FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Hostage Game

by PATRICK COCKBURN

 

Arbil

At 3am on January 11, US military forces raided the Iranian liaison office in the Kurdish capital Arbil and detained five Iranian officials who are still prisoners.

The attack marked a significant escalation in the confrontation between the US and Iran.

Britain is inevitably involved in this as America’s only important foreign ally in Iraq. In fact the US raid could have had even more significant consequences if the Americans had captured the Iranian official they were targeting. Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of the Kurdish president Massoud Barzani, told me that “they were after Mohammed Jafari, the deputy chairman of Iran’s National Security Council.”

It is a measure of the difficulty America has in getting its close allies in Iraq, notably the Kurds, to join it in confronting Iran that Mr Jafari was in Arbil as part of an Iranian delegation. He had just visited Mr Barzani in his mountain-top headquarters at Salahudin and earlier he met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in Dokan in eastern Kurdistan.

The political links between Iran and Iraq will be difficult to sever. Most Iraqi political leaders, Arab or Kurdish, were exiles in Iran or in Syria. They are also conscious that one day the US will withdraw from Iraq but Iran will always be there.

Some businessmen in Arbil scent profitable opportunities as the UN tightens its embargo on trade with Iran, announced at the weekend by the UN. As official trade is squeezed, they foresee remunerative possibilities for smuggling goods in and out of Iran.

Economically, northern Iraq needs Iran more than Iran needs it. Iranian petrol commands a premium price because it is considered pure and Kurdistan is eager to increase its supply of electricity, of which it is permanently short, from Iran.

In terms of US domestic and international politics, an American confrontation with Iran on the nuclear issue probably makes sense. Washington can rally support against Iran in a way that it cannot do when it looks for support for its occupation of Iraq. Seeing the US bogged down in Iraq, the Iranians may have overplaying their hand in developing nuclear power.

Inside Iraq, confrontation with Iran does not make much political sense. All America’s allies in Iraq have close ties with Iran. The only anti-Iranian community in Iraq is the five million Sunni who have been fighting the US for the past four years.

The US raid on Arbil in January would have had far more serious consequences if Mr Jafari had been abducted. As it was, the seizure of five Iranian officials seems to have set the scene for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards seizing 15 British sailors and marines.

PATRICK COCKBURN is the author of ‘The Occupation: War, resistance and daily life in Iraq‘, a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award for best non-fiction book of 2006.

 

More articles by:

Patrick Cockburn is the author of  The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution.

Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
Susan Roberts
Are Modern Cities Sustainable?
Joyce Nelson
Canada vs. Venezuela: Have the Koch Brothers Captured Canada’s Left?
Geoff Dutton
America Loves Islamic Terrorists (Abroad): ISIS as Proxy US Mercenaries
Mike Whitney
The Obnoxious Pence Shows Why Korea Must End US Occupation
Joseph Natoli
In the Post-Truth Classroom
John Eskow
One More Slaughter, One More Piece of Evidence: Racism is a Terminal Mental Disease
John W. Whitehead
War Spending Will Bankrupt America
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Latest Insulting Proposal: Converting SNAP into a Canned Goods Distribution Program
Robert Fantina
Guns, Violence and the United States
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Zaps Oxygen
John Laforge
$1.74 Trillion for H-bomb Profiteers and “Fake” Cleanups
CJ Hopkins
The War on Dissent: the Specter of Divisiveness
Peter A. Coclanis
Chipotle Bell
Anders Sandström – Joona-Hermanni Mäkinen
Ways Forward for the Left
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Winning Hearts and Minds
Tommy Raskin
Syrian Quicksand
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Still Tries to Push Dangerous Drug Class
Jill Richardson
The Attorney General Thinks Aspirin Helps Severe Pain – He’s Wrong
Mike Miller
Herb March: a Legend Deserved
Ann Garrison
If the Democrats Were Decent
Renee Parsons
The Times, They are a-Changing
Howard Gregory
The Democrats Must Campaign to End Trickle-Down Economics
Sean Keller
Agriculture and Autonomy in the Middle East
Ron Jacobs
Re-Visiting Gonzo
Eileen Appelbaum
Rapid Job Growth, More Education Fail to Translate into Higher Wages for Health Care Workers
Ralph Nader
Shernoff, Bidart, and Echeverria—Wide-Ranging Lawyers for the People
Chris Zinda
The Meaning of Virginia Park
Robert Koehler
War and Poverty: A Compromise with Hell
Mike Bader – Mike Garrity
Senator Tester Must Stop Playing Politics With Public Lands
Kenneth Culton
No Time for Olympic Inspired Nationalism
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Final Days of the Regime
Irene Tung – Teófilo Reyes
Tips are for Servers Not CEOs
Randy Shields
Yahoomans in Paradise – This is L.A. to Me
Thomas Knapp
No Huawei! US Spy Chiefs Reverse Course on Phone Spying
Mel Gurtov
Was There Really a Breakthrough in US-North Korea Relations?
David Swanson
Witness Out of Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
George Brandis, the Rule of Law and Populism
Dean Baker
The Washington Post’s Long-Running Attack on Unions
Andrew Stewart
Providence Public School Teachers Fight Back at City Hall
Stephen Cooper
Majestic Meditations with Jesse Royal: the Interview
David Yearsley
Olympic Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail