U.S., Iran Find a Proxy Battleground in Iraq

The conflict in Iraq is beginning to look like a proxy war between the United States and Iran.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The number two American general in Iraq says he has proof that Iran is sending weapons to Iraqi militias. Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno tells USA Today that the military has linked to guns and rockets to Iran using - among other things - serial numbers. There've been a number of comments similar to that from members of the military and the administration.

NPR senior news analyst Daniel Schorr says that is no accident.

DANIEL SCHORR: The Iraq conflict has begun to assume aspects of a proxy war between the United States and Iran. Iran is becoming increasingly active in forging ties with Shiite militias. The Bush administration has become increasingly concerned about growing Iranian influence in Iraq. The administration has authorized the American command to kill or capture Iranian agents considered to be menacing.

This, after five American soldiers were killed in Karbala, an attack that Iraqi and American officials believe was linked to Iran. The Bush administration has sent another aircraft carrier to the region as a warning to Iran. Battleship diplomacy, it's called, by Admiral William Fallon, the new commander for the Middle East. President Bush, in his NPR interview on Monday, talked of responding firmly if Iranian military action endangers Americans or Iraqis.

But as sometimes happens in proxy wars, aircraft carriers don't win the hearts and minds of the people. The best hope for neutralizing Iran's aggressive behavior may lie with the Iranian people. There is a whiff of opposition against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad among Iranians, especially students. Ahmadinejad find himself jutted(ph) by hundreds of students on the visit to a university in Tehran. The protest is centered on the president's economic policies and his conflict with the west.

And his supporters fared poorly in recent local elections. There are also indications that the Iranian clerical establishment is unhappy with Ahmadinejad's leadership. There is no outward sign that Iran's expeditionary activities in Iraq have yet become an issue for Iranians. The Bush administration has reason to hope though that as a protest movement speeded American withdrawal from Vietnam, pressure from Iranians may have a similar effect on Iran's proxy war in Iraq.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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