Real Men Go To Tehran

The Roman historian Tacitus observed: “Crime once exposed has no refuge but in audacity.”

What better example than Tony Blair’s declaration at an October 7 press conference:

“There is no justification for Iran or any other country interfering in Iraq.”? (Adrian Blomfield and Anton La Guardia, ‘Stop meddling in Iraq, Blair tells Teheran,’ Daily Telegraph, October 7, 2005)

In a sane society, Blair’s audacity would have been denounced far and wide. But in more than 70 mentions we saw in the British press, there were just two published letters and one editorial, in the Daily Mirror, indicating the obvious. This was all the Mirror had to say:

“Tony Blair says he doesn’t want other nations interfering in Iraq. That sounds familiar. It is exactly what America and the UK were accused of after invading that country.” (Leader, ‘Drifting to war in Iran,’ Daily Mirror, October 7, 2005)

America and the UK were, and are, accused of rather more than that, as Noam Chomsky points out in his new book Imperial Ambitions:

“It’s as open an act of aggression as there has been in modern history, a major war crime. This is the crime for which the Nazis were hanged at Nuremberg, the act of aggression. Everything else was secondary. And here’s a clear and open example.” (Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian, Imperial Ambitions, Hamish Hamilton, 2005, p.35)

We had to turn to the web to find some honest commentary on Blair‘s warning to Iran. Craig Murray, former Ambassador to the Central Asian Republic of Uzbekistan, wrote in his weblog:

“Last week Tony Blair finally shifted to displaying the kind of lack of self-knowledge that marks the truly delusional leader. He warned that Iran had ‘No right’ to interfere in the internal affairs of Iraq.

“Apparently his mind was undisturbed by any visions of pots and kettles. The risible, monstrous hypocrisy of his statement had no effect on the studied earnest look he has adopted.” (Murray, ‘Beyond parody, way beyond a joke,’, October 9, 2005)

The Mirror noted that Blair insisted five times in his press conference that he was just telling journalists “exactly what I know”. This +should+ have brought back painful memories of claims made about Iraqi WMD. In a February 2003 interview with the BBC, Blair said:

“I mean this is what our intelligence services are telling us and it’s difficult because, you know, either they’re simply making the whole thing up or this is what they are telling me, as the prime minister.” (Blair On Iraq – A Newsnight Special, February 6, 2003)

As we now know, it was Blair, not the intelligence services, who was “making the whole thing up“.

Blair was speaking the day after an anonymous British official accused Iran of supplying Iraqi insurgents with sophisticated roadside bombs that have killed eight British soldiers and two security guards since May.

The official claimed the bombs were designed and manufactured by the Tehran-backed guerrilla group Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, and smuggled to Iraq via Iran. He blamed the smuggling of the bombs on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, answerable to Iran’s highest executive body, the national security council. He also suggested that the Iranian government’s motives were “to tie down the ‘coalition’ in Iraq”. (Ewen MacAskill, Simon Tisdall and Richard Norton-Taylor, ‘UK accuses Iran over killings of soldiers,’ The Guardian, October 6, 2005)

Despite obvious reasons for scepticism – not least the 2002-2003 US-UK campaign of lies over Iraqi WMD – much of the British media was happy to take Blair at his word. Anton La Guardia commented in the Daily Telegraph:

“The best guess is that Iran has adopted a ‘ballots and bullets’ policy: helping the insurgency to sap America’s strength while supporting political allies to take power in Baghdad. So far, the policy has been highly successful.” (La Guardia, ‘Troops are pawns in vicious Iran game,’ Daily Telegraph, October 6, 2005)

Channel 4 News observed: “It’s clear the government doesn’t want to talk openly about it and so make it into a full-blooded diplomatic incident, yet at the same time they want Iran to know that they know.” (Snowmail, October 5, 2005)

After everything that has happened in Iraq, this simply +had+ to read: “they want Iran to know what they +claim+ they know”.

The BBC’s Paul Reynolds noted that the British accusation came “after months of frustration“. Reynolds explained that William Patey, the British ambassador to Baghdad, “has time and again complained to his Iranian counterpart that there is a traceable link” between the bombs that have killed British soldiers “and devices used by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, which is backed by Iran”. (Reynolds, ’Hardball diplomacy goes public,’, October 5, 2005)

Again, we were to believe the frustration was real, not a propaganda concoction.

Britain’s most popular tabloid, the Sun, fed its readers the usual dose of poison. Political editor, Trevor Kavanagh, wrote:

“We are now to all intents and purposes at war with Iran. It may still be a war of words – and worried Western leaders will do their best to keep it like that. But if oil-hungry Teheran has its way, this is doomed to turn to bloody conflict.”

