America's new secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, has a reputation for candor. Panetta was characteristically outspoken about Iranian involvement in support of Shiite insurgents in Iraq. During his visit to Iraq and after missiles were fired from a Shiite neighborhood into the protected "Green Zone" of the city, Panetta blamed Iran for supporting the insurgents and warned:
“We cannot sit back and simply allow this to continue to happen,” he said of Iran’s efforts to arm Iraqi insurgents. “This is not something we’re going to walk away from. It’s something we’re going to take on head on.”
"We are very concerned about Iran and the weapons they are providing to extremists here in Iraq."
"We're seeing more of those weapons going in from Iran, and they've really hurt us."
While these accusations have been made before by American military sources, this time the accusations came from the very top of the American security establishment.
Iran was quick to deny any involvement and claimed that the accusations were baseless, intended to sow discord among the countries in the region and reflected an American need to cover up its failure.
However, the US Defense Department made sure to drive home to reporters that the US was not grasping at straws in blaming Iran. The US Defense Department reported a tour conducted by Army Major General Jeff Buchanan, who escorted journalists on a visit to Joint Task Force Troy, a professional team that knew how to identify the origin of explosives even if they were made to look like improvised homemade devices.
And the forensic teams can categorically state that the weapons are from Iran. In one case, an IRAM built in Iran was turned over to the Quds Force – part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard – and then given to an Iraqi extremist in Kitab Hezbollah, a terrorist group that is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Quds Force
The report also quotes Army general Lloyd J Austin III who claims that the Iranians were motivated by a desire to show that they had driven the Americans from Iraq.
What does the United States expect to get from going up front with the warnings about Iran? Perhaps the US is getting around to chastising Iran militarily, but public sentiment in the United States militates against it. Perhaps it means that the US will go after the Shiite militias in Iraq that are backed by Iran.
Another theory is that the US wants to signal the Iraqi government not to get too cozy with Iran. Iraq has become Iran's third largest trading partner and has recently signed a trading agreement lifting tariffs with Tehran. It is not certain that Panetta's warnings will influence the Shiite leadership in Baghdad. At best they may want the US to balance Iran.
One can speculate on a third theory that harks back to the days of Ronald Reagan. Reagan could not understand why the Soviet Union was allowed to pin down the United States by backing guerrilla movements, while the United States abstained from similar tactics. By this reasoning, if the Iranians are arming anti-American guerrillas, the United States could possibly play tit-for-tat.
According to the Arab publication Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, published in London, a senior Iranian officer claimed that his country reserved the right to attack bases of Iranian Kurdish rebels in Iraq and accused the Kurdistan regional government president Massoud Barzani of supporting the rebels by providing training bases:
"We will not allow the terrorists to settle on the Iraqi territory with the support of the United States and the Zionist regime for the purpose of attacking Iran. We shall move against these terrorists."
Similarly, the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad expressed his dismay about the continued operation of a camp of the outlawed Iranian Mujahideen-e-Khalq.
Although the organization was originally Marxist in orientation, it has drawn support from Conservative American politicians including Tom Ridge, who served as secretary of homeland security under president George W Bush; Andrew Card, who was chief of staff of the Bush White House' and Rudy Guliani, the former mayor of New York City.
These politicians want the organization to be legitimized and removed from the list of terrorist organizations as Ridge stated:
"The terrorist organization that the United States should be worried about is Iran, not the MEK ... When I think of Iran, I think of Hamas and Hizbullah and the Palestinian Islamic jihad. I think about their advance towards a nuclear state,"