Bloggers cite rumors of US "secret war" with Iran and Syria

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Map of Iraq showing the borders with Iran and Syria.

Rumors are circulating in the United States capital of Washington that President Bush has declared a "secret, informal war" on Iran and Syria, according to a pair of blogs written by apparent Washington insiders.

"Washington intelligence, military and foreign policy circles are abuzz today with speculation that the President, yesterday or in recent days, sent a secret Executive Order to the Secretary of Defense and to the Director of the CIA to launch military operations against Syria and Iran," blogger and think-tank fellow Steven Clemons wrote on Thursday on his site, The Washington Note. The Plank, hosted by the New Republic Magazine, posted an entry on Friday about similar speculation around the capital U.S. city.

Both blogs cited questions asked by Senator Joseph Biden to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a congressional hearing on Thursday. The hearing was a planned follow-up by the administration to answer concerns raised by President Bush's address to the nation on Wednesday where he announced the commitment to send more troops to Iraq. Biden asked several questions about whether the president had plans to send troops across the borders of Iran and Syria.

"Does that mean the president has plans to cross the Syrian and/or Iranian border to pursue those persons or individuals or governments providing that help?" Biden asked.

In an extensive answer, the secretary did not seem to explicitly deny it: "...What we're really trying to do here which is to protect our forces and that we are doing that by seeking out these networks that we know are operating in Iraq. We are doing it through intelligence. We are then able, as we did on the 21st of December, to go after these groups where we find them. In that case, we then asked the Iraqi government to declare them persona non grata and expel them from the country because they were holding diplomatic passports."

She soon added: "...We do need to work with our allies to make certain that they have the defense capacity that they need against growing Iranian military build-up, that they feel that we are going to be a presence in the Persian Gulf region as we have been, and that we establish confidence with the states with which we have long alliances, that we will help defend their interests. And that's what the president had in mind."

The Plank was quick to note that the "secret war" was, at this point, just a rumor. Later that day, The New York Times published a report on an interview conducted in Condoleezza Rice's office Friday afternoon, before she left for a trip to the Middle East. "There has been a decision to go after these networks," she said, referring to President Bush. The U.S. military was authorized by the president to take action against Iranian operatives in Iraq months ago.

In the same report, the New York Times quoted the new secretary of defense Robert M. Gates as saying, "We believe that we can interrupt these networks that are providing support, through actions inside the territory of Iraq, that there is no need to attack targets in Iran itself."

Though he is Commander in Chief of the U.S. armed forces, the president does not have the constitutional authority to declare war (only the Congress does). The president, however, can order military strikes without declaring war.

The U.S. has long explored possible attacks on Iran, according to Seymour Hersh, who has written three articles on deteriorating US-Iran relations for the New Yorker magazine.

The US, acting through Turkey, has supported Israeli intelligence collection and propaganda broadcasts supporting the ethnic Azeri nationalist movement in the north of Iran, according to Scott Ritter, former UNSCOM weapons inspector in Iraq, since at least 1996.

Anticipation of possible US military action against Iran has only intensified since Bush's midweek speech in which he announced 21,500 more soldiers would be sent to Iraq. In the same speech, he warned Iran and Syria against involvement in the Iraq conflict.

Hours after the speech, U.S. forces raided the Iranian Consulate in the town of Arbil, in the Kurdish area of Iraq, detaining several Iranian officials.