As for Tony Blair:

“If he has sleepless nights, it is the prospect of an expansionary and merciless Iran that keeps him awake. His nightmare is fuelled by certain knowledge that nothing – apart from unimaginable military action – can stop the mullahs acquiring nuclear power and then nuclear weapons.” (Kavanagh, ‘Why West is paying for going soft on Iran,’ The Sun, October 12, 2005)

We presume Kavanagh merely cut and pasted his own text from 2002-2003 replacing ‘Iraq’ with ‘Iran’ and ‘Saddam Hussein’ with ‘the mullahs’.

It is Kavanagh’s job to learn nothing from the immediate past, to affect wide-eyed naivety even as he pushes a pitiless, realpolitik version of the world on his readers. The poet Aryasura’s bitter lament rings all too true 1,500 years on:

“Alas for those shameless ones who, in the name of expediency, oppress humanity and extend amorality. I do not see that such actions have gained you either pleasure or joy.” (Aryasura, The Marvelous Companion, Dharma, 1983, pp.225-6)

Wimps Go To Baghdad!

In reality, of course, there are good reasons for questioning the government’s account. According to military experts it is not at all clear who supplied the Basra bombs. “We can’t be definite about this one,” a senior officer told the Sunday Herald. “The force of the explosions is so great that there’s very little left in the way of clues to let us know the weapons’ provenance. In any case, you can find all you want to know about how to build them on the internet.” (Trevor Royle, ‘Bombings: confusion and contradiction over Iran’s role,’ Sunday Herald, October 9, 2005)

According to defence sources, basic armour-piercing weapons are easy to manufacture, relying on principles discovered more than a century ago and in use since World War Two. Military officials said there was “so much expertise in Iraq the bombs could have been made by former members of Saddam Hussein’s security forces”. (Ewen MacAskill, op., cit)

The Guardian reported the same sources as suggesting that blaming the Iranian Revolutionary Guard for supplying the bombs was “going too far“. (Ibid) Even if the technology did originate in Iran there is no certainty that this is the result of deliberate Iranian government policy. The long and porous border between Iran and Iraq makes policing extremely difficult.

Asked if there was any official Iranian involvement in arms supplies to Iraq, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita replied earlier this month: “That I am not aware of.” (Royle, op., cit)

When asked the same question, Brigadier General Carter Ham, US deputy director for regional operations, replied that bomb-making equipment was probably being smuggled into Iraq, but denied knowledge of any Iranian complicity in the operations: “It’s not known to the best of my understanding.” (Ibid)

Trevor Royle commented in the Sunday Herald:

“It is difficult to find any reason why Iran would want to foster violence ahead of this week’s constitutional referendum in Iraq and there is no evidence to suggest that Iran is intent on destabilising the present interim administration. A victory for the Shia factions would be likely to lead to the new government building friendly links with its near neighbour and there would be nothing to gain by souring that relationship.

“It is possible that Iran might want to draw attention away from its nuclear weapons programme by causing trouble in Iraq but, again, it is not easy to see what might be gained by following that course of action at a time when they under such intense international scrutiny.” (Ibid)

The “coalition” is naturally keen to paint the insurgency as an illegitimate campaign instigated by fanatics, including foreign fanatics, against the wishes of ordinary Iraqis. But in September the Centre for Strategic and International Studies reported that foreign elements made up some 4%-10% of the total Iraqi insurgence, which was estimated to be around 30,000. The study concluded:

“There are strong indications that the largest component of the insurgency is composed of Iraqis.” (, September 19, 2005)

Journalist Robert Fisk of the Independent, who has regularly reported from inside Iraq over the past three years, describes claims of “Iranians coming over the border” as “a total myth.” (, October 12, 2005)

It is also reasonable to question whether the latest denunciations are part of a campaign to demonise Iran ahead of a looming US-UK attack. Scott Ritter – former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq – argued recently that plans for an assault on Iran are being drawn up and acted upon “right now… as we speak”. In preparation, Ritter says, the US is “already committing acts of war on a daily basis”, including reconnaissance missions and other cross-border operations, some of which are being carried out on its behalf by the terrorist group, the Mojahedin-e Khalq. Activities that are violations of Iran’s national sovereignty. (David Wearing, ‘Expects predict US attack on Iran,’ October 11, 2005;

Fred Halliday, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics points out that in Washington in 2003, the fashionable phrase was, “wimps go to Baghdad, real men go to Tehran”. (Ibid)


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Write to Paul Reynolds, the BBC’s World Affairs correspondent
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Write to Jon Snow at Channel 4 News
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Write to Trevor Kavanagh, political editor of the Sun
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