The Price of Liberty
Pat Dollard claims that Mohammed Javad Sharaf-Zadeh, aka the Iranian "diplomat" Jalal Sharafi, and the top Iranian terror-master in Iraq, was traded for the 15 British sailors. Eli Lake of the NY Sun, describes who his sources say Jalal Sharafi was:
The decision to release Jalal Sharafi on Tuesday was made at the White House, according to an administration official who asked to be anonymous because of the sensitivity of the information. The release took place over the objections of some commanders in the field. Mr. Sharafi, the second secretary of the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad, is believed by American military intelligence also to be a member of the lethal Quds Force, the terrorist-supporting organization whose members have been fair game for American soldiers and Iraqi allies since a change in the rules of engagement was issued in December.
Former Spook, who predicted that a swap was going down, noted Eli Lake's article generally confirmed his thesis. The NY Sun article continues:
At the same time, many Iranians remain in American custody, including the five men alleged to be members of the Quds Force. They were captured January 10 during a raid of an Iranian outpost in Irbil. Yesterday, Iran's press reported that Washington had agreed to allow emissaries from Tehran to visit the five Iranians being held. Prime Minister Maliki has also called for their release.
Pentagon and White House spokesmen on Tuesday and Wednesday insisted publicly that the release of Mr. Sharafi was solely an Iraqi decision. Indeed, when Mr. Sharafi was kidnapped in February, Pentagon spokesman said that his abduction was not the work of any members of multi-national forces in Iraq. The Iranians, through diplomatic channels, formally accused America of having ordered the abduction.
The administration official yesterday said that Mr. Sharafi's capture was not ordered by American forces, but he was interrogated in a facility overseen by both Iraqi and American commanders.
The official statements seem like a singularly unconvincing denial that the US had bent the rules and taken an enemy combatant who may or may not have had diplomatic immunity and squeezed him dry. The Iranians came back with a pretty operation to obtain their release though apparently their trading cards weren't good enough to win more than a partial swap.
The interesting question is whether the Iranian counter-strike on a vulnerable British boarding team has now forced a reversion of the rules of engagement back to their old "don't touch" status. I hope it doesn't because the quality of the swap shows that the Coalition was clearly ahead of in at least the observable part of the clandestine game.
In the meantime, it looks like the Iranians have found their soft spot and are concentrating their fire on the British forces. Six British soldiers have died in quick succession in Basra. This report from the Guardian.
Four soldiers on patrol in a Warrior armoured vehicle in Basra were killed, and another seriously injured, by a powerful roadside bomb in one of the worst attacks on British forces since the invasion of Iraq four years ago.
They were killed after coming under fire from what army spokesmen called Shia "rogue militia" suspected of having links with Iran. Photographs showed Iraqis appearing to celebrate the soldiers' deaths. A man held up a British military camouflage helmet while a young child grasped a piece of charred metal that was said to have come from the wreckage of the Warrior. Other men waved and smiled.
Speaking outside Number 10 as the freed sailors and marines were touching down in the UK, Tony Blair acknowledged that even as Britain rejoiced, the "sober and ugly reality" of the conflict had returned. Six British soldiers have now died in Basra since Sunday.
Using a noticeably harder tone than he had been able to adopt about Iran during the 13-day crisis, he said: "Now it is far too early to say the particular terrorist act that killed our forces was an act committed by terrorists who were backed by any elements of the Iranian regime, so I make no allegation in respect of that particular incident.
"But the general picture, as I said before, is that there are elements, at least, of the Iranian regime that are backing, financing, arming, supporting terrorism in Iraq and I repeat that our forces are there specifically at the request of the Iraqi government and with the full authority of the United Nations".
The smiling and waving while brandishing the fragments from the smashed Warrior AFV was a nice touch. Once the British showed the inclination to retreat from Iraq it was to be expected that they would targeted even further. Once it is perceived that the US is being driven out of Iraq, the incentive will be to attack the rearguard even harder, though the last men out will probably be pelted with shoes, which is a Middle Eastern insult.