Gareth Porter

Pentagon's efforts to blame Iran for acts of sabotage went nowhere — but this feels like 2003 all over again

Last week a senior Pentagon official accused Iran of having sabotaged four oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman on May 12 and of firing a rocket into Baghdad’s Green Zone on May 19. Iran executed these events, he said, either directly or through regional “proxies.”

Keep reading... Show less

Israel Plans a New War in Syria - but Not for the Reasons It Claims

Israel is beating the drums of war again, this time over Syria. On February 10 the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carried out the most aggressive Israeli use of force in Syria thus far. After having bombed a drone base in retaliation for an alleged incursion by an Iranian drone, Israel retaliated for the shooting down of one of its fighter planes by hitting the main Syrian command-and-control bunker and five Iranian communications facilities.

Keep reading... Show less

Exposing a Shoddy Sarin Attack Narrative and Responding to NATO-Backed Critics

Eliot Higgins is a “non-resident senior fellow” with the Atlantic Council whose functions appear to include seeking to discredit any reporting or analysis and documentation that conflicts with the DC-based think tank’s interventionist agenda. Higgins' agenda dovetails closely with his employer's funders in NATO as well as Atlantic Council backers like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey -- the states that have also bankrolled Syrian Salafi insurgents.

Keep reading... Show less

Have We Been Deceived Over Syrian Sarin Attack? Scrutinizing the Evidence in an Incident Trump Used to Justify Bombing Syria

The United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria issued a report this September that reinforced the official narrative that the Syrian air force dropped a bomb containing nerve gas sarin on the insurgent-controlled town of Khan Sheikhoun, Syria on April 4. That conclusion comes several weeks after the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) issued a report that supported sarin exposure as the cause of death and injuries.  

Keep reading... Show less

How a Syrian White Helmets Leader Played Western Media

The White Helmets, founded to rescue victims trapped under the rubble of buildings destroyed by Syrian and Russian bombing, have become a favorite source for Western news media covering a story on Russian-Syrian bombing. Portrayed as humanitarian heroes for over the past year and even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize last summer, the White Helmets have been accorded unquestioned credibility by journalists covering the Syrian crisis.

Keep reading... Show less

Documents Reveal Obama Pushed for Mideast Regime Change in Spite of the Pentagon

Seymour Hersh’s recent revelations about an effort by the US military leadership in 2013 to bolster the Syrian army against jihadist forces in Syria shed important new light on the internal bureaucratic politics surrounding regime change in US Middle East policy. Hersh’s account makes it clear that the Obama administration’s policy of regime change in both Libya and Syria provoked pushback from the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). 

Keep reading... Show less

The Real Politics Behind the US War on IS

The US war on the ‘Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’ or ISIL, also known as Islamic State of IS - the single biggest development in US foreign policy during 2014 - continues to puzzle those looking for its strategic logic. But the solution to the puzzle lies in considerations that have nothing to do with a rational response to realities on the ground. 

Keep reading... Show less

Is Washington About to Torpedo All the Progress It Made in Iran Negotiations?

The Barack Obama administration's insistence that Iran discuss its ballistic missile program in the negotiations for a comprehensive nuclear agreement brings its position into line with that of Israel and senators who introduced legislation drafted by the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC aimed at torpedoing the negotiations. 

But the history of the issue suggests that the Obama administration knows that Iran will not accept the demand and that it is not necessary to a final agreement guaranteeing that Iran's nuclear program is not used for a weapon. 

Keep reading... Show less

Did Lebanese Militants Target Israelis in Bulgaria? Revelations Cast Doubt on Rush to Blame Hezbollah

When European Union foreign ministers discuss a proposal to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov will present his government’s case for linking two suspects in the Jul. 18, 2012 bombing of an Israeli tourist bus to Hezbollah.

Keep reading... Show less

How the Israel Lobby is Making Diplomacy with Iran Impossible

Negotiations between Iran and the United States and other members of the P5+1 group in Baghdad ended in fundamental disagreement Thursday over the position of the P5+1 offering no relief from sanctions against Iran.

Keep reading... Show less

Bin Laden Files Debunk Neocon Hysteria Over Iran

The U.S. Treasury Department's claim of a "secret deal" between Iran and Al-Qaeda, which had become a key argument by right-wing activists who support war against Iran, has been discredited by former intelligence officials in the wake of publication of documents from Osama bin Laden's files revealing a high level of antagonism between Al-Qaeda and Iran.

Keep reading... Show less

Details of Talks with IAEA Belie Charge Iran Refused Cooperation

The first detailed account of negotiations between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran last month belies earlier statements by unnamed Western officials portraying Iran as refusing to cooperate with the IAEA in allaying concerns about alleged nuclear weaponisation work.

Keep reading... Show less

Are Crackpot Liars Being Used to Tie Iran to 9/11?

Behind a mysterious December 22 Associated Press story about "finding of fact" by a District judge in Manhattan Friday that Iran assisted al Qaeda in the planning of the 9/11 attacks is a tapestry of recycled fabrications and distortions of fact from a bizarre cast of characters.

Keep reading... Show less

Were Fake Documents Planted to Encourage an Attack on Iran?

Since 2007, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - with the support of the United States, Israel and European allies UK, France and Germany - has been demanding that Iran explain a set of purported internal documents portraying a covert Iranian military program of research and development of nuclear weapons. The "laptop documents," supposedly obtained from a stolen Iranian computer by an unknown source and given to US intelligence in 2004, include a series of drawings of a missile re-entry vehicle that appears to be an effort to accommodate a nuclear weapon, as well as reports on high explosives testing for what appeared to be a detonator for a nuclear weapon.

Keep reading... Show less

McChrystal Faces Massive Failure in Afghanistan in Next Few Months

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal confronts the specter of a collapse of U.S. political support for the war in Afghanistan in coming months comparable to the one that occurred in the Iraq War in late 2006.

Keep reading... Show less

Veteran Army Officer Urges Afghan Troop Drawdown

WASHINGTON, Oct 15 (IPS) -- A veteran Army officer who has served in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars warns in an analysis now circulating in Washington that the counterinsurgency strategy urged by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal is likely to strengthen the Afghan insurgency, and calls for withdrawal of the bulk of U.S. combat forces from the country over 18 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Errant Drone Attacks Spur Militants in Pakistan

WASHINGTON, Apr 15 (IPS) - The U.S. program of drone aircraft strikes against higher-ranking officials of al Qaeda and allied militant organizations, which has been touted by proponents as having eliminated nine of the 20 top al Qaeda leaders, is actually weakening Pakistan’s defense against the insurgency of the Islamic militants there by killing large numbers of civilians based on faulty intelligence and discrediting the Pakistani military, according to data from the Pakistani government and interviews with senior analysts.

Some evidence indicates, moreover, that the top officials in the Barack Obama administration now see the program more as an incentive for the Pakistani military to take a more aggressive posture toward the militants rather than as an effective tool against the insurgents.

Although the strikes have been sold to the U.S. public as a way to weaken and disrupt al Qaeda, which is an explicitly counter-terrorist objective, al Qaeda is not actually the main threat to U.S. security emanating from Pakistan, according to some analysts. The real threat comes from the broader, rapidly growing insurgency of Islamic militants against the shaky Pakistani government and military, they observe, and the drone strikes are a strategically inappropriate approach to that problem.

"Al Qaeda has very little to do with the militancy in the tribal areas of Pakistan," said Marvin Weinbaum, former Afghanistan and Pakistan analyst at the Bureau of Intelligence Research at the U.S. Department of State and now scholar-in-residence at the Middle East Institute.

John McCreary, a senior intelligence analyst for the
Defense Intelligence Agency until his retirement in 2006, agrees with Weinbaum’s assessment. "The drone program is supposed to be all about al Qaeda," he told IPS in an interview, but in fact, "the threat is much larger."

McCreary observes that the targets in recent months "have been expanded to include Pakistani Pashtun militants." The administration apparently had dealt with that contradiction by effectively broadening the definition of al Qaeda, according to McCreary

Ambassador James Dobbins, the director of National Security Studies at the Rand Corporation, who maintains contacts with a range of administration national security officials, told IPS in an interview that the drone strikes in Pakistan are aimed "in the short and medium term" at the counter-terrorism objective of preventing attacks on Washington and other capitals.

