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Is Iraq Just a Distraction?

What if the noisy preparations for a regime change in Iraq are part of an elaborate ploy?

December 4, 2002

What if the noisy preparations for a regime change in Iraq are part of an elaborate ploy?

The world — along with the Iraqis — has been made to believe that Washington is planning to attack Iraq. In reality, the president may have some other target in mind. For instance, Iran.

Of course, George W. is still a novice in world affairs and his knowledge of geography is notoriously shaky. For him, it would be a completely understandable error to confuse Iraq and Iran.

Both countries are Muslim, located somewhere in the Middle East and produce a lot of oil. Furthermore, their six-letter names — "Eye"-raq and "Eye"-ran — differ by a single letter.

A closer look at the map shows that the two countries are dangerously close together. All it would take for U.S. troops to end up in Iran — instead of Iraq — is a wrong turn upon leaving Turkey.

But there may also be plenty of fundamental reasons why the United States would want to attack Iran — and to disguise its true intentions by seeming to wage war on Iraq.

Iraq is a defanged and caged tiger, but Iran is a rising and loose one — with the possibility of acquiring nuclear weapons in five to seven years.

In fact, in his 2002 State of the Union address, George W. Bush specifically singled out Iran, along with Iraq and North Korea, as one of the three countries making up the "Axis of Evil.”

He got a lot of criticism from foreign policy commentators for including Iran in the “Axis.” After all, they argued, Iran is in the midst of a gallant struggle for democracy, unlike totalitarian Iraq and North Korea.

But by making a case against Iraq, the U.S. military could still build up a massive presence in the region. The Bush Administration could then attack Iran — justifying to the State Department the inclusion of Iran in the "Axis."

Unlike Saddam Hussein, whose Iraq is a secular country and whose political movement, Ba’ath, is founded on socialist, not Islamic, principles, Iran is a radical Muslim state still run by the Ayatollahs — despite the best effort of reformists to change that.

It feuded with the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, but reportedly gave sanctuary to many al Qaeda and Taliban fighters when the Northern Alliance came to power.

The Iranian street, fed up with the revolutionary clerics that run their affairs, would probably welcome an American “liberation.” That is, as long as it is not too bloody.

Whether the United States attacks Iraq or Iran, Mr. Bush's backers in the oil industry would still be happy. True, Iraq has the world's second largest proven reserves of crude oil, after Saudi Arabia. But Iran is not far behind, with 92 billion barrels of crude in the ground, vs. Iraq's 110 billion barrels.

Moreover, in Iraq, Russian oil companies have struck a number of lucrative deals with Saddam's regime. According to the Russian media, the White House had to promise Russian President Vladimir Putin that after a regime change in Baghdad the commercial interests of major Russian oil companies, such as Lukoil and Tatneft, would be safeguarded. No such problem exists in Iran.

Moreover, there are many reasons why Iraq is not ripe for a regime change — and Iran is. First, Iran is more homogenous ethnically and would have little of the internal strife that will inevitably result from the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The United States is already trying to prevent Afghanistan from exploding along ethnic lines, and hardly needs another regional powder keg on its hands.

Moreover, while Iraq has been isolated for the past 12 years, Iran has developed a considerable educated, well-traveled middle class. And, while repression in Iraq has been unabated, in Iran, there has been a steady democratic reform process, taking place often against the wishes of the repressive Ayatollahs.

In the case of Iran, the talk of the difficulty of a regime change would be a mere smokescreen. In fact, most Iranians would welcome it.

But the real roots of the decision to strike Iran may be deeper. After all, Iraq, for all the trouble it has caused the United States over the past decade, is a defeated nation. Its actions — the occupation of neighboring Kuwait — offended Washington and it was swiftly and severely punished.

Iran is a totally different case. During the Iranian revolution, radical Revolutionary Guards took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, ransacked it and held a group of Americans hostage for over a year. The great superpower was humiliated and made to look extremely weak.

Chasing the Ayatollahs out of Tehran would even up the score.

And, if the invasion is coupled with democracy-building in Tehran, what better way to apologize for a 1953 CIA-supported coup d’etat?

This coup d'etat saw the popularly elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadeq fall from power — and fed much of the anti-Americanism that led to the hostage-taking in the first place.