U.S. military and diplomatic attitudes toward Iran. Officials have backed away from sweeping accusations that the Iranian leadership is orchestrating massive smuggling of arms, agents and ammunition. Instead, they have agreed to a new round of talks with Iranian and Iraqi officials over security in Iraq. The meeting is expected to take place this month.

The U.S. also freed nine Iranian men last month, some of whom it had been holding since 2004. Iran denied U.S. accusations that many of them had been assisting anti-U.S. militias in Iraq, and had demanded their release in a series of testy exchanges with U.S. officials.

When the U.S. freed them, it did not allude to the Iranian demands. It said only that they no longer posed a threat. [...]

Since October, when attacks on American forces in Iraq dropped dramatically over previous months, U.S. commanders have been acknowledging that Tehran appears to be keeping a promise made to Iraq's government to control arms smuggling over the border. They are far from lavishing praise on the Iranian leadership, but their comments are a turnabout from the Iran-bashing of previous months.

The change has been echoed in the senior military leadership, particularly by the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, and the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Navy Adm. William J. Fallon. [...]

At a Baghdad briefing Nov. 15, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James Simmons told reporters there was no recent evidence that the roadside bombs that caused most American deaths were still crossing Iran's border.

"We believe that the initiatives and the commitments that the Iranians have made appear to be holding up," he said.

The change followed a subtle altering in past months of U.S. attitudes toward another Iraqi figure with links to Iran, anti-U.S. Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr. American military leaders have given Sadr tacit praise for reining in his Mahdi Army militia since February, when an additional 28,500 U.S. forces began arriving in Iraq to try to quell the violence.

U.S. officials had long accused Sadr's militia of enjoying Iranian support. Lately, they have said most Sadr loyalists are adhering to a cease-fire the cleric called in August and say only rogue elements operating out of Sadr's control are causing problems.

Analysts say the changes are the most hopeful signs of improved U.S.-Iranian relations since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003 and reflect a realization in Washington that both Iran and Sadr are powerful presences here to stay.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 1, 2007 8:24 AM
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