But as they have shifted to Pakistani Taliban targets, Dobbins said, "To degree the targets are insurgents and are Pakistanis not Arabs it would be correct to assess that they are part of an insurgency." That raises the question, he said, whether the drone program "is feeding the insurgency and popular support for it."

The drone program cannot even be expected to be a decisive factor in al Qaeda’s ability to operate, according to McCreary. "All you can do with drones is decapitate leadership," McCreary told IPS in a recent interview. "Even in relation to al Qaeda’s organisational dynamics, it has only limited, temporary impact."

McCreary warned that the drone strikes will cause much more serious problems when they increase and expand into new parts of Pakistan as the administration is now seriously considering, according to a New York Times article Apr. 7. "Now al Qaeda is fleeing to other cities, "said McCreary. "The program is escalating and having ripple effects that are incalculable."

McCreary said one of the longer-term consequences of the attacks is "the public humiliation of the Pakistan Army as a defender of the national patrimony". That effect of striking Pakistani targets with U.S. aircraft is "the least understood dimension of the attacks, the most discounted and most dangerous". McCreary said the attacks’ "ensure that successive generations of Pakistani military officers will be viscerally anti-American."

Administration officials have defended the drone strikes program as necessary to weaken and disrupt al Qaeda to prevent terrorist attacks, and officials have leaked to the media in recent weeks the fact that the program has killed nine of 20 top al Qaeda leaders.

But the Pakistani government leaked data last week to The News in Lahore showing that only 10 drone attacks out of 60 carried out from Jan. 29, 2009 to Apr. 8, 2009 actually hit al Qaeda leaders, while 50 other strikes were based on faulty intelligence and killed a total of 537 civilians but no al Qaeda leaders.

The drone strikes have been even less accurate in their targeting in 2009 than they had been from 2006 through 2008, according to the detailed data from Pakistani authorities. Of 14 drone strikes carried out in those 99 days, only one was successful, killing a senior al Qaeda commander in North Waziristan and its external operations chief. The other 13 strikes had killed 152 people without netting a single al Qaeda leader.

Dobbins, speaking to IPS before the Pakistani data on drone strikes was released, said it was difficult for an outsider to evaluate the benefits of the program but that "we can assess that there is a significant price that is being paid" in terms of the impact on Pakistani opinion toward U.S. efforts to stem the tide of the insurgency.

Dobbins said one of the reasons for the continuing drone attacks, despite the high political price, is that "it is an incentive aimed prodding the Pakistani government." He said he believes the United States would be happy to trade off the strikes in return for a more effective counterinsurgency campaign by the Pakistani government.

Further bolstering that interpretation of the objective of continued drone strikes is a report, in the same story in The News, that the most recent strike took place only hours after U.S. officials had reportedly received a rejection by Pakistani authorities Apr. 8 of a proposal for joint military operations against militant organisations in the tribal areas from U.S. South Asia envoy Richard Holbrooke and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, who were visiting Islamabad.

Other analysts suggest that the program has acquired bureaucratic and political momentum because it a politically important symbol that the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan are against al Qaeda and because the United States has no other policy instrument to demonstrate that it is doing something about the growth of Islamic groups that share al Qaeda’s extremist Islamic militancy.

McCreary believes that the program is related to the fear of the Obama administration that it would be unable to get support for operations in Afghanistan if it didn’t focus on al Qaeda. "I think it was a way to link Afghanistan operations to al Qaeda," he said.

"That suggests to me that the tactic for motivating domestic support is influencing the policy," said McCreary. The former senior DIA analyst added that the drone strike program "has acquired its own momentum, which is now having immense consequences."

Weinbaum told IPS in an interview that the drone attacks are being continued, "primarily because we’re enormously frustrated, and they represent the only thing we really have." 

New Evidence Shows Bush Had No Plan to Catch bin Laden After 9/11

New evidence from former U.S. officials reveals that the George W. Bush administration failed to adopt any plan to block the retreat of Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders from Afghanistan to Pakistan in the first weeks after 9/11.

That failure was directly related to the fact that top administration officials gave priority to planning for war with Iraq over military action against al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

As a result, the United States had far too few troops and strategic airlift capacity in the area to cover the large number of possible exit routes through the border area when bin Laden escaped in late 2001.

Because it had not been directed to plan for that contingency, the U.S. military had to turn down an offer by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in late November 2001 to send 60,000 troops to the border passes to intercept him, according to accounts provided by former U.S. officials involved in the issue.

On Nov. 12, 2001, as Northern Alliance troops were marching on Kabul with little resistance, the CIA had intelligence that bin Laden was headed for a cave complex in the Tora Bora mountains close to the Pakistani border.

The war had ended much more quickly than expected only days earlier. CENTCOM commander Tommy Franks, who was responsible for the war in Afghanistan, had no forces in position to block bin Laden's exit.

Franks asked Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek, commander of Army Central Command (ARCENT), whether his command could provide a blocking force between al Qaeda and the Pakistani border, according to David W. Lamm, who was then commander of ARCENT Kuwait.

Lamm, a retired Army colonel, recalled in an interview that there was no way to fulfill the CENTCOM commander's request, because ARCENT had neither the troops nor the strategic lift in Kuwait required to put such a force in place. "You looked at that request, and you just shook your head," recalled Lamm, now chief of staff of the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at the National Defense University.

Franks apparently already realized that he would need Pakistani help in blocking the al Qaeda exit from Tora Bora. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told a National Security Council meeting that Franks "wants the (Pakistanis) to close the transit points between Afghanistan and Pakistan to seal what's going in and out," according to the National Security Council meeting transcript in Bob Woodward's book Bush at War.

Bush responded that they would need to "press Musharraf to do that."

A few days later, Franks made an unannounced trip to Islamabad to ask Musharraf to deploy troops along the Pakistan-Afghan border near Tora Bora.

A deputy to Franks, Lt. Gen. Mike DeLong, later claimed that Musharraf had refused Franks' request for regular Pakistani troops to be repositioned from the north to the border near the Tora Bora area. DeLong wrote in his 2004 book Inside Centcom that Musharraf had said he "couldn't do that" because it would spark a "civil war" with a hostile tribal population.

But U.S. Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin, who accompanied Franks to the meeting with Musharraf, provided an account of the meeting to this writer that contradicts DeLong's claim.

Chamberlin, now president of the Middle East Institute in Washington, recalled that the Pakistani president told Franks that CENTCOM had vastly underestimated what was required to block bin Laden's exit from Afghanistan. Musharraf said, "Look, you are missing the point: There are 150 valleys through which al Qaeda are going to stream into Pakistan," according to Chamberlin.

Although Musharraf admitted that the Pakistani government had never exercised control over the border area, the former diplomat recalled, he said this was "a good time to begin." The Pakistani president offered to redeploy 60,000 troops to the area from the border with India but said his army would need airlift assistance from the United States to carry out the redeployment.

But the Pakistani redeployment never happened, according to Lamm, because it wasn't logistically feasible. Lamm recalled that it would have required an entire aviation brigade, including hundreds of helicopters, and hundreds of support troops to deliver that many combat troops to the border region -- far more than were available.

Lamm said the ARCENT had so few strategic lift resources that it had to use commercial aircraft at one point to move U.S. supplies in and out of Afghanistan.

Even if the helicopters had been available, however, they could not have operated with high effectiveness in the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border region near the Tora Bora caves, according to Lamm, because of the combination of high altitude and extreme weather.

Franks did manage to insert 1,200 Marines into Kandahar on Nov. 26 to establish control of the air base there. They were carried to the base by helicopters from an aircraft carrier that had steamed into the Gulf from the Pacific, according to Lamm.

The Marines patrolled roads in the Kandahar area hoping to intercept al Qaeda officials heading toward Pakistan. But DeLong, now retired from the Army, said in an interview that the Marines would not have been able to undertake the blocking mission at the border. "It wouldn't have worked -- even if we could have gotten them up there," he said. "There weren't enough to police 1,500 kilometers of border."

