US President George W. Bush has found a new target for his second term if he is re-elected in November. It is Iraq's neighbour, Iran.
Tensions between the United States and Iran are building.
On Thursday the bipartisan panel probing the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington cleared Iraq of links to the "operational" masterminds, which was previously used as an excuse to justify war against Baghdad. But the panel's report spotlighted Iran's links to the al-Qaida organization.
The commissioners ruled out any direct involvement by Iraq or its former President Saddam Hussein in the attacks, instead reserving their most accusatory tone for Iran another member of Bush's so-called "axis of evil."
The panel said Iranian operatives maintained contacts with al-Qaida for years and may have provided transit for at least eight of the 19 men who crashed hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The commission said that "intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al-Qaida figures" after Osama bin Laden returned to Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996.
Before the report was released, Iran's alleged links were widely covered by the US media.
Time and Newsweek, in similar reports quoting congressional, commission and government sources, reported that Iran relaxed border controls and provided "clean" passports for the so-called "muscle hijackers" to travel to and from bin Laden's camps between October 2000 and February 2001.
Newsweek said the Iranian finding in the commission's report is based largely on a December 2001 memo discovered buried in the files of the US National Security Agency.
The memo, according to Newsweek, says "Iranian border inspectors were instructed not to place stamps in the passports of al-Qaeda fighters from Saudi Arabia who were travelling from bin Laden's camps through Iran."
Still, we heard similar ruses the US gave for targeting Iran with what it did to Iraq.
"We are digging into the facts to determine if there was an Iranian connection (to September 11)," Bush told reporters this week, adding that he had long expressed his concerns about Iran.
"After all, it is a totalitarian society where free people are not allowed to exercise their rights as human beings," he said.
Iraq was labelled "totalitarian" too, before it was "liberated" by the US-led coalition forces.
Virtually from the moment of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the White House began searching for substantive links between Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network and Saddam Hussein.
After the search for weapons of mass destruction one of the US justifications for invading Iraq proved futile, the Bush administration turned to other defenses such as forcibly ousting Hussein.
Earlier this month the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is conducting a separate investigation of the administration's rationale for launching the war against Iraq, reported finding "no credible information" that Iraq possessed "foreknowledge of the September 11 attacks or any other al-Qaida strike."
All the motives for the war on Iraq have fallen apart.
Now the US is pointing its fingers at Iran and threatening to get tough.
Since May, the US Congress has been moving towards a joint resolution calling for punitive action against Iran if it does not fully reveal details of its nuclear arms programme.
In language similar to the pre-war resolution on Iraq, a recent House resolution authorized the use of "all appropriate means" to deter, dissuade and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weaponry terminology often used to approve pre-emptive military force. The resolution passed 376 to 3, exhibiting Washington's growing anxiety about Iran.
At a media briefing on Wednesday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the US is working to get Iran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
McClellan claimed the US is engaged in a broad war on terrorism thanks to the threats it faces in the world.
"It's a strategy that recognizes that we must confront threats before it's too late, before they fully materialize," McClellan said. "And that's what we're doing around the world in not only Iran, but North Korea and elsewhere. And we've been pursuing these efforts for quite some time."
Tough tones were also heard from American politicians.
In a forceful address at the Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus in Jerusalem on Monday, US Senator Sam Brownback (Rep., Kansas) labelled Iran the leading supporter of terrorism around the globe.
Urging the world to identify and then expose evil, Brownback called on Iran, Syria, Sudan and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) to renounce terrorism, singling out Iran as what he attempted to make others to believe to be the "epicentre" of international terrorist funding.
A decision on how to deal with Iran will not be made until after the US elections in November, the Kansas senator said, noting that America is awaiting the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Iran's nuclear activity.
In his address, Brownback, who serves on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, noted that 46 non-democratic countries are left in the world, with the bulk of them in the Middle East.
With the US presidential election around the corner, the Bush administration's Iran policy may remain unclear.
However, President Bush has promised that if re-elected in November he will make regime change in Iran his new target.
As early as almost three years ago Iran was blacklisted with Iraq, Syria, Sudan and the DPRK.
A US government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the London Times that military action would not be overt in changing Iran, but rather the US would work to stir revolts in the country and hope to topple the current conservative religious leadership.
"If George Bush is re-elected there will be much more intervention in the internal affairs of Iran," the official was quoted as saying.
He hinted at a possible military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, explaining there was a window of opportunity for destroying Iran's main nuclear complex at Bushehr next year that would close if Russia delivered crucial fuel rods.
Should all these mean that Iran will come into the military crosshairs of the United States? Following the US and Britain, Australia released its reports on Thursday admitting it used "thin, ambiguous and incomplete" intelligence on Iraq's WMD to justify waging war on Iraq.
How could the intelligence services in these countries have been so wrong about Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction?
All these countries' reports ignored the role of politicians and laid all the blame at the door of the intelligence agencies.
It is a travesty of justice.
How can the US trust the reliability of its intelligence on Iran after the information on Iraq turned out to be so incomplete?
Source: China Daily