пятница, 20 июня 2008 г.

Two soldiers, two civilians: another day of death in Iraq

BRITAIN suffered one of its bleakest days in post-war Iraq yesterday, with the deaths of two soldiers patrolling in Basra and two journalists in Baghdad.

The soldiers, from the Queen's Dragoon Guards, were killed by a bomb that tore through the limited armour plating on their Land Rover. The journalists, a cameraman and soundman working for CBS, the American network, were the victims of a car bomb.

The killings brought to 11 the number of British deaths this month -the highest toll since the invasion in 2003 -and the total number of attacks on British troops this year to nearly 300.

In Basra province alone, there were 180 incidents between January and mid May.

Military sources said that all involved enemy fire of some kind, including roadside bombs, mortar fire and rocket-propelled grenade attacks.

Death visits those living and working in Baghdad every day -a further 32 people were killed yesterday -but sometimes it strikes very close to home. Kimberly Dozier, a CBS correspondent seriously wounded in the bombing that killed the British journalists, is a trusted colleague. We met last at the weekend at a lunch with a US army general, when she was as warm and engaging as ever.

Yesterday Ms Dozier, 39, and her television crew were riding in a US Army humvee by Tahrir Square, in central Baghdad, when a car bomb blew up alongside their vehicle. They had gone out to film a special Memorial Day broadcast but for some reason stopped on their way back to base and were killed standing in the open hatch.

The veteran cameraman Paul Douglas, 48, and soundman James Brolan, 42, both Britons, were killed instantly. An American soldier and an Iraqi contractor also died.

Ms Dozier, who has reported from Iraq, Israel and Afghanistan, and who used to report for the BBC World Service was operated on in Baghdad then flown to a US military hospital in Germany in a critical condition. She holds both British and American citizenship.

The explosion was the type of event that the three journalists had reported on a hundred times in the past, perhaps even from the same dirty, dilapidated city plaza where they were attacked.

I can only imagine what they were thinking when they started out on their embed with a joint Iraqi-US patrol that morning. Probably for a second they had the fleeting thought that this could be the time when things went wrong. I know I've had that feeling a million times here. But the moment passes and you shut it out, or it would be impossible to work in Baghdad.

They were probably happy to be free of their hotel doing what they loved, reporting. It is likely that they had a great story and the time was flying,all their anxiety faded. They knew that they would soon be back at their hotel, away from Baghdad's grim streets. Then the convoy made its fatal pause.

One does not have to spend too much time in Iraq to know someone, whether American, British, Iraqi or some other nationality, who has died, been kidnapped or seriously wounded. Trouble finds you and sometimes it just hits too close to home.

When I heard the news about the CBS crew, I was waiting with a colleague for a ride out of Baghdad's green zone. We were looking at a grim maze of blast walls, barbed wire and Iraqi soldiers gripping Kalashnikovs. There was not much either of us could say. We wondered why it happened to them. We'd had our tight scrapes and came out fine and wondered if there was any logic to who lived and died, or if it was all just completely random.

I have known Kimberly Dozier on and off for the past three years. She was someone you liked seeing. Tall, smiling, with blonde hair, she was friendly and always upbeat.

She went out with a team that morning she trusted. Mr Douglas, from Wootton, Bedfordshire, was a veteran cameraman, whose colleagues loved him for his soft-spoken and calm demeanour. In Baghdad, his team affectionately called him "blast wall" because of his big size. He had worked for CBS in danger zones that included Afghanistan, Pakistan, Rwanda and Bosnia. He leaves a wife, Linda, daughters Kelly, 29, and Joanne, 26, and three grandchildren.

James Brolan, from Tufnell Park, London, was a freelancer who had worked with CBS in Baghdad and Afghanistan. He was part of the CBS News team that received a 2006 Overseas Press Club Award for its reporting on the Pakistan earthquake.

Mr Brolan and his wife of 20 years, Geraldine, have two children, Sam, 17, and Agatha, 12. His family described him as "the best dad, the best husband and the best mate to be with in a tight spot out in the field".

32 bodies found

The bodies of 32 security force recruits were found in Baghdad yesterday and a wave of car bombs hit the city while Iraq's prime minister-designate vowed to unite all ethnic and sectarian groups.

Jawad al-Maliki is working on choosing a cabinet, which will share power among Shia Muslims, Sunni Arabs and Kurds in a bid to end a Sunni insurgency and sectarian violence.

Mr Maliki said healing the divisions in post-war Iraq was his biggest job as its first permanent prime minister. "The main challenge that I see is the existence of a torn relationship in the Iraqi community with all the sectarian and ethnic backgrounds," said the tough-talking Shia politician.

Mr Maliki has four weeks to choose a new cabinet and form a government of national unity, widely seen as the only way to halt the sectarian violence.

The cabinet and Mr Maliki's own appointment, made by president Jalal Talabani on Saturday, must be ratified by parliament.