U.S. troops probably would also have faced armed resistance from the local tribal population in the border region, according to DeLong. The tribesmen in local villages near the border "liked bin Laden," he said, "because he had given them millions of dollars."

Had the Bush administration's priority been to capture or kill the al Qaeda leadership, it would have deployed the necessary ground troops and airlift resources in the area over a period of months before the offensive in Afghanistan began.

"You could have moved American troops along the Pakistani border before you went into Afghanistan," said Lamm. But that would have meant waiting until spring 2002 to take the offensive against the Taliban, according to Lamm.

The views of Bush's key advisers, however, ruled out any such plan from the start. During the summer of 2001, Rumsfeld had refused to develop contingency plans for military action against al Qaeda in Afghanistan despite a National Security Presidential Directive adopted at the Deputies' Committee level in July and by the Principles on Sept. 4 that called for such planning, according to the 9/11 Commission report.

Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz resisted such planning for Afghanistan because they were hoping that the White House would move quickly on military intervention in Iraq. According to the 9/11 Commission, at four deputies' meetings on Iraq between May 31 and July 26, 2001, Wolfowitz pushed his idea to have U.S. troops seize all the oil fields in southern Iraq.

Even after Sept. 11, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Vice President Dick Cheney continued to resist any military engagement in Afghanistan, because they were hoping for war against Iraq instead.

Bush's top-secret order of Sept. 17 for war with Afghanistan also directed the Pentagon to begin planning for an invasion of Iraq, according to journalist James Bamford's book A Pretext for War.

Cheney and Rumsfeld pushed for a quick victory in Afghanistan in National Security Council meetings in October, as recounted by both Woodward and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith. Lost in the eagerness to wrap up the Taliban and get on with the Iraq War was any possibility of preventing bin Laden's escape to Pakistan.

How the Bush Administration Underestimated Nouri al-Maliki

WASHINGTON, Sep 1 (IPS) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signaled last week that that all U.S. troops -- including those with non-combat functions -- must be out of the country by the end of 2011 under the agreement he is negotiating with the George W. Bush administration.

That pronouncement, along with other moves indicating that the Iraqi position was hardening rather than preparing for a compromise, appeared to doom the Bush administration's plan to leave tens of thousands of military support personnel in Iraq indefinitely. The new Iraqi moves raise the obvious question of how a leader who was considered a safe U.S. client could have defied his patron on such a central U.S. strategic interest.

Al-Maliki declared Aug. 25 that the U.S. had agreed that "no foreign soldiers will be in Iraq after 2011". A Shiite legislator and al-Maliki ally, Ali al-Adeeb, told the Washington Post that only the Iraqi government had the authority under the agreement to decide whether conditions were conducive to a complete withdrawal. He added that the Iraqi government "could ask the Americans to withdraw before 2011 if we wish."

It was also reported that al-Maliki has replaced his negotiating team with three of his closest advisers.

These moves blindsided the Bush administration, which had been telling reporters that a favorable agreement was close. The Washington Post reported Aug. 22 and again Aug. 26 that the agreement on withdrawal would be "conditions-based" and would allow the United States to keep tens of thousands of non-combat troops in the country after 2011.

The administration had assumed going into the negotiations that al-Maliki would remain a U.S. client for a few years, because of the Iraqi government's dependence on the U.S. military to build a largely Shiite Iraqi army and police force and defeat the main insurgent threats to his regime.

But that dependence has diminished dramatically over the past two years as Iraqi security forces continued to grow, the Sunni insurgents found refuge under U.S. auspices and the Shiites succeeded in largely eliminating Sunni political-military power from the Baghdad area. As a result, the inherent conflicts between U.S. interests and those of the Shiite regime have been become more evident.

Contrary to the administration's claims that it was helping the regime remain independent of Iran, al-Maliki was far closer to Tehran than to Washington from the beginning. As a team of McClatchy newspaper reporters revealed last April, the choice of al-Maliki as prime minister was the direct result of the mediation by Gen. Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force, in the negotiations within the coalition that had won the December 2005 parliamentary election.

Washington didn't learn that Suleimani had slipped into the Green Zone until later, according to the McClatchy report.

Al-Maliki has hardly hidden his opposition to U.S. ambitions to maintain a major long-term role in Iraq. One of his first moves was to propose negotiating a timetable for complete U.S. withdrawal with the Sunni insurgents. He soon clashed with U.S. officials over their determination to launch a campaign against Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. Sadr had been a key political ally of al-Maliki, and the Mahdi Army was an important asset in a broader Shiite campaign to eliminate Sunni political-military power in Baghdad.

The Iraqi leader angered U.S. officials in late October 2006 by intervening to call off a U.S.-Iraqi cordon and search operation against the Mahdi Army in Sadr City. When Bush met with al-Maliki in Amman, Jordan on Nov. 30, 2006, to discuss a possible U.S. troop increase, he had hoped to get approval for U.S. troops to occupy Sadr City. As Michael Gordon revealed in his Aug. 31 account of Bush policymaking on the surge, however, al-Maliki told Bush he wanted U.S. troops to stay out of the center of the capital.

In the end, al-Maliki and the U.S. command reached a compromise on a carefully conditioned U.S. occupation of Sadr City. But al-Maliki continued to maintain ties with the Sadrists.

In 2007, Gen. David Petraeus's project to form Sunni militias, mostly from former armed resistance veterans, became a new source of tension between the Bush administration and al-Maliki. An associate of al-Maliki told the Associated Press in July 2007 that he once threatened in a discussion with President Bush to counter the arming of Sunnis by arming Shiite militias. The Iraqi leader halted progress on political concessions to the Sunni community.

As the U.S. command turned its attention increasingly to attacking the Mahdi Army, the Bush administration began talking in June 2007 about a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq, based on the "Korean model". Al-Maliki's responded by declaring that U.S. troops should leave and turn over security to Iraqi forces.

In August, Bush publicly distanced himself from al-Maliki, apparently hoping he would be replaced by a more cooperative figure.

In late August, the Sadrists were fighting against both U.S. troops in Baghdad and security forces loyal to the pro-Iranian Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council in the south. With al-Maliki's obvious encouragement, Iran intervened to arrange the first of a series of accommodations between its Iraqi clients and Sadr. On Aug. 26, 2007 the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, asked why nothing had been done to arrange "reconciliation" between the two Iraqi groups, said Iran "always used its influence to create unity between the different groups in Iraq."

Three days later, Sadr announced a unilateral ceasefire. The main beneficiary of the ceasefire, which ended attacks on the green zone and intra-Shiite fighting, was the al-Maliki regime, and Iraqi officials credited Iranian policy for having made it happen.

The March 7th U.S. draft of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and the U.S. military drive in Shiite territory brought the conflict of interests between the al-Maliki regime and the Bush administration to a head in 2008. In mid-March, Al-Maliki rejected a Petraeus plan for a massive joint operation against the Sadrists in Basra, which would have increased Iraqi dependence on U.S. troops.

Instead, al-Maliki launched his own operation in Basra that was planned to last only a few days. Then, in a move that appears to have been prearranged with Suleimani, Iraqi officials were dispatched to Iran to get Suleimani's help in mediating a peace agreement with Sadr.

The result was a Sadrist retreat from Basra, even though Iraqi security forces had not been able to cope with the Mahdi Army resistance. That headed off a major U.S. troop presence in the Shiite south and strengthened al-Maliki's position in negotiations with Washington.

The Basra agreement set the stage for the subsequent accord between al-Maliki and Sadr, again reached with Iranian mediation, for a ceasefire in Sadr City on May 12. The agreement prevented the U.S. command from getting the large-scale U.S. campaign in Sadr City for which it had been pushing for more than a year.

The carefully calculating Sadr had been convinced to trade short-term military success for the prospect of a U.S. military retreat.

Al-Maliki began pushing for "significant changes" in the SOFA only after the May agreement, but he was only returning to the position he had embraced two years earlier.

