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Thursday, October 06, 2005 

Iran supposedly supplying Iraqi insurgents with sophisticated roadside bombs.

It's that time of the month again when it's time to rattle the sabre against one of the Middle Eastern countries bordering Iraq. This month it's the turn of Iran, already in the west's black books for daring to have a nuclear programme, despite their right to have one under the nuclear proliferation treaty.

Yesterday it was a "senior British official" who claimed that the Iranians had been supplying Iraqi insurgents in the south of Iraq with infra-red roadside bombs, against which the British forces have little defence. Today it was the turn of the Dear Leader, who was giving a press conference in the company of the current Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani.

Today, Mr Blair - who admitted it was not certain that there was an Iranian connection - said he had been anxious about new kinds of explosives being used by insurgents "for some time".

"What is clear is that there have been new explosive devices used - not just against British troops but elsewhere in Iraq," he said.

"The particular nature of those devices leads us either to Iranian elements or to Hizbullah [the Tehran-backed guerilla group based in Lebanon]."

Mr Blair told Tehran not to interfere in Iraq, saying British troops were in the country with the support of the UN to help in the development of a "sovereign, democratic government".

He argued it could be the case that the "country next door" to Iraq was anxious about having a democratic neighbour, saying: "What's it going to be like if you have a free Iraq ... run by the rule of law, with a free press ... run by the will of the people?"

Not certain, but we'll blurt out that we think it's the Iranians anyway. Also of note:

There are differing views within the British intelligence community as to the level of Tehran's involvement. British military sources insisted last night there was no hard evidence that the explosives technology came from Iran. Defence sources suggested that blaming the IRGC for supplying the explosives technology was going too far. Other military officials said there was "so much expertise in Iraq" the bombs could have been made by former members of Saddam Hussein's security forces.

The difference in opinion may reflect concern on the part of the military that a sharpening confrontation with Iran could increase the chances of further attacks on British troops.

It's pretty easy to blame someone else for the troubles that you're having, as the US has demonstrated repeatedly by blaming Syria for various misdeeds. As the second report suggests, it's by no means proven that Iran has anything to do with the supplying of "insurgents" with such advanced weaponry. Iran has benefited measurably by the current situation in Iraq, and it's unlikely they would do much to alter it. As it stands, if the new constitution is passed, the Shia south will become autonomous to the same degree as the Kurdish north, leaving the Sunni triangle without oil and little else of value. The Iranian backed grouping the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq is also favourite to win a majority in the south in the elections in December, if they go ahead. Why would Iran risk this happening by supplying Sunni militants? What is more likely is that the insurgency is getting more members from previous conflicts, such as in Lebanon, or they are receiving training from those veterans. Of course, it's easier to blame a country than admit that you are in danger of losing a battle.

Also worth mentioning is Blair's rather patronising comments about Iran being anxious about having a democratic neighbour. While Iran is far from having completely free and fair elections, it's also the most democratic nation in the Middle East, only challenged for that title by Palestine, who are only allowed elections when the Israelis let them.

Britain's comments on Iran also have tones of anger over the situation to do with Iran's nuclear programme, following the new president Mahmoud Ahmadinejaid's rather combatant speech at the UN. While the IAEA has referred Iran's stance to the UN Security Council, the most which will happen is that Iran will again be warned. Both China and Russia are the main recipients of Iranian oil and gas, and it's hard to expect them backing sanctions which could damage such business dealings. At the moment then, it looks like stalemate. That Israel, India and Pakistan all have nuclear weapons but neglected to sign the non-proliferation treaty doesn't matter; Iran's always been the US's enemy since the revolution of 79 which overthrew the Shah. Even if they abandoned their nuclear programme, the current administration would be not be satisfied.

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