Iraq and Iran Put U.S. in a Hard Spot

Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr takes stock of the difficult position the U.S. is in, with the war in Iraq and the growing regional influence of Iran.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

President Bush is spending much of his holiday break hearing about the violence in Iraq. Over this past weekend, he met with his new secretary of defense, Robert Gates, who had just returned from a visit to Baghdad. This week, Mr. Bush will host a full meeting of his National Security Council at his ranch in Crawford.

And as the president prepares to give a major address on the war early in the New Year, NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says the U.S. is putting itself in a dangerous position.

DANIEL SCHORR: The Bush administration vying with Iran for influence with the Shiite majority in Iraq is in danger of being sucked into the poisonous factional and sectarian politics of the budding state. Hedging its bed on the current government of Nouri al-Maliki, the administration is trying to forge ties with Maliki's potential rivals.

On December 4th, President Bush met in the Oval Office for an hour with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite with strong ties to Iran, and urged him to reject the extremists. The implicit was that the United States could live with someone other than Maliki.

But Iran hasn't been inactive in this struggle. According to the New York Times, the United States Army in recent days has conducted a series of raids on Iranian Asians in Iraq. Several Iranians, reportedly four, were taken into custody by the army. Two with diplomatic passports were later released.

According to American sources, the Iranians were suspected of involvement in planning attacks on Sunni security forces. But Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd with longstanding Shiite connections, has advised the American command that the Iranians were in Iraq on his invitation. The Iranian ambassador in Baghdad has reportedly been using his clout with the Iraqi government to demand of General George Casey, the American commander, the release of the Iranians.

The Times quotes American sources as saying that Iran has been supplying the Shiite militias with money, weapons and training. The nervous Maliki government now finds itself caught between America and Iran in a struggle which is exacerbating Iraq's civil war. And this said a time when tension is already high over the sanctions voted by the United Nations Security Council on Saturday as punishment for Iran's nuclear program, a program that it threatens now to accelerate. Iran is challenging American influence to the Middle East and, it's far from sure the United States will win this cold war.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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