Iran and Iraq's Man

Sometimes, it's all in the timing, as in President Bush extolling the virtues of a united front against Iran on Tuesday, the same day Iraq's leading Shiite alliance tabs Ibrahim al-Jafari as its pick for prime minister.

What's the connection? Besides being, in the words of The New York Times, "a Shiite doctor with an Islamist bent," whose selection "could expose the deep fissures in Iraqi society," there is the little matter that the New York Sun mentions about the would-be first democratically elected leader of Iraq.

"Mr. Jafari's nomination represents a victory for Iran, the country that provided Mr. Jafari sanctuary between 1980 and 2000," the Sun notes, and goes on to report that Ahmed Chalabi's withdrawal from the race, which sealed Jafari's nomination, "followed a meeting on Monday with the Iranian ambassador."

In other words, today's front pages had Bush discussing ways to undermine Iran in Europe, as the Iraqis get set to install someone with close ties to Tehran, perhaps because of meddling by the Iranians themselves. As William Shatner says in Airplane II, "Irony can be pretty damned ironic."

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Now of course, linking Jafari with Iran could be a tactic by his opponents. The Times reports, "Any suggestion that Iran has played a role in the alliance's choice of prime minister would be politically explosive in Iraq."

But the Sun was not alone in making the connection between Jafari and Tehran. The Los Angeles Times says the nomination "puts the United States in the position of providing its armed forces to protect a government led by an Islamist with ties to Iran." In a separate analysis piece, the LA paper compares the prewar vision of Iraq ("a pro-U.S. regime that would support American military bases, embrace U.S. businesses and serve as a model for democracy in the region.") with what is actually taking shape there now: "a government whose views may be closer to Tehran's than to Washington's. And U.S. officials are left wondering how many of their assumptions will prove true."

The Daily News notes only that Jafari "spent years in exile in Iran," but the New York Post cites an NBC report that "there are unresolved questions in the CIA about whether al-Jafari has ties to past terror attacks against U.S. interests." The Washington Post, on the other hand, does not even mention Iran in its story on Jafari's selection.

In another coincidence of timing, the theme of the president's talks in Europe has been that it's time to move beyond the disagreements over invading Iraq, but Britain's Guardian isn't complying: Today it publishes an expose of the wrangling at the top levels of Britain's government over the legality of the war, only days before the "coalition of the willing" took on Saddam. Apparently Tony Blair's aides were so worried the war violated international law that they assembled a team of lawyers to defend the invasion.

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