A key test of his ability to lead and to unite will be his choice of interior minister, perhaps the most sensitive post given the brutal past many Iraqis endured under Saddam Hussein's rule and a present racked by relentless instability and violence.

"We want nothing but security and a safe community in which we can live and raise our children safely," said Wael Khamis (44). "All we have now is a hope and a dream of a better life. The coming government is our last chance. My wish is to take my family on a car ride without fear."

With Mr Maliki in the process of forming a coalition and ending four months of political paralysis, Shia neighbour Iran said there was no longer any need for talks with the US to discuss Iraq's problems.

"By God's will we think that right now, because of the presence of a permanent government of Iraq, there is no need," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in Tehran.

But while the political deadlock appears to be over, the bloodshed goes on.

The 32 bodies were found in two places, interior ministry sources said. All the victims were from the rebel stronghold of Ramadi, 110km (70 miles) west of the capital.

Two car bombs near Baghdad's Mustansiriya University killed at least five people and wounded 25, officials said. A car bomb near the health ministry killed three people and wounded 25. Four other bombings in the city wounded at least 27 people.

Guerrillas attacked a police station near Saddam's home town of Tikrit, killing four policemen.

In Baghdad's heavily fortified so-called Green Zone, the court trying Saddam for crimes against humanity heard that signatures of the former leader and six co-accused on documents linking them to the killing of 148 Shias in the 1980s were genuine.

The prosecution had demanded that the court commission a team of criminal experts to authenticate signatures and handwriting of the defendants.

Saddam and his half-brother Barzan al-Tikriti have refused to give samples of their writing, but both have said there was no crime in prosecuting the 148 from the village of Dujail because they were accused of trying to kill the former Iraqi president.

The trial was adjourned until May 15th to give the defence time to present its witnesses in the next session.

U.S. losing credibility over Iran

In the early days of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld boldly warned Syria -- and especially Iran -- against intervening. He threatened the U.S. would hold them accountable.

It turned out to be another in the series of Bush administration big talk that time exposed as hollow.

In the sixth year of war, Iran loomed as the elephant in the congressional chambers where America's top commander, Gen. David Petraeus, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker testified last week. In an address a day later, President George W. Bush made the same points.

The testimony and the presidential remarks focused on the numbers of American troops that remain committed on the battlefield, likely for the rest of this year or much of it.

However, hovering in the background was what had long been plain. It's no secret that Iran has been deeply involved in Iraq. In fact, it has not one but two dogs in the fight, supporting at various times and occasions either one or the other of the Shiite factions that came to blows last month in Basra and Baghdad. Perhaps even mentoring both at the same time.

Tehran supports the Iraqi Supreme Islamic Council in its efforts to create an autonomous Shiite entity in southern Iraq, adjacent to Iran, where much of the country's oil reserves are located. Muqtada al-Sadr heads the most effective Shiite militia, and opposes a separate region. His militia was assaulted by the largely Shiite Iraqi army in Basra.

When the Iraqi army, on the orders of Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki, attacked in Basra ostensibly to bring the Sadrist militia and others under control, they were fought off.

A truce was arranged by parties negotiating in -- where else? -- Iran, where al-Sadr had gone, as he has in the past when he felt himself threatened, although on the surface he opposed Iranian hegemonic ambitions.

Ambassador Crocker put his finger on what is going on, saying that Iran is pushing the "Lebanonization" of Iraq, by supporting militias and other proxies to do its bidding, much as it has successfully accomplished in Lebanon.

Gen. Petraeus said Tehran was playing a "destructive role" by supplying sophisticated weaponry, including 107-mm rockets that were fired at the Green Zone where the U.S. embassy and military headquarters and the Iraqi government are located, while also fielding Iranian-trained "special groups" in the current fighting.

Endorsing Petraeus' troop level recommendations, Bush reiterated for the umpteenth time the warning for Iran not to do what it has been doing all along, training, supplying and funding the militants.

"America will act to protect our interests and our troops and our Iraqi partners," he asserted. Just how the U.S. would do what it has not been able to do so far was left unexplained.

On the one hand, Tehran has been constant in demanding an American withdrawal. On the other hand, having much-stressed U.S. forces mired in Iraq would apparently benefit it to the degree that it impairs Washington's options.

Iran has to be feeling its oats. When the American president, or Cabinet officials, visited Iraq, they often came in the dark of night, were surrounded by secrecy and security, and were hustled from one safe precinct to another.

When Iranian President Mahmoud Amadinejad arrived recently, he moved comparatively freely through Baghdad to receive the honors of a state visit from a government that treats Tehran as a friendly neighbor. Left behind in the pages of history was the war Saddam's Iraq and Iran fought from 1980 to 1988, in which an estimated 1 million died.

Meanwhile, last week Amadinejad told the world that Iran would triple its number of nuclear centrifuges to the 9,000 necessary for uranium enrichment, which could in time make possible the production of nuclear weapons.

