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Tuesday, April 03, 2007


More unsubstantiated claims about Iran

A few days ago, I took the AP to task for making this claim:
An Iranian opposition group claimed Saturday that Iran's capture of 15 British sailors and marines was planned in advance and carried out in retaliation for the U.N. sanctions imposed against the country.
They even admitted that the group offered no evidence to support its claim, but ran the story with this as the lead anyway!

Well, since I did that, I really have to criticize Patrick Cockburn for precisely the same kind of "reporting." Cockburn's story started as a front-page (full-page) headline in The Independent, and has since propagated to (among other places) CounterPunch, Politics in the Zeros, After Downing Street, and The Huffington Post. And it is a real story - the story of how the U.S. attempted to kidnap (yes, kidnap) two senior Iranian security officers on an official visit to northern Iraq. The problem is that after the headline makes the assertion that "The botched US raid that led to the hostage crisis," the article then proceeds to devote 33 sentences to the first part of that headline, the actual story - the botched U.S. raid. And then, after that long setup, comes a single sentence to justify the second, attention-grabbing part of the headline:

The abortive raid Arbil raid provokd a dangerous escalation in the confrontation between US and Iran which ultimately led to the capture of the 15 British sailors and marines.
The problem, of course, is that like the MEK with their claim, Cockburn offers not a single word of support for this claim; as far as we can tell, it springs whole cloth from Cockburn's imagination. He doesn't even offer an "Iranian sources tell me" justification for the claim. Perhaps he’s projecting the way the U.S. or the U.K. would have responded to a similar action by the Iranians.

Is it possible that the Iranian capture of the sailors was a response to the raid Cockburn describes? Sure, it's possible, but that