The Centrifuge As Vortex
What links fifteen British sailors, 3,000 centrifuges and an Iraqi ground battle? Iran. Let's start with the centrifuges. Former Spook believes that Iran's recent announcement that it is ready to begin the "industrial" scale production of enriched uranium is a dangerous step towards attaining a nuclear weapon. They aren't there yet, but they are working on it -- and by inflating his country's nuclear capability Ahmadinejad, in the absence of a will to use force -- simply increases the amount of concessions he can extract from a terrified West by his bluster. Former Spook writes:
As we've noted in the past, there are still a number of unanswered questions about Iran and its HEU production capabilities. While a 3,000 centrifuge cascade could eventually produce a nuclear weapon, that process will take time, and only if the array is operating properly and generating HEU at sufficient "purity" levels for weapons production. Uranium enriched at low levels (around three percent) can be used to fuel a nuclear reactor; it takes a much higher grade of HEU (90% or higher) for weapons production. At this point in its nuclear development, it's doubtful that Iran has achieved that latter benchmark. There are also questions about how long it might take Tehran to get the larger centrifuge cascade to operate properly, creating more delays for the nuclear program.
But today's announcement was less a demonstration of Iran's nuclear prowress, and more about President Ahmadinejad's continuing propaganda campaign. Using his "good cop" routine last week in "pardoning" the British hostages, the Iranian leader is now back in his "bad cop" role, reminding adversaries that Tehran will continue to pursue its nuclear options, whatever the cost.
In this scenario both the seizure of the British hostages and the blustering over the centrifuges are calculated ploys to advance Teheran's plans. Preposterous? Can humiliating Britain and thumbing its nose at the Security Council actually make the West more obsequious towards Teheran? Captain Ed finds evidence that it does in a Guardian op-ed arguing that the tale of the British hostages must be suppressed to avoid angering Iran, the better to "dialogue" with the Ayatollahs. The Guardian says, "we need dialogue with Iran. By pumping up the propaganda war with the sale of captives' stories, that only becomes harder."
As long as the Iraq occupation continues, Iran is bound to treat Britain and the US as hostile intruders. The west is fighting counterinsurgency wars on Iran's eastern and western borders. Iranian politics is awash with sympathisers for the insurgents. Moderate leadership is blighted by daily atrocities to coreligionists in and around Baghdad. While Tehran has no interest in the Taliban in Afghanistan, it has emotional and religious attachment to the Shia cause in Iraq. No government can stand aloof from the invasion and occupation of a neighbouring state by a foreign power. To expect otherwise of Iran is naive.
This of course, would be like arguing that Stalin was upset that Hitler was toppled. Sometimes the Guardian argues that Iran is delighted that America disposed of its arch-enemy Saddam and is patiently waiting to take over a state that was once its mortal enemy. But today it is convenient to argue the opposite: that Teheran is outraged, outraged there is a new government of Iraq is dominated by a Shi'ite majority. Both work so long as America can be tarred.
Stratfor thinks the British hostage-taking and the nuclear bluster are both part of a steady Iranian drive to power and a reponse to American countermoves against it. In Stratfor's view, Iran is engaged in a deadly struggle against the United States in which possession of Iraq is the key to promoting -- or frustrating its regional ambitions.
The Iranians tend to promote their nuclear program one step ahead of what they have actually achieved. That is, the nuclear announcement a year ago was likely indicative of what the Iranian scientists had achieved in a test run, and Monday's announcement is the culmination of experiments conducted over the past year that have brought Iran to a stage at which its perfected enrichment is around 3 percent to 5 percent with two cascades of 164 centrifuges -- still well below the needed threshold for a solid weapons program, much less a power program that would take dozens of times more.