A journalist's view of Iraq

NBC reporter Richard Engel spent the past five years in Iraq, living in the "Red Zone" where his hotel room was once blown apart, making friends with Iraqi nationals and American soldiers, and coming to one conclusion: Iran is winning the Iraq war.

Iran is winning the war, Engel says in "War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq" (Simon & Schuster: $28), because it makes common cause with the Shiite majority in Iraq, because it is rebuilding Iraqi holy places, and because it is not America.

Perhaps it's best to start this book at the end. At the end, Engel travels to Najef and watches as an American general tries to explain why paperwork and red tape are keeping him from helping rebuild the city's airport runway.

"Iran, however, knew how to do business in Iraq. Iran had already built the airport's control towers, no tender necessary. Iran was also building a power plant and had even connected parts of southern Iraq to the Iranian electrical grid, effectively running an extension cord against the border. The Iraqis loved it."

"My Five Years in Iraq" may be the best journalistic view of the war. Engel has been there from the beginning, has close friends among the American military and had high hopes the invasion could make Iraq better.

He also has a chilling understanding of some of the religious conflicts in Iraq.

He notes that Shiites still mourn the1680 murder of the Prophet Mohammad's grandson, Ali, and says "the ceremonies are the most powerful and emotive outpouring of grief, religious zeal and passion I have ever seen . . ."

Here's the chilling part: "But the lamentations of the death (of Ali Hussein) are not merely religious. They are how many Shiites see their return to power in Iraq after the U.S. invasion. For Iraqi Shiites, the ascension to power has been not just a political victory, but a moment of religious ecstasy, the completion of Hussein's mission, which American troops unwittingly helped fulfill."

Gratitude, then, goes not to American liberators, but to Allah, who used them, after centuries, to fulfill his will.

In the meantime, Engel continues, Sunni Muslims consider Shiite rituals to "be beyond sacrilege, they are blasphemous."

All of which makes one wonder if the Iraqi civil war will ever be settled.

Engel talks about the pre-surge violence in Baghdad, about seeing a dog walking down a street carrying a human head. He talks about a taxi driver who carries a bloody knife and specializes in killing women, "I kill whores, women who go to the Green Zone to have sex with Americans."

He talks about spending more than an hour with President Bush in the White House and coming away with the conclusion that "It seemed to me that he was not, as many had accused, a front man for Dick Cheney's policies. This was his policy. He was the skipper. We were just passengers. The president had done a lot of reading. Since he'd invaded Iraq, he'd earned two Ph.Ds' worth of information about the country and the Middle East. He'd met all the players and had access to information that only a president could have. But he still had no idea how to deal with Arabs."

He writes about the surge, suggests it is the right policy enacted four years too late.

This review skips around the book. Engel tells his story in chronological order. There is just one constant: America doesn't really understand Iraq. Iran does. That's a bad combination.

U.S. Wary of Warming Syrian-Turkish Ties

As the president addresses the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there’s growing concern on another front in the region. Turkey, a key ally of the U.S., is rapidly improving its relationship with Syria. Syria and the U.S. are at odds over Lebanon, the Iraq War, Iran, not to mention the Middle East peace process.

NPR’s Deborah Amos has this report.

DEBORAH AMOS: This is how Syria’s ambassador in Washington Imad Moustapha talks about his country’s ties with Turkey.

Mr. IMAD MOUSTAPHA (Ambassador to Washington, Syria): I think we are going through what you might call as a honeymoon as the best possible relations between any two neighborly countries of the world.

AMOS: Such enthusiasm over Turkey is a worry for the U.S., says Omer Taspinar, a Turkish analyst at the U.S. War College.

Mr. OMER TASPINAR (Turkish Analyst; U.S. War College): The Syrians have a lot to gain. That’s why it’s definitely in their interest to send a signal they’re not isolated, that they have Turkey on their side.

AMOS: And do they?

Mr. TASPINAR: Yes. Syria is perceived as the underdog against the U.S. So, the more the U.S. says, don’t talk to Syria, I think, the more it will become attractive for Turkish public opinion.

Unidentified Woman: (Arabic spoken)

AMOS: Which may be why the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad got such a warm welcome on a recent trip to Turkey. With his attractive young wife, the Assads toured the capital with Turkey’s president and prime minister. The TV cameras were there as they opened a new Turkish shopping center. The coverage of smiling presidents and their wives surprised even Syrians, says George Sageur, a Syrian-American businessman.

Mr. GEORGE SAGEUR (Businessman): The face of Syria represented by both the president and his wife has been tremendous in Turkey, received very, very well indeed.