This al-Maliki record of opposition to U.S. political-military interests apparently failed to shake the Bush administration's belief that he would yield to U.S. demands in the end. That faith appears to reflect the official military triumphalism associated with Gen. David Petraeus's counterinsurgency strategy -- a residual faith in the power of the U.S. military's presence in Iraq to sweep away all local obstacles to U.S. victory.

Just Where Are Those Iranian Weapons That the Bushies Say Are Flooding Iraq?

The U.S. military command in Iraq continues to talk about an alleged pipeline of Iranian weapons to Iraqi Shiites opposing the U.S. occupation, implying that they have become dependent on Iran for indirect-fire weapons and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

But U.S. officials have failed thus far to provide evidence that would support that claim, and a long-delayed U.S. military report on Iranian arms is unlikely to offer any data on what proportion of the weapons in the hands of Shiite fighters are from Iran and what proportion comes from purchases on the open market.

When Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner was asked that question at a briefing May 8, he did not answer it directly. Instead Bergner reverted to a standard U.S. military line that these groups "could not do what they're doing without the support of foreign support [sic]." Then he defined "foreign support" to include training and funding as well as weapons, implicitly conceding that he did not have much of a case based on weapons alone.

Bergner's refusal to address that question reflects a fundamental problem with the U.S. claims about Iranian weapons in Iraq: if there are indeed any Iranian rockets and mortars, and RPGs in the Mahdi Army's arsenal of stand-off weapons, they represent an insignificant part of it.

Reports by the U.S. command in Iraq over the past 15 months cited only a handful of Iranian weapons out of hundreds counted in caches found in Shiite areas. Nearly 700 mortars and rockets were reported by specific caliber size, along with a handful of RPGs, in nearly two dozen caches. Of that total, only four rockets were reported as being of Iranian origin, and another 15 were listed as possibly being Iranian.

Although those reports do not represent all the Mahdi Army caches found, they provide further evidence of the relative importance of Iranian rockets, mortars and RPGs in the Mahdi Army arsenal. That is because U.S. military officials are so eager to publicise any discovery of an Iranian-made weapon system that they would exploit any opportunity available to do so.

The U.S. command has gone so far as to claim that it had found "four Iranian hand grenades" -- but they were in a cache of weapons found in an al Qaeda area.

Based on weapons caches discovered over the past 15 months, the Mahdi Army has relied overwhelmingly on four types of heavy weapons: 60mm and 120mm mortars, 107mm rocket, and 57mm anti-tank missile.

Those are essentially the same mortars and rockets that have turned up in al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent weapons caches, suggesting that both groups have obtained their heavier weapons from the international arms market. In fact, 60mm and 120mm mortars were used by Sunni guerrillas in the very early months of the war against U.S. occupation troops.

A U.S. explosives expert, Maj. Marty Weber, confirmed in April 2007 that most 107mm rockets found in Iraq were Chinese-made. He claimed that Iran had repainted Chinese 60mm and 107mm rockets them and sold them on the "open market".

However, Chinese, Yugoslav and Pakistani 107mm rockets have also been the weapon of choice of Taliban guerrillas in Afghanistan, according to U.S. military officers there.

The U.S. military has refrained from making any charges against Iran over the 107mm rockets found in Iraq, perhaps because it would support the conclusion that the Mahdi Army was buying weapons on the international market rather than obtaining them from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

U.S. officials tried to capitalise on the increased mortar and rocket attacks on the Green Zone and U.S. military headquarters last year to argue that they were the result of a rising tide of Iranian supply of such stand-off weapons -- particularly 240mm rockets -- to what the U.S. command calls "special groups" of Shiite militiamen.

One U.S. official, who insisted on being identified only as a "senior official", told this writer in mid-September 2007 that rockets and mortars provided by Iran since the beginning of that year -- and especially 240 mm rockets -- were doing much greater damage because of their greater accuracy and power compared with the older Katyusha rockets -- mostly from Iraqi stocks -- that had been employed in attacking U.S. bases and the Green Zone in previous years.

But evidence from the U.S. command itself contradicts that dramatic narrative of a bold, new Iranian intervention in the war. A Multi-National Force - Iraq press release dated Jun. 1, 2007 reported that a cache of weapons had been found in an area from which Mahdi Army troops had fired rockets at the Green Zone. It did not claim any Iranian rockets or mortars in the cache but only 20 107mm rocket warheads, three fully assembled 107mm rockets and one 60mm mortar.

No 240mm rocket has been reported found in a Mahdi Army weapons cache over the past year, but a single warhead for a 240mm rocket was reported to have been found in Basra Apr. 19. No official claim has been made that it was manufactured in Iran, however.

After a rocket fired at Camp Victory on Sep. 11, 2007 killed one and wounded 11 others, U.S. officials told the news media that the command spokesman, Gen. Bergner, would display fragments of a 240mm rocket -- complete with Iranian markings -- at his next press briefing in order to "show the link between the Iranian weapons and the damage they are doing".

But Bergner admitted to the media that there were no discernible Iranian markings on the fragment, and that a number of countries manufacture 240mm rockets. He was able to assert only that ordnance experts "assess it is of [sic] consistent with the rockets of Iranian origin we have seen used in other attacks."

That was a very weak claim, because Bergner had not provided any evidence to the media that previous attacks had involved Iranian 240mm rockets either.

When the military headquarters at Camp Victory was hit by rocket fire last Oct. 12, officials admitted that it was 107mm rockets, not 240mm rockets that had been used.

Gen. David Petraeus insisted last October that there is "absolutely no question" that Iran is providing RPG-29 rocket-propelled grenade launchers to Iraqi Shiite groups. But RPG-29s are manufactured by Russia, not Iran. Syria was known to have purchased large quantities of the RPG-29 in 1999-2000. Both the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and the Beirut-based defence monthly Defense 21 have confirmed that the RPG-29s used by Hezbollah in 2006 were Russian-made weapons obtained via Syria.

In weapons caches reported from Shiite locations, not a single RPG-29 has been identified. Of the 160 RPG launchers reported in Mahdi Army caches, along with 800 RPG missiles, none were identified as Iranian, although some were identified as being Soviet-made. Only 11 were reported to be RPG-7s -- a type of launcher that is made by Russia and China as well as Iran and used by 40 countries around the world.

Sadr Offensive Reveals Failure of Petraeus Strategy

The escalation of fighting between Mahdi Army militiamen and their Shiite rivals, which could mark the end of Moqtada al-Sadr's self-imposed ceasefire, also exposes Gen. David Petraeus's strategy for controlling Sadr's forces as a failure.

Petraeus reacted immediately to Sunday's rocket attacks on the Green Zone by blaming them on Iran. He told the BBC the rockets were "Iranian provided, Iranian-made rockets", and that they were launched by groups that were funded and trained by the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Petraeus said this was "in complete violation of promises made by President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and other most senior Iranian leaders to their Iraqi counterparts."

Petraeus statement was clearly intended to divert attention from a development that threatens one of the two main pillars of the administration's claim of progress in Iraq -- the willingness of Sadr to restrain the Mahdi Army, even in the face of systematic raids on its leadership by the U.S. military and its Iraqi allies.

The rocket attacks appear to have been one of several actions by the Mahdi Army to warn the United States and the Iraqi government to halt their systematic raids aimed at driving the Sadrists out of key Shiite centers in the south. They were followed almost immediately by Mahdi Army clashes with rival Shiite militiamen in Basra, Sadr City and Kut and a call for a nationwide general strike to demand the release of Sadrist detainees.

Even more pointed was a strong warning from Sadr aide Abdul-Hadi al-Mohammedawi to the United States as well as to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), whose Badr Organization militiamen, in the uniforms of Iraqi security forces, have targeted the Madhi Army throughout the south. "They don't seem to realise that the Sadrist trend is like a volcano," he told worshipers Friday in Kufa. "If it explodes, it will crush their rotten heads."

The signs that the Madhi Army will no longer remain passive mark a major defeat for the U.S. military command's strategy aimed at weakening the Mahdi Army.

When he took command in Iraq in early 2007, Petraeus recognized that the U.S. occupation forces could not afford to wage a full-fledged campaign against the Mahdi Army as a whole. Instead it adopted a strategy of dividing the Sadrist movement.

