Thursday, January 11, 2007

Irbil Raid

I had hoped to do a blog round-up, highlighting more of the reactions to the not-so-subtle threats directed towards Iran and Syria in the President's speech last night, but as is often the case, events will outstrip one's ability to react to them. Only hours before the speech, American forces raided the Iranian consulate in the Kurdish city of Irbil:
The IRNA report said that U.S. forces entered the Iranian consulate in Irbil, in Iraq's Kurdish-dominated north, and seized computers, documents and other items. The report said five staff members were taken into custody.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry appealed to the Iraqi government to obtain the release of its personnel.

U.S. officials have not confirmed the raid but did say in a press release that they had taken six people into custody in Irbil during the course of "routine security operations." The release said the individuals were "suspected of being closely tied" to attacks on Iraqi and U.S. forces.

The operations were anything but "routine." American forces do not operate with impunity in Kurdish-controlled regions, which are largely stable and largely under the control of Kurdish security forces. Also, it would appear the Kurdish forces did not know about the operation in advance, and were none too pleased that it was carried out without their permission:
A U.S. raid on an Iranian government office in the Iraqi city of Irbil is a violation of the region's sovereignty and of international immunity laws, says the Kurdish regional government.

Kurdish officials expressed "concern and condemnation" over the pre-dawn operation, urging the U.S. military to release Iranian staff arrested during the raid, which came hours after President Bush's speech Wednesday night.

They expressed more than "concern" (audio):
The operation infuriated the Kurds, traditionally Washington's closest allies in Iraq. Hours later, American troops and Kurdish militiaman cocked their weapons at each other during a tense hour-long standoff in another part of this city.

The standoff ended only when American helicopters arrived to evacuate the troops, which Kurdish officials claimed had been placed under arrest for operating in the city without authorization.

I'm quite confident that the right-wing bloggers are ecstatic over the raid conducted on the Iranian consulate, and the "message" sent to Iran. But one has to wonder whether whatever message was delivered, and whatever short-term tactical gains were made (assuming these Iranians were actually involved in aiding the militias, and sending message simply wasn't the only point of the operation) outweighs the damage incidents like this do to our relationship to the Kurds, who thus far have aided us in our quest to stabilize Iraq (and who in fact will be sending a brigade of their own fighters to help stabilize Baghdad in the new operations.) The confrontation afterwards between Kurdish and American forces makes it quite clear that the Kurds were unaware of the operation in advance and disapprove of it in general, and are sending their own message to us by detaining our forces. And this should serve as a reminder to the blog and pundit hawks that escalating the scope and the scale of violence in any situation can result in events getting out of control; I'm sure the Bush administration did not anticipate that the Kurds would threaten to fire on our soldiers operating in the city. Even an operation seemingly as restrained as raiding a consulate (compared to bombing Iran at least) can have unforseen consequences for our soldiers.

UPDATE: Was this raid more than a message? Steve Clemons thinks we should at least be wondering if this wasn't also an effort to provoke Iran (via Josh Marshall.) As Clemons concludes:
If this is the case, the debate about adding four brigades to Iraq is pathetic. The situation will get even hotter than it now is, worsening the American position and exposing the fact that to fight Iran both within the borders of Iraq and into Iranian territory, there are not enough troops in the theatre.

Bush may really have pushed the escalation pedal more than any of us realize.

Sending a message is one thing. Escalating the war into Iran? Far beyond anything we've seen to this point, and an effort that could widen what is rapidly becoming a regional war.

UPDATE II: According to Al Jazeera, Maliki has ordered the Mahdi army to disarm (via War & Piece).


Nat-Wu said...

Good grief, Bush is going to have us in WWIII if we let him go on.

Xanthippas said...

Well, I can guarantee that whatever happens, we'll be broken of our oil addiction one way or another. So, there's the upside.