... it is important to examine the purpose of Iran's nuclear program in the context of the ongoing negotiations between Washington and Tehran over Iraq. ... Iran and the United States are both aggressively moving to try to gain the upper hand in these talks. The Iranians played their most recent hand, the British detainee incident, quite skillfully. In what was seen as a risky maneuver, Iran in one swoop called the U.S. and British bluff that military force is a viable option against Iran, humiliated the British government through the public confessions from the detainees and, finally, demonstrated that it can effectively negotiate and deliver -- just as it could in a potential Iraq deal. Though the British detainee incident helped strengthen Iran's bargaining position, it provided Iran with only a minor advance. The United States did not waste time in making its next move with a new military offensive called Operation Black Eagle against Iran's Shiite militant allies in the town of Ad Diwaniyeh south of Baghdad, Iraq.
This is why Iran relies heavily on the nuclear card in these negotiations. When Iranian dissidents leaked details of Iran's covert nuclear program in 2002, Iran's chances of achieving full nuclear capability without facing a direct threat from Israel or the United States were severely crippled. When Washington made clear that it did not feel the need to negotiate with Iran over the future of Iraq in the spring of 2003 -- when the war was still in its early stages and the United States was still denying a Sunni insurgency existed -- Iran made the strategic decision to ratchet up the nuclear threat and utilize its militant assets throughout the region to bring Washington back to the negotiating table on Iran's terms.
The Washington Post recently described the return of American troops to Injun country, Sadr City in Baghdad, with the establishing of a Joint Security Station there. The Post argues the Shi'ite neighborhood is still Sadr's and Iran's outpost, and the Shi'ite militias fired an EFP warhead at the police station to remind them of the fact. Not that they need reminding. ""We need to bring a bunch of troops into Sadr and [expletive] this place up," said Spec. Josh Saykally, 25, of Minocqua, Wis., meaning soldiers should be living in the center of the district, not just on the edge." Bill Roggio provides some clues into what Operation Black Eagle in Diwaniyah and maneuvers near Sadr City may be up to.
Operation Black Eagle, the security operation against Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army in the central Shia city of Diwaniyah, has entered its fourth day. The last news from the city indicates 39 fighters have been captured and "several" killed. Two known insurgent leaders have also been captured during the operation.
The Diwaniyah operations demonstrates how the Baghdad Security Plan is now expanding beyond Baghdad and even the Baghdad belts. Diwaniyah is about 90 miles southeast of Baghdad. While the city is much more distant than other cities and regions where the Coalition is focusing operations, such as Baqubah and the Diyala River Valley, it still has a strategic importance.
Preparations for the Diwaniyah operation could be seen in the central and southern regions of Baghdad. Omar at Iraq the Model reported an unusual influx of armored vehicles in Rusafa, just south of Sadr City on April 5. It appears U.S. and Iraqi forces positioned armor to both block reinforcements from Sadr City as and act as a quick reaction force support operations in Diwaniyah if the need arose.
The events in Sadr City, Diwaniyah and the fifteen sailors may be part of some larger but deadly minuet. A minuet which could be about to get more complicated. Iran's recent show of strength, or rather the West's recent demonstration of its weakness, means the situation may be ripe for Russia to play the spoiler's game. Pajamas Media reports that Moscow may be playing both sides of the street.
Pajamas Media has information – via its Special Correspondent Ardeshir Arian who monitors the BBC Persian Service - that Russia is already violating the United Nations sanctions against Iran that the Russians themselves voted for and supported. Mohammed Bagher Zolghadr, one of the 15 top Islamic Republic officials specifically designated by the UN for travel limitation (among other sanctions, including blocking of bank accounts), has traveled to Russia without incident. (A letter to the Security Council is required for such trips, but was never sent.)
Zolghadr is no harmless minor official. Currently Deputy Minister of the Intelligence Department (overseeing the police, etc.) and formerly Deputy Commander of the Revolutionary Guard, Zolghadr is associated with Mustafa Pour-Mohammadi and the notorious 1998 “serial murders” of dissident intellectuals.
Iraq, far from being irrelevant to the War on Terror is apparently an inner cog within a greater wheel, one which spans not only American domestic politics, but geopolitical rivalry. April may be the fourth anniversary of the fall of Saddam, but as noted in earlier posts it is also the third anniversary of the Shi'ite uprising. Perhaps future historians will conclude that the phrase "Iraq War" will be the least descriptive term of all.