AMOS: A marked improvement from tensions a decade ago. Syria and Turkey seemed on the verge of war after Turkey accused Damascus of harboring a Kurdish rebel leader. But that was all before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Now, Turkey and Syria have shared concerns. Both have sizeable Kurdish populations. Both worry about the nationalist goals of the Kurds in neighboring Iraq. Turkey and Syria are both wary of U.S. plans in the region, says Omer Taspinar.

Mr. TASPINAR: The real impetus behind these visits is the Kurdish question - Turks are very, very much disillusioned with this whole Iraq episode.

AMOS: And Syria has benefited from that disillusionment.

(Soundbite of Turkish language class)

In Damascus, Turkish language classes are now popular for these Syrian Arabic speakers because of expanded trade. Syria’s deputy prime minister was in Turkey last week to sign an agreement for a joint natural-gas pipeline.

Mr. JOSH LANDIS (Syria Comment Blogger): The relationship with Turkey has an economic aspect, but it’s also very important for domestic legitimacy.

AMOS: That’s Josh Landis, an American academic who writes an influential blog on Syria. He says the new partnership with Turkey has helped Syria’s president blunt a domestic problem: Many of Syria’s majority Sunni Muslims do not like Assad’s close relations with Shiite Iran.

Ms. LANDIS: Syria is very unhappy in this Shiite alliance because 80 percent of the country, 75 percent of the country are Sunnis. It’s caused a lot of angst amongst your average businessmen in Syria.

AMOS: Turkey is a predominantly Sunni Muslim country. And on the political front, Turkey’s moderate politics could offer an alternative to Iran, says Ibrahim Hamidi, a Syrian journalist and analyst.

Mr. IBRAHIM HAMIDI (Syrian Journalist; Analyst): If we really want to support moderate policies in the region, if we really want to isolate Iran, we have to give bigger role for Turkey in the region.

AMOS: And this is exactly what Turkey’s new government wants, says Henri Barkey, a professor of international relations at Lehigh University. He says Turkey’s leaders intend to become players in Middle East politics. The opening to Syria is a major move to do just that.

Professor HENRI BARKEY (International Relations, Lehigh University): I mean, it’s quite smart on their part to say, look we have good relations with everybody, everybody can come and talk to us, we will listen to anybody, we will help anybody. This is a way the Turks are pushing themselves up in the region.

AMOS: It’s a new role for Turkey, a welcome lifeline for Damascus, and a problem for the United States: Turkey, a key U.S. ally, is reaching out to Syria — which President Bush has called a dangerous regime.

Gossips about war

Jalal Sharafi was carrying a video-game, a gift for his daughter, when he found himself surrounded. On that chilly Sunday morning, the second secretary at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad had driven himself to the commercial district of Arasat Hindi to checkout the site for a new Iranian bank. He had ducked into a nearby electronics store with his bodyguards, and as they emerged four armored cars roared up and disgorged at least 20 gunmen wearing bulletproof vests and Iraqi National Guard uniforms. They flashed official IDs, and manhandled Sharafi into one car. Iraqi police gave chase, guns blazing. They shot up one of the other vehicles, capturing four assailants who by late last week had yet to be publicly identified. Sharafi and the others disappeared.

At the embassy, the diplomat's colleagues were furious. "This was a group directly under American supervision," said one distraught Iranian official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. Abdul Karim Inizi, a former Iraqi Security minister close to the Iranians, pointed the finger at an Iraqi black-ops unit based out at the Baghdad airport, who answer to American Special Forces officers. "It's plausible," says a senior Coalition adviser who is also not authorized to speak on the record. The unit does exist--and does specialize in snatch operations.

The Iranians have reason to feel paranoid. In recent weeks senior American officers have condemned Tehran for providing training and deadly explosives to insurgents. In a predawn raid on Dec. 21, U.S. troops barged into the compound of the most powerful political party in the country, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and grabbed two men they claimed were officers in Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Three weeks later U.S. troops stormed an Iranian diplomatic office in Irbil, arresting five more Iranians. The Americans have hinted that as part of an escalating tit-for-tat, Iranians may have had a hand in a spectacular raid in Karbala on Jan. 20, in which four American soldiers were kidnapped and later found shot, execution style, in the head. U.S. forces promised to defend themselves.

Some view the spiraling attacks as a strand in a worrisome pattern. At least one former White House official contends that some Bush advisers secretly want an excuse to attack Iran. "They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for," says Hillary Mann, the administration's former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs. U.S. officials insist they have no intention of provoking or otherwise starting a war with Iran, and they were also quick to deny any link to Sharafi's kidnapping. But the fact remains that the longstanding war of words between Washington and Tehran is edging toward something more dangerous. A second Navy carrier group is steaming toward the Persian Gulf, and NEWSWEEK has learned that a third carrier will likely follow. Iran shot off a few missiles in those same tense waters last week, in a highly publicized test. With Americans and Iranians jousting on the chaotic battleground of Iraq, the chances of a small incident's spiraling into a crisis are higher than they've been in years.

Sometimes it seems as if a state of conflict is natural to the U.S.-Iranian relationship--troubled since the CIA-backed coup that restored the shah to power in 1953, tortured since Ayatollah Khomeini's triumph in 1979. With the election of George W. Bush on the one hand, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the other, the two countries are now led by men who deeply mistrust the intentions and indeed doubt the sanity of the other. Tehran insists that U.S. policy is aimed at toppling the regime and subjugating Iran. The White House charges that Iran is violently sabotaging U.S. efforts to stabilize the Middle East while not so secretly developing nuclear weapons. As the raids and skirmishes in Iraq underscore, a hidden war is already unfolding.

Yet a NEWSWEEK investigation has also found periods of marked cooperation and even tentative steps toward possible reconciliation in recent years--far more than is commonly realized. After September 11 in particular, relations grew warmer than at any time since the fall of the shah. America wanted Iran's help in Afghanistan, and Iran gave it, partly out of fear of an angry superpower and partly in order to be rid of its troublesome Taliban neighbors. In time, hard-liners on both sides were able to undo the efforts of diplomats to build on that foundation. The damage only worsened as those hawks became intoxicated with their own success. The secret history of the Bush administration's dealings with Iran is one of arrogance, mistrust and failure. But it is also a history that offers some hope.

For Iran's reformists, 9/11 was a blessing in disguise. Previous attempts to reach out to America had been stymied by conservative mullahs. But the fear that an enraged superpower would blindly lash out focused minds in Tehran. Mohammad Hossein Adeli was one of only two deputies on duty at the Foreign Ministry when the attacks took place, late on a sweltering summer afternoon. He immediately began contacting top officials, insisting that Iran respond quickly. "We wanted to truly condemn the attacks but we also wished to offer an olive branch to the United States, showing we were interested in peace," says Adeli. To his relief, Iran's top official, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, quickly agreed. "The Supreme Leader was deeply suspicious of the American government," says a Khameini aide whose position does not allow him to be named. "But [he] was repulsed by these terrorist acts and was truly sad about the loss of the civilian lives in America." For two weeks worshipers at Friday prayers even stopped chanting "Death to America."

The fear dissipated after Sept. 20, when the FBI announced that Al Qaeda was behind the attacks. But there was new reason for cooperation: for years Tehran had been backing the Afghan guerrillas fighting the Taliban, Osama bin Laden's hosts. Suddenly, having U.S. troops next door in Afghanistan didn't seem like a bad idea. American and Iranian officials met repeatedly in Geneva in the days before the Oct. 7 U.S. invasion. The Iranians were more than supportive. "In fact, they were impatient," says a U.S. official involved in the talks, who asked not to be named speaking about topics that remain sensitive. "They'd ask, 'When's the military action going to start? Let's get going!' "

Opinions differ wildly over how much help the Iranians actually were on the ground. But what is beyond doubt is how critical they were to stabilizing the country after the fall of Kabul. In late November 2001, the leaders of Afghanistan's triumphant anti-Taliban factions flew to Bonn, Germany, to map out an interim Afghan government with the help of representatives from 18 Coalition countries. It was rainy and unseasonably cold, and the penitential month of Ramadan was in full sway, but a carnival mood prevailed. The setting was a splendid hotel on the Rhine, and after sunset the German hosts laid on generous buffet meals under a big sign promising that everything was pork-free.

The Iranian team's leader, Javad Zarif, was a good-humored University of Denver alumnus with a deep, measured voice, who would later become U.N. ambassador. Jim Dobbins, Bush's first envoy to the Afghans, recalls sharing coffee with Zarif in one of the sitting rooms, poring over a draft of the agreement laying out the new Afghan government. "Zarif asked me, 'Have you looked at it?' I said, 'Yes, I read it over once'," Dobbins recalls. "Then he said, with a certain twinkle in his eye: 'I don't think there's anything in it that mentions democracy. Don't you think there could be some commitment to democratization?' This was before the Bush administration had discovered democracy as a panacea for the Middle East. I said that's a good idea."

Toward the end of the bonn talks, dobbins says, "we reached a pivotal moment." The various parties had decided that the suave, American-backed Hamid Karzai would lead the new Afghan government. But he was a Pashtun tribal leader from the south, and rivals from the north had actually won the capital. In the brutal world of Afghan power politics, that was a recipe for conflict. At 2 a.m. on the night before the deal was meant to be signed, the Northern Alliance delegate Yunus Qanooni was stubbornly demanding 18 out of 24 new ministries. Frantic negotiators gathered in the suite of United Nations envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. A sleepy Zarif translated for Qanooni. Finally, at close to 4 a.m., he leaned over to whisper in the Afghan's ear: " 'This is the best deal you're going to get'." Qanooni said, " 'OK'."