Petraeus and the ground commander in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, hoped that there were leaders in the Sadrist movement who would be willing to give up further military resistance and accept the U.S. occupation and the existing government.

For months, the command tried to generate a "dialog" with "moderates" in the Sadrist camp. It issued a series of statements hailing Sadr's willingness to change the purpose of his movement. Most recently, on Jan. 17, Odierno said, "I believe he is trying to move forward with more of a religious organization and get away from a militia type-supported organization." But he admitted, "That could change."

Meanwhile, Petraeus targeted selected elements of the Mahdi Army in raids in Sadr City and the Shiite south, portraying its targets as "criminals" and "rogue elements" which had broken away from Sadr and were armed, trained and financed by Iran. Odierno suggested in his Jan. 17 press briefing that such renegade groups were causing "the majority of the violence."

But the "moderate" Sadrists who would be willing to make a deal with the U.S. never materialized. Last July, a U.S. commander in Baghdad claimed that Sadrist representatives had initiated "indirect" talks with the U.S. military. But in January, Odierno would say only that they had been meeting with "local leaders" in Sadr City, not with representatives of the Sadrist movement.

The Mahdi Army's blunt warnings of military countermeasures followed months of raids against Sadr's political-military organization by both U.S. forces and the Badr Organization. According to a senior Sadrist parliamentarian, between 2,000 and 2,500 Mahdi Army militiamen had been detained since Sadr declared a ceasefire last August.

The raids have been aimed at weakening the Madhi Army's political hold on Shiite cities in anticipation of eventual provincial elections.

During 2007 there were signs of strong support for Sadr in Najaf, Basra and Karbala, as Sudarsan Raghavan reported in the Washington Post last December. In Najaf, portraits of Sadr and his father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq Sadr, who was assassinated by Saddam Hussein's security forces in 1999, had "mushroomed defiantly in the streets".

Sadr's image had also been "pervasive" in Karbala, according to Raghavan, until security forces loyal to the ISCI arrested more than 400 of Sadr's followers in an obvious effort to destroy its organization in the city.

For months Sadr had refrained from authorizing a full-fledged response to such attacks on his forces. But Tuesday an officer at Sadr's headquarters in Najaf said the Mahdi Army should be prepared to "strike the occupiers" as well as the Badr Organization.

Revealing the contradictions built into the U.S. position in Iraq, even as it was blaming Iran for the alleged renegade units of the Mahdi Army, the U.S. was using the Badr Organization, the military arm of the ISCI, to carry out raids against the Mahdi Army. The Badr Organization and the ISCI had always been and remained the most pro-Iranian political-military forces in Iraq, having been established, trained and funded by the IRGC from Shiite exiles in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war.

It was the ISCI leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim who had invited two IRGC officers to be his guests in December 2006, apparently to discuss military assistance to the Badr Organization. The Iranian officials were seized in the home of home of Hadi al-Ameri, the leader of the Badr Organization and detained by the U.S. military. The Bush administration continued throughout 2007 to cite those Iranian visitors as evidence of the IRGC's illicit intervention in Iraq.

But the Badr Organization had become the indispensable element of the Iraqi government's security forces, who could be counted on to oppose the Mahdi Army in the south. And in a further ironic twist, it was the leaders of the ISCI and of the Nouri al-Maliki government, which depended on Iranian support, who insisted last summer and fall that the United States should credit Iran with having prevailed on Sadr to agree to a ceasefire. The close collaboration of the U.S. command with these pro-Iranian groups against Sadr appears to be the main reason for the State Department's endorsement of that argument last December.

The Petraeus assertion that the rocket attacks on the Green Zone were Iranian-inspired strongly implied that Iran is still providing arms to Shiite militias. However, Odierno told a press briefing in mid-January, "We are not sure if they're still importing [sic] weapons into Iraq."

That admission came only after many months in which U.S. officers in the border provinces were unable to find any evidence of arms coming across the border from Iran.

Those officers also found no trace of the alleged presence of the IRGC personnel in Iraq. Last November, the French weekly news magazine Le Point quoted Maj. Scott A. Pettigrew, the military intelligence chief in Diyala province on the Iranian border, as saying, "I have never seen any activity or presence of the Quds Force. I see nothing here that resembles a proxy war with Iran."

Another Neocon Attempt to Frame Iran Falls Apart

Research for this article was supported by the Investigative Fund of The Nation Institute.

Although nukes and Iraq have been the main focus of the Bush Administration's pressure campaign against Iran, US officials also seek to tar Iran as the world's leading sponsor of terrorism. And Team Bush's latest tactic is to play up a thirteen-year-old accusation that Iran was responsible for the notorious Buenos Aires bombing that destroyed the city's Jewish Community Center, known as AMIA, killing eighty-six and injuring 300, in 1994. Unnamed senior Administration officials told the Wall Street Journal January 15 that the bombing in Argentina "serves as a model for how Tehran has used its overseas embassies and relationship with foreign militant groups, in particular Hezbollah, to strike at its enemies."

This propaganda campaign depends heavily on a decision last November by the General Assembly of Interpol, which voted to put five former Iranian officials and a Hezbollah leader on the international police organization's "red list" for allegedly having planned the July 1994 bombing. But the Wall Street Journal reports that it was pressure from the Bush Administration, along with Israeli and Argentine diplomats, that secured the Interpol vote. In fact, the Bush Administration's manipulation of the Argentine bombing case is perfectly in line with its long practice of using distorting and manufactured evidence to build a case against its geopolitical enemies.

After spending several months interviewing officials at the US Embassy in Buenos Aires familiar with the Argentine investigation, the head of the FBI team that assisted it and the most knowledgeable independent Argentine investigator of the case, I found that no real evidence has ever been found to implicate Iran in the bombing. Based on these interviews and the documentary record of the investigation, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the case against Iran over the AMIA bombing has been driven from the beginning by US enmity toward Iran, not by a desire to find the real perpetrators.

A 'Wall of Assumptions'

US policy toward the bombing was skewed from the beginning by a Clinton Administration strategy of isolating Iran, adopted in 1993 as part of an understanding with Israel on peace negotiations with the Palestinians. On the very day of the crime, before anything could have been known about who was responsible, Secretary of State Warren Christopher blamed "those who want to stop the peace process in the Middle East"--an obvious reference to Iran.

William Brencick, then chief of the political section at the US Embassy in Buenos Aires and the primary Embassy contact for the investigation, recalled in an interview with me last June that a "wall of assumptions" guided the US approach to the case. The primary assumptions, Brencick said, were that the explosion was a suicide bombing and that use of a suicide bomb was prima facie evidence of involvement by Hezbollah--and therefore Iran.

But the suicide-bomber thesis quickly encountered serious problems. In the wake of the explosion, the Menem government asked the United States to send a team to assist in the investigation, and two days after the bombing, experts from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrived in Buenos Aires along with three FBI agents. According to an interview the head of the team, ATF explosives expert Charles Hunter, gave to a team of independent investigators headed by US journalist Joe Goldman and Argentine investigative journalist Jorge Lanata, as soon as the team arrived the federal police put forward a thesis that a white Renault Trafic van had carried the bomb that destroyed the AMIA.

Hunter quickly identified major discrepancies between the car-bomb thesis and the blast pattern recorded in photos. He wrote a report two weeks later noting that in the wake of the bombing, merchandise in a store immediately to the right of the AMIA was tightly packed against its front windows and merchandise in another shop had been blown out onto the street--suggesting that the blast came from inside rather than outside. Hunter also said he did not understand how the building across the street could still be standing if the bomb had exploded in front of the AMIA, as suggested by the car-bomb thesis.

The lack of eyewitness evidence supporting the thesis was just as striking. Of some 200 witnesses on the scene, only one claimed to have seen a white Renault Trafic. Several testified they were looking at the spot where the Trafic should have been when the explosion occurred and saw nothing. Nicolasa Romero, the wife of a Buenos Aires policeman, was that lone witness. She said she saw a white Renault Trafic approach the corner where she was standing with her sister and her 4-year-old son. But Romero's sister testified that the vehicle that passed them was not a white Trafic but rather a black-and-yellow taxi. Other witnesses reported seeing a black-and-yellow taxi seconds before the explosion.

Argentine prosecutors argued that pieces of a white Trafic embedded in the flesh of many of the victims of the explosion proved their case for a suicide bomb. But that evidence was discredited by Gabriel Levinas, a researcher for AMIA's own legal team. Levinas is a member of a leading Jewish family in Buenos Aires who had published a human rights magazine during the dictatorship (his uncle's car was used to kidnap war criminal Adolf Eichmann and spirit him off to Israel for trial in 1982.)

He discovered that the manufacturer of the white Trafic had been sent fragments of the vehicle recovered by the police for analysis and had found that none of the pieces had ever been put under high temperature. That meant that these car fragments could not have come from the particular white Trafic that police had identified as the suicide bomb car--since that vehicle was known to have once caught fire before having been recycled and repaired.

Yet despite the lack of eyewitness testimony and the weakness of the forensic evidence, the State Department publicly embraced the suicide-bomb story in 1994 and 1995.

The Problem of Motive

Independent investigators have also long puzzled over why Iran would have carried out an action against Argentine Jews while its Hezbollah allies were embroiled in armed struggle with the Israeli military in Lebanon. In their 2006 indictment of several Iranian nationals in the bombing, Argentine prosecutors argued that Iran planned the AMIA attack because Carlos Menem's administration had abruptly canceled two contracts for the transfer of nuclear technology to Iran.

But the indictment actually provides excerpts from key documents that undermine that conclusion. According to a February 10, 1992, cable from Argentina's ambassador in Iran, the director of the American Department of Iran's foreign ministry had "emphasized the need to reach a solution to the problem [of nuclear technology transfer] that would avoid damage to other contracts." Iran thus clearly signaled its hope of finding a negotiated solution that could reactivate the suspended contracts and maintain other deals with Argentina as well.

On March 17, 1992, a bomb blast destroyed the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires--an incident for which the Argentine prosecutors also held Iran responsible. The indictment, however, quotes a top official of INVAP, an Argentine nuclear firm that dominated the National Commission on Atomic Energy, as saying that during 1992 there were "contacts" between INVAP and the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran "in the expectation that the decision of the national government would be revised, allowing the tasks in the contracts to be resumed." The same official confirmed that negotiations surrounding the two canceled projects continued from 1993 to 1995--before and after the AMIA explosion. Those revelations suggest that the Iranian attitude toward Argentina at the time of the bombing was exactly the opposite of the one claimed in the indictment.

The Hezbollah motive for involvement in the AMIA bombing, according to the indictment, was revenge against the Israeli bombing of a Hezbollah training camp in the Bekaa Valley in early 1994 and the Israeli kidnapping of Shiite leader Mustapha Dirani in May. That theory fails to explain, however, why Hezbollah would choose to retaliate against Jews in Argentina. It was already at war with the Israeli forces in Lebanon, where the group was employing suicide bomb attacks in an effort to pressure Israel to end its occupation. Hezbollah had a second easy retaliatory option available, which was to launch Katyusha rockets across the border into Israeli territory.

That is exactly what Hezbollah did to retaliate for the Israeli killing of some 100 Lebanese civilians in the town of Qana in 1996. That episode inspired greater anger toward Israel among Hezbollah militants than any other event in the 1990s, according to Boston University Hezbollah specialist Augustus Richard Norton. If Hezbollah responded to this Israeli provocation with Katyusha rockets on Israeli territory, it hardly makes sense that it would have responded to a lesser Israeli offense by designing an ambitious international attack on Argentine Jews with no connection to the Israeli occupation.

The Frame-up

The keystone of the Argentine case was Carlos Alberto Telleldin, a used-car salesman with a record of shady dealings with both criminals and the police--and a Shiite last name. On July 10, 1994, Telleldin sold the white Trafic the police claimed was the suicide car to a man he described as having a Central American accent. Nine days after the bombing Telleldin was arrested on suspicion of being an accomplice to the crime.

The police claimed they were led to Telleldin by the serial number on the van's engine block, which was found in the rubble. But it would have been a remarkable lapse for the organizers of what was otherwise a very professional bombing to have left intact such a visible identification mark, one that any car thief knows how to erase. That should have been a clue that the attack was likely not orchestrated by Hezbollah, whose bomb experts were well-known by US intelligence analysts to have been clever enough, in blowing up the American Embassy in Beirut in 1983, to avoid leaving behind any forensic evidence that would lead back to them. It should also have raised questions about whether that evidence was planted by the police themselves.

It is now clear that the Menem government's real purpose in arresting Telleldin was to get him to finger those they wanted to blame for the bombing. In January 1995, Telleldin was visited by retired army Capt. Hector Pedro Vergez, a part-time agent for SIDE, the Argentine intelligence agency, who offered him $1 million and his freedom if he would identify one of five Lebanese nationals detained in Paraguay in September 2004--men the CIA said might be Hezbollah militants--as the person to whom he had sold the van. After Telleldin refused to go along with the scheme, an Argentine judge found that there was no evidence on which to detain the alleged militants.

The Buenos Aires court, which threw out the case against Telleldin in 2004, determined that a federal judge, Luisa Riva Aramayo, met with Telleldin in 1995 to discuss another possibility--paying him to testify that he had sold the van to several high-ranking figures in the Buenos Aires provincial police who were allies of Menem's political rival, Eduardo Duhalde. In July 1996, Judge Juan Jose Galeano, who was overseeing the investigation, offered Telleldin $400,000 to implicate those police officers as accomplices in the bombing. (A videotape made secretly by SIDE agents and aired on television in April 1997 showed Galeano negotiating the bribe.) A month after making the offer to Telleldin, Galeano charged three senior Buenos Aires police officials with having involvement in the bombing, based on Telleldin's testimony.

"The Whole Iran Thing Seemed Kind of Flimsy"

In an interview last May James Cheek, Clinton's Ambassador to Argentina at the time of the bombing, told me, "To my knowledge, there was never any real evidence [of Iranian responsibility]. They never came up with anything." The hottest lead in the case, he recalled, was an Iranian defector named Manoucher Moatamer, who "supposedly had all this information." But Moatamer turned out to be only a dissatisfied low-ranking official without the knowledge of government decision-making that he had claimed. "We finally decided that he wasn't credible," Cheek recalled. Ron Goddard, then deputy chief of the US Mission in Buenos Aires, confirmed Cheek's account. He recalled that investigators found nothing linking Iran to the bombing. "The whole Iran thing seemed kind of flimsy," Goddard said.

James Bernazzani, then the head of the FBI's Hezbollah office, was directed in October 1997 to assemble a team of specialists to go to Buenos Aires and put the AMIA case to rest. Bernazzani, now head of the agency's New Orleans office, recalled in a November 2006 interview how he arrived to find that the Argentine investigation of the AMIA bombing had found no real evidence of Iranian or Hezbollah involvement. The only clues suggesting an Iranian link to the bombing at that time, according to Bernazzani, were a surveillance tape of Iranian cultural attache Mohsen Rabbani shopping for a white Trafic van and an analysis of telephone calls made in the weeks before the bombing.

Shortly after the bombing, the biggest Buenos Aires daily newspaper, Clarin, published a story, leaked to it by Judge Galeano, that Argentine intelligence had taped Rabbani shopping for a white Trafic "months" before the bombing. A summary of the warrants for the arrest of Rabbani and six other Iranians in 2006 continued to refer to "indisputable documents" proving that Rabbani had visited car dealers to look for a van like the one allegedly used in the bombing. In fact, the intelligence report on the surveillance of Rabbani submitted to Galeano ten days after the bombing shows that the day Rabbani looked at a car dealer's white Trafic was May 1, 1993--fifteen months before the bombing and long before Argentine prosecutors have claimed Iran decided to target AMIA.

In the absence of any concrete evidence, SIDE turned to "link analysis" of telephone records to make a circumstantial case for Iranian guilt. The SIDE analysts argued that a series of telephone calls made between July 1 and July 18, 1994, to a mobile phone in the Brazilian border city of Foz de Iguazu must have been made by the "operational group" for the bombing--and that a call allegedly made on a cellphone belonging to Rabbani could be connected to this same group. The FBI's Bernazzani told me he was appalled by SIDE's use of link analysis to establish responsibility. "It can be very dangerous," he told me. "Using that analysis, you could link my telephone to bin Laden's." Bernazzani said the conclusions reached by the Argentine investigators were merely "speculation" and said that neither he nor officials in Washington had taken it seriously as evidence pointing to Iran.

Then, in 2000, one more defector surfaced with a new tale of Iranian responsibility. Abdolghassem Mesbahi, who claimed he was once the third-ranking man in Iran's intelligence services, told Galeano the decision to bomb the AMIA had been made at a meeting of senior Iranian officials, including President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, on August 14, 1993. But Mesbahi was soon discredited. Bernazzani told me American intelligence officials believed that by 2000, Mesbahi had long since lost his access to Iranian intelligence, that he was "poor, even broke" and ready to "provide testimony to any country on any case involving Iran."

A Questionable Informant

Bernazzani admitted to me that until 2003, the case against Iran was merely "circumstantial." But he claimed a breakthrough came that year, with the identification of the alleged suicide bomber as Ibrahim Hussein Berro, a Lebanese Hezbollah militant, who, according to a Lebanese radio broadcast, was killed in a military operation against Israeli forces in southern Lebanon in September 1984, two months after the AMIA bombing. "We are satisfied that we have identified the bomber based on the totality of the data streams," Bernazzani told me, citing "a combination of physical and witness evidence." But the Berro identification, too, was marked by evidence of fabrication and manipulation.

The official story is that Berro's name was passed on to SIDE and the CIA by a Lebanese informant in June 2001. The informant claimed he had befriended a former Hezbollah chauffeur and assistant to top Hezbollah leaders named Abu Mohamad Yassin, who told him that a Hezbollah militant named "Brru" was the suicide bomber. That story is suspicious on several counts, the most obvious being that intelligence agencies almost never reveal the name, or even the former position, of an actual informant.

The September 2003 court testimony of Patricio Pfinnen, the SIDE official in charge of the AMIA bombing investigation until he was fired in January 2002, casts serious doubt on the informant's credibility. Pfinnen testified that when he and his colleagues went back to the informant with more questions, "something went wrong with the information, or they were lying to us." Pfinnen said his team ultimately discarded the Berro theory because the sources in Lebanon had "failed and were not certain." He concluded, "I have my doubts about [Berro] being the person who was immolated."

After Pfinnen was fired in a power struggle within the intelligence agency, SIDE named Berro as the suicide bomber in a secret report. In March 2003, just after that report was completed, Ha'aretz reported that the Mossad had not only identified the bomber as Berro but possessed a transcript of Berro's farewell telephone call to Lebanon before the bombing, during which he told his parents that he was going to "join" his brother, who had been killed in a suicide bombing in Lebanon. When the 2006 indictment was released, however, it became clear that no evidence of such a call existed.

In September 2004, a Buenos Aires court acquitted Telleldin and the police officials who had been jailed years earlier, and in August 2005 Judge Galeano was impeached and removed from office. But Galeano's successors, prosecutors Alberto Nisman and Marcelo Martinez Burgos, pressed on, hoping to convince the world that they could identify Berro as the bomber. They visited Detroit, Michigan, where they interviewed two brothers of Berro and obtained photos of Berro from them. They then turned to the only witness who claimed she had seen the white Trafic at the scene of the crime--Nicolasa Romero.

In November 2005, Nisman and Burgos announced that Romero had identified Berro from the Detroit photos as the same person she had seen just before the bombing. Romero, on the other hand, said she "could not be completely certain" that Berro was the man at the scene. In court testimony, in fact, she had said she had not recognized Berro from the first set of set of four photographs she had been shown or even from a second set. She finally saw some "similarity in the face" in one of the Berro photographs, but only after she was shown a police sketch based on her description after the bombing.

Bernazzani told me that the FBI team in Buenos Aires had discovered DNA evidence that was assumed to have come from the suicide bomber in an evidence locker, and Nisman took a DNA sample from one of Berro's brothers during his visit in September 2005. "I would assume, though I don't know, that once we got the brother's DNA, they compared them," he said. But Nisman claimed to a reporter in 2006 that samples had been contaminated. Significantly, the Argentine indictment of the Iranians makes no mention of the DNA evidence.

Despite a case against Iran that lacked credible forensic or eyewitness evidence and relied heavily on dubious intelligence and a discredited defector's testimony, Nisman and Burgos drafted their indictment against six former Iranian officials in 2006. However, the government of Néstor Kirchner displayed doubts about going forward with a legal case. According to the Forward newspaper, when American Jewish groups pressed Kirchner's wife, Christina, about the indictments at a UN General Assembly in New York in September 2006, she indicated that there was no firm date for any further judicial action against Iran. Yet the indictment was released the following month.

Both the main lawyer representing the AMIA, Miguel Bronfman, and Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral, who later issued the arrest warrants for the Iranians, told the BBC last May that pressure from Washington was instrumental in the sudden decision to issue the indictments the following month. Corral indicated that he had no doubt that the Argentine authorities had been urged to "join in international attempts to isolate the regime in Tehran."

A senior White House official just called the AMIA case a "very clear definition of what Iranian state sponsorship of terrorism means." In fact, the US insistence on pinning that crime on Iran in order to isolate the Tehran regime, even though it had no evidence to support that accusation, is a perfect definition of cynical creation of an accusation in the service of power interests.

Rove Said to Have Received Iranian Proposal in 2003

Karl Rove, then White House senior political advisor for President George W. Bush, received a copy of the secret Iranian proposal for negotiations with the United States from former Republican Congressman Bob Ney in early May 2003, according to an Iranian-American scholar who was then on his Congressional staff.

Ney, who pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced to prison in January for his role in the Jack Abramov lobbying scandal, was named by former aide Trita Parsi as an intermediary who took a copy of the Iranian proposal to the White House.

Parsi is now a specialist on Iranian national security policy and president of the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC), a non-partisan organisation that supports a negotiated settlement of the conflict between Iran and the United States.

Parsi revealed that the document was delivered specifically to Rove, in an exclusive interview with IPS. Within two hours of the delivery of the document, according to Parsi, Ney received a phone call from Rove confirming his receipt of the document. Parsi said the proposal was delivered to Rove the same week that the State Department received it by fax, which was on or about May 4, 2003, according to the cover letter accompanying it.

Ney was chosen by Swiss Ambassador in Tehran Tim Guldimann to carry the Iranian proposal to the White House, according to Parsi, because he knew the Ohio Congressman to be the only Farsi-speaking member of Congress and particularly interested in Iran.

Guldimann helped the Iranians draft the proposal and passed it on the United States.

The White House press office had not responded to a request for a comment on the account naming Rove as the recipient of the Iranian proposal by midday Friday.

The Iranian proposal for negotiations, which suggested that Iran was willing to consider far-reaching compromises on its nuclear programme, relations with Hezbollah and Hamas and support for a Palestinian peace agreement with Israel as part of a larger peace agreement with the United States, has become a contentious issue between the Bush administration and its critics in and out of Congress.

The identification of Rove as a recipient of the secret Iranian proposal throws new light on the question of who in the Bush administration was aware of the Iranian proposal at the time. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied in Congressional testimony last week that she had seen the Iranian offer in 2003 and even chastised former State Department, National Security Council and Central Intelligence Agency official Flynt Leverett for having failed to bring it to her attention at the time.

At a Capital Hill conference on U.S.-Iran relations Wednesday, sponsored by the New America Foundation and NIAC, Leverett responded to Rice's criticism by saying it was "unthinkable that it would not have been brought to her attention" and demanding an apology from her.

In May 2003, both Rove and Rice were considered to be part of Bush's inner circle on foreign policy matters, along with Vice President Dick Cheney. When Bush met with South Korea President Roh Moo-hyun on May 13, for example, the only advisers accompanying him were Rove and Rice.

The revelation that Rove received a copy of the Iranian negotiating proposal within days of the receipt of the State Department makes it appear very unlikely that Rice was not immediately made aware of the document.

The new account of the transmission of a second copy of the Iranian proposal to the White House coincided with the release Wednesday of both the actual text of the proposal as received in Washington and of the cover memo by Ambassador Guldimann which accompanied it. The two documents contradict the suggestion by Rice and by other State Department officials that Guldimann was acting on his own in forwarding the proposal, and that it did not reflect the intentions of the Iranian government.

The two documents were made available on the website of the Washington Post online edition in connection with a story by Post reporter Glenn Kessler. Kessler wrote that they had been provided by "a source who felt its contents were mischaracterised by State Department officials."

The memo from Guldimann, dated May 4, confirms previous reports that the Iranian proposal was drafted by the Iranian Ambassador in Paris Sadeq Kharrazi, in consultation with Guldimann but only after extensive discussions between Kharrazi and the three top figures in Iranian foreign policy: Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, then President Mohammad Khatami and his Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi.

As the memo notes, Ambassador Kharrazi, a former deputy foreign minister, was extremely well connected to the very top level of Iranian leadership. Khamenei's son is married to his sister, and the foreign minister is his uncle.

The memo recounts that a first draft of what was to be called a "roadmap" was done by Ambassador Kharazzi with Guldimann's help during a long discussion on Apr. 21, 2003. It was that document that Parsi later obtained from Iranian sources and has been reported in previous accounts of the proposal. After that initial meeting Kharrazi had two long meetings with Khamenei, President Khatami and the foreign minister which he reported as lasting a total of four hours.

According to Kharrazi's account, the three leaders agreed on "85%-90%" of the draft roadmap, with the president and foreign minister voicing no objection and Khamenei raising "some reservations as for some points". Guldimann reported in his memo that Kharrazi asked him at a meeting on May 2 to make "some minor changes in the previous draft," especially on the Middle East peace process.

In the final draft, which has now been made public, the bullet point on "U.S. aims" on the Middle East regarding the Palestinian-Israeli peace issue was changed from "acceptance of the Arab League Beirut declaration (Saudi initiative, two states-approach)" to simply "acceptance of the two-states-approach".

The intention behind that shift is made clearer by the only other substantive change in the newly released final draft. In the discussion of a possible "decision on the first mutual steps" the document suggests that the Iranians would issue a "statement that it supports a peaceful solution in the Middle East, that it accepts a solution which is accepted by the Palestinians and that it follows with interest the discussion on the Roadmap, presented by the Quartet." That formula would allow the Iranian side to maintain a position of support for "the Palestinians" in negotiations with Washington.

Guldimann's memo reports that Kharrazi told him all three leaders supported the initiative. But the Iranian diplomat asked him if he could pass the proposal "very confidentially to someone very high in the DoS [Department of State] in order to get to know the U.S. reaction on it." He also warned that, "if the initiative failed, and if anything about the new Iranian flexibility outline in it became known, they would -- also for internal reasons -- not be bound by it."

That was a clear indication that the Iranian leaders were afraid that their conservative critics would attack them if such a proposal did not bring desired results, charging that it showed weakness.

The Exit Strategy

It is now time for the United States to pursue the one policy option that has been missing from the national discussion of Iraq: the negotiation of a peace settlement with the insurgents that would involve the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops in return for the surrender of the insurgents and the reintegration of the Sunni region into the post-Saddam political system.

In recent weeks there have been multiple indications that some insurgent leaders as well as some in the election-winning United Iraqi Alliance are actively interested in such a settlement. Time revealed that certain insurgent leaders had met with U.S. diplomats and intelligence officers about a settlement under which they would surrender.

Then former U.S. client and member of the United Iraqi Alliance, Ahmed Chalabi, told Agence-France Presse on March 3 that he had been meeting with the Muslim Scholars Association, which is known to have contacts with the insurgents, about “cooperating together to end the foreign presence in Iraq so [the insurgents] do not feel they have to fight to defend the country against foreign occupation.” Just a day before that, a member of the Muslim Scholars Association had informed Xinhua news agency that they had held “clandestine negotiations with the leaders of the Iraqi resistance on a possible ceasefire in the Anbar province.”

The Bush administration has long discouraged any thought about negotiations, portraying the Iraqi insurgency as a terrorist alliance between the foreign jihadists aligned with Osama bin Laden and high-ranking Baathist security officials who seek to restore Saddam’s regime. That propaganda line misrepresents the actual composition and leadership of the insurgency. High-ranking officers of Saddam’s elite security services did start the insurgency, and some of them may still harbor the dream of recreating the old regime. But the insurgency quickly evolved into something quite different.

During the last half of 2003, tens of thousands of young men, most of them former soldiers in the disbanded Iraqi army who could not get a job, joined the insurgency, not out of loyalty to Saddam but to drive out the occupation forces and to avenge the killing or mistreatment of family members or friends in U.S. “cordon and search” operations. By early 2004, the original Saddamist “Party of Return” was only one of more than 35 insurgent operations in Iraq.

Many of the local leaders of insurgent groups are clearly not Saddam loyalists but former mid-level officers from the security services, as noted recently by an adviser to the Pentagon on Iraq in The Washington Post. These young Baathists and the Sunni clerics who joined the resistance in 2004 are the insurgent leaders who are likely to be most interested in a peace settlement.

Given the decentralized nature of the insurgency, some leaders would undoubtedly refuse to participate in the agreement at first. However, if the agreement called for a phased series of mutual cease-fire agreements starting in cities in the Sunni triangle, followed quickly by almost simultaneous insurgent demobilization and U.S. withdrawal, the successful implementation of the first U.S. withdrawal would certainly bring about a dramatic change in the political climate in Sunni areas. Especially if those who surrendered were honored locally for their role in achieving that withdrawal, the pressures on initial holdouts to participate in the process could quickly become irresistible, except for the small hard core of Saddamists whose participation in Saddam’s crimes would make them ineligible for amnesty.

The hundreds of foreign terrorists in Iraq would not profit from such a settlement. They have been able to avoid capture only because they have been tolerated by the predominantly secular leadership of the Sunni insurgents. But that dynamic could easily change if a peace agreement were negotiated ending the U.S. and coalition occupation.

The foreign jihadists’ fanatically anti-Shiite brand of Islam and some of their tactics, such as kidnappings and executions of hostages and terror bombings of Shiite worshippers, have created serous conflict between them and nationalist leaders of the anti-occupation forces, including those who are Sunni clerics. There have been numerous indications over the past year that the nationalist leaders would like to be rid of the foreign jihadists once the Americans have withdrawn. If peace negotiations were to begin, therefore, it is likely that the foreign terrorists would start packing their bags, knowing that the shelter they have had in the Sunni areas would disappear.

Despite the fact that such a peace accord would serve the interests of both Iraqis and Americans, there is a serious danger that the Bush administration will not support negotiations, much less initiate them. Last July, Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi declared through his spokesman his desire to offer a general amnesty for any insurgents who would surrender. U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte insisted, however, that insurgents who killed Americans should not be amnestied, and Allawi dropped his plan.

The evidence thus far suggests that the meetings between U.S. officers and insurgent leaders were only to explore the possibility of splitting them off from the rest of the insurgency without ending the occupation. Deeper negotiations are unlikely as the Bush administration may have an ulterior motive for seeking to avert a negotiated settlement of the war. Such a settlement would eliminate the main leverage Washington has on a Shiite-dominated regime in Iraq—its dependence on the U.S. military presence. Once the Sunni insurgency is no longer the main problem facing Iraq, it can be expected that a conflict would soon emerge between U.S. regional strategy and a Shiite leadership that is determined to maintain close relations with Iran.

If the opportunity for peace is lost because Bush spurns negotiations, everyone will lose except for the foreign Islamic terrorists in Iraq. If the war continues, they will have been given a virtual guarantee that they can continue using Iraq to recruit and train terrorists for an indefinite period. The time to try peace diplomacy is now, not many months or years from now, after thousand or tens of thousands more have died needlessly.

BRAND NEW STORIES