That moment, Dobbins says now, was critical. "The Russians and the Indians had been making similar points," he says. "But it wasn't until Zarif took him aside that it was settled … We might have had a situation like we had in Iraq, where we were never able to settle on a single leader and government." A month later Tehran backed up the political support with financial muscle: at a donor's conference in Tokyo, Iran pledged $500 million (at the time, more than double the Americans') to help rebuild Afghanistan.

In a pattern that would become familiar, however, a chill quickly followed the warming in relations. Barely a week after the Tokyo meeting, Iran was included with Iraq and North Korea in the "Axis of Evil." Michael Gerson, now a NEWSWEEK contributor, headed the White House speechwriting shop at the time. He says Iran and North Korea were inserted into Bush's controversial State of the Union address in order to avoid focusing solely on Iraq. At the time, Bush was already making plans to topple Saddam Hussein, but he wasn't ready to say so. Gerson says it was Condoleezza Rice, then national-security adviser, who told him which two countries to include along with Iraq. But the phrase also appealed to a president who felt himself thrust into a grand struggle. Senior aides say it reminded him of Ronald Reagan's ringing denunciations of the "evil empire."

Once again, Iran's reformists were knocked back on their heels. "Those who were in favor of a rapprochement with the United States were marginalized," says Adeli. "The speech somehow exonerated those who had always doubted America's intentions." The Khameini aide concurs: "The Axis of Evil speech did not surprise the Supreme Leader. He never trusted the Americans."

It would be another war that nudged the two countries together again. At the beginning of 2003, as the Pentagon readied for battle against Iraq, the Americans wanted Tehran's help in case a flood of refugees headed for the border, or if U.S. pilots were downed inside Iran. After U.S. tanks thundered into Baghdad, those worries eased. "We had the strong hand at that point," recalls Colin Powell, who was secretary of State at the time. If anything, though, America's lightning campaign made the Iranians even more eager to deal. Low-level meetings between the two sides had continued even after the Axis of Evil speech. At one of them that spring, Zarif raised the question of the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK), a rabidly anti-Iranian militant group based in Iraq. Iran had detained a number of senior Qaeda operatives after 9/11. Zarif floated the possibility of "reciprocity"--your terrorists for ours.

The idea was brought up at a mid-May meeting between Bush and his chief advisers in the wood-paneled Situation Room in the White House basement. Riding high, Bush seemed to like the idea of a swap, says a participant who asked to remain anonymous because the meeting was classified. Some in the room argued that designating the militants as terrorists had been a mistake, others that they might prove useful against Iran someday. Powell opposed the handover for a different reason: he worried that the captives might be tortured. The vice president, silent through most of the meeting as was his wont, muttered something about "preserving all our options." (Cheney declined to comment.) The MEK's status remains unresolved.

Around this time what struck some in the U.S. government as an even more dramatic offer arrived in Washington--a faxed two-page proposal for comprehensive bilateral talks. To the NSC's Mann, among others, the Iranians seemed willing to discuss, at least, cracking down on Hizbullah and Hamas (or turning them into peaceful political organizations) and "full transparency" on Iran's nuclear program. In return, the Iranian "aims" in the document called for a "halt in U.S. hostile behavior and rectification of the status of Iran in the U.S. and abolishing sanctions," as well as pursuit of the MEK.

An Iranian diplomat admits to NEWSWEEK that he had a hand in preparing the proposal, but denies that he was its original author. Asking not to be named because the topic is politically sensitive, he says he got the rough draft from an intermediary with connections at the White House and the State Department. He suggested some relatively minor revisions in ballpoint pen and dispatched the working draft to Tehran, where it was shown to only the top ranks of the regime. "We didn't want to have an 'Irangate 2'," the diplomat says, referring to the secret negotiations to trade weapons for hostages that ended in scandal during Reagan's administration. After Iran's National Security Council approved the document (under orders from Khameini), a final copy was produced and sent to Washington, according to the diplomat.

The letter received a mixed reception. Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage were suspicious. Armitage says he thinks the letter represented creative diplomacy by the Swiss ambassador, Tim Guldimann, who was serving as a go-between. "We couldn't determine what [in the proposal] was the Iranians' and what was the Swiss ambassador's," he says. He added that his impression at the time was that the Iranians "were trying to put too much on the table." Quizzed about the letter in front of Congress last week, Rice denied ever seeing it. "I don't care if it originally came from Mars," Mann says now. "If the Iranians said it was fully vetted and cleared, then it could have been as important as the two-page document" that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger received from Beijing in 1971, indicating Mao Zedong's interest in opening China.

A few days later bombs tore through three housing complexes in Saudi Arabia and killed 29 people, including seven Americans. Furious administration hard-liners blamed Tehran. Citing telephone intercepts, they claimed the bombings had been ordered by Saif al-Adel, a senior Qaeda leader supposedly imprisoned in Iran. "There's no question but that there have been and are today senior Al Qaeda leaders in Iran, and they are busy," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld growled. Although there was no evidence the Iranian government knew of Adel's activities, his presence in the country was enough to undermine those who wanted to reach out.

Powell, for one, thinks Bush simply wasn't prepared to deal with a regime he thought should not be in power. As secretary of State he met fierce resistance to any diplomatic overtures to Iran and its ally Syria. "My position in the remaining year and a half was that we ought to find ways to restart talks with Iran," he says of the end of his term. "But there was a reluctance on the part of the president to do that." The former secretary of State angrily rejects the administration's characterization of efforts by him and his top aides to deal with Tehran and Damascus as failures. "I don't like the administration saying, 'Powell went, Armitage went … and [they] got nothing.' We got plenty," he says. "You can't negotiate when you tell the other side, 'Give us what a negotiation would produce before the negotiations start'."

Terrorism wasn't the only concern when it came to Iran. For decades, Washington's abiding fear has been that Iran might pick up where the shah's nuclear program (initially U.S.-backed) left off, and make the Great Satan the target of its atomic weapons. The Iranians, who were signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, insisted they had nothing to hide. They lied. In August 2002, a group affiliated with the MEK revealed the extent of nuclear activities at a facility in Isfahan, where the Iranians had been converting yellowcake to uranium gas, and in Natanz, where the infrastructure needed to enrich that material to weapons-grade uranium was being built. A year later Pakistani scientist AQ Khan's covert nuclear-technology network unraveled, bringing further embarrassments and investigations.

For months, European negotiators worked to get Tehran to formalize a temporary and tenuous deal to freeze its nuclear fuel-development program. In May 2005, they met with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, at the Iranian ambassador's opulent Geneva residence. There was some reason to be optimistic: in Washington, Rice had announced that the United States would not block Iran's bid to join the World Trade Organization. Yet a sense of enormous tension filled the room, according to a diplomat who was there but asked not to be identified revealing official discussions. The Europeans told Rowhani they hadn't nailed down exactly what they could offer in return for a freeze, and the Americans still weren't fully onboard. Iran would have to wait for the details for a few more months. But in the meantime, the program had to remain suspended.

Rowhani, in full clerical robes and turban, obviously was not authorized to make any such deal. "The man was in front of us sweating," says the European diplomat. "He was trapped: he couldn't go further … I realized very clearly that he couldn't deliver, that he was not allowed to deliver. Psychologically he was broken. Physically he was almost broken."

Part of the problem was that elections in Iran were only a few days away. They brought to power a man who satisfied the darkest stereotypes of Iran's fervid leaders. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly renounced the freeze on Iran's nuclear fuel-development program, broke the seals the International Atomic Energy Agency had placed on Iran's conversion facilities at Isfahan and pushed ahead with work at Natanz. In the span of no more than a month or two, nuclear enrichment had become a symbol of national pride for a much wider spectrum of Iranian society than the voters who elected Ahmadinejad. In a warped parallel to Bush, who found his voice after 9/11 rallying Americans to the struggle against a vast and unforgiving enemy, the Iranian president rose in stature throughout the Middle East as he railed against America. The one problem U.S. negotiators had always had with Iran was determining who in the byzantine regime to talk to, and whether they could deliver anything. Now they faced another: the Iranians had almost no incentive to talk. With the United States bogged down in Iraq, Iran now had the leverage--roles had reversed.

In its second term the Bush administration, despite Powell's sour memories, has supported European efforts to resolve the nuclear impasse diplomatically. Rice has offered to meet her Iranian counterpart "any time, anywhere." "What has blocked such contact is the refusal of Iran to meet the demands of the entire international community," says a White House official, who could not be named discussing Iran. The official expressed deep frustration with critics. He argued they were naive about Tehran's intentions, and "parroting Iranian propaganda."

By last summer Iran seemed ascendant. Hizbullah's performance in the Lebanon war had rallied support for Ahmadinejad, one of the group's loudest proponents, across the Arab world. In a series of meetings in New York in September the Iranian president was defiant, almost giddy. (A senior British official who would only speak anonymously about deliberations with the Americans describes Tehran's mood around this time as "cock-a-hoop.") He would not back down when grilled about his dismissals of the Holocaust, and scoffed at the threat of U.N. sanctions over Iran's nuclear defiance.

The West's patience was running out. In Baghdad, American troops seemed powerless to stop a wave of gruesome sectarian killings that they claimed were fueled by Iran. In Amman and Riyadh, Arab leaders warned darkly of a rising "Shia crescent." After Bush's defeat in the midterm elections, Israeli officials began wondering aloud if they would have to deal with the Iranian threat on their own. Partly in consultation with the British, U.S. officials began to map out a broader strategy to fight back. "We felt we needed to have a much more knitted-together policy, with a number of different strands working, to hit different parts of the Iranian system," says the senior British official.

Critics have questioned how much of that plan is military--whether the administration is secretly setting a course for war as it did back in 2002. Last week officials were at great pains to deny that scenario. "We are not planning offensive military operations against Iran," said Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns. The Pentagon does have contingency plans for all-out war with Iran, on which Bush was briefed last summer. The targets would include Iran's air-defense systems, its nuclear-and chemical-weapons facilities, ballistic missile sites, naval and Revolutionary Guard bases in the gulf, and intelligence headquarters. But generals are convinced that no amount of firepower could do more than delay Tehran's nuclear program. U.S. military analysts have concluded that nothing short of regime change would completely eliminate the threat--and America simply doesn't have the troops needed.

Iraq is another story. American military officials and politicians accuse the Iranian government of providing Iraqis with an new arsenal of advanced rocket-propelled-grenade launchers, heavy-duty mortars and the newest armor-piercing technology for roadside bombs--explosively formed projectiles (EFPs), said to have been developed by Hizbullah. Military security experts are especially worried by "passive infrared sensors," readily available devices that are often used for burglar alarms or automatic light switches but increasingly seen as triggers for improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Unlike cell phones, remote-control systems and garage-door openers, the sensors emit no signal, making them that much tougher to spot before they detonate.

What's scant is hard evidence that the weapons are provided by the Iranian government, rather than arms dealers or rogue Revolutionary Guard elements. "Iranian lethal support for select groups of Iraqi Shia militants clearly intensifies the conflict in Iraq," says the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. But the most that can be said with certainty is that Tehran is failing to stop the traffic. The Iranians themselves admit they're not trying as hard as they could. "I can give you my word that we don't give IEDs to the Mahdi Army," says an Iranian intelligence official who asked not to be named because secrecy is his business. "But if you asked me if we could control our borders better if we wanted to, I would say: 'Yes, if we knew that the Americans would not use Iraq as a base to attack Iran'."

The real thrust of Washington's multipronged attack is political. Banking restrictions levied by the U.S. Treasury have begun to pinch the Iranian economy. Voters angry about rising prices dealt Ahmadinejad an embarrassing blow in municipal elections in December, when his supporters were trounced. That wouldn't much matter if he still retained Khameini's support. But that may no longer be the case. The Khameini aide says the Supreme Leader blames Ahmadinejad's overheated rhetoric about Israel and the Holocaust for the unanimous Security Council resolution that passed in late December, demanding that Tehran suspend its nuclear program.

Every time America or Iran has gained an advantage over the other in the last five years, however, they've overplayed their hand. More pressure on Ahmadinejad could well make him popular again--the chief martyr in a martyr culture. Sunni insurgents in Iraq need only kill some Americans and plant Iranian IDs nearby to start a full-scale war. Like so many times in this complicated relationship, this is a moment of opportunity. And one of equally great danger.


Iran has established several hospitals in Lebanon : Official Beirut, Sept 12, IRNA Iran-Lebanon-Hospitals Head of Iran's Red Crescent Organization (RCO) Abdol-Ra'ouf Adibzadeh told IRNA here on Monday that the Iranian RCO has so far constructed and established several hospitals and emergency wards in Lebanon.

He referred to the emergency wards established by our country in Lebanese villages At-Tayyebah, Al-Khiyam, Ait Ash-Sha'b, and Bait Leef, a field hospital equipped with an operating room, radiology equipment, rooms for hospitalizing patients, and an emergency section with twenty beds at south-most Lebanese city, Bint-Jubail, as well as a unique, finely equipped four storey hospital in Nabtiyyah, called the Sheikh Raqeb Harb Hospital.

Adibzadeh added, "Also in a bid to distribute medicines and food stuff among the war victims in need Iran has erected seven tents, each of which is 240 meters long, two in Nabtiyyah, one in Bint-Jubail, one in Ba'albak, and one in the parking lot of the IRI Embassy in Beirut, while we have delivered two more such tents to an Islamic medical charity fund, called Al-Hay'at us-Sehhat ul-Islamiyyah.

He reiterated, "The Iranian Red Crescent Organization's medical contributions to Lebanon used to be distributed through Sheikh Raqeb Harb Hospital before the outbreak of the recent Israeli imposed war, but after that war we found out about the immediate needs of the war victims, prepared emergency lists, prepared the items and forwarded them to Syria."

Adibzadeh added, "Yet, the Zionist regime forces were not allowing the passage of any truck containing aides from Syria to Lebanon, shooting at them, that was a serious problem."

He said, "On the 2nd and 3rd days of the war, we adopted a new strategy, and that was acquiring the required items from the Sunni residing Saida City in Lebanon, where normal life was going on, and forwarding them to the war torn Shi'a residing cities of Sour and Nabatiyyah, as well as the villages in the region, which fortunately bore fine results."

The Iranian Red Crescent official said that Iran had thus delivered 18,000 packages inclusive of tea, powered milk, dried bread, canned food, and emergency medical care items to the war victims during the course of the tough days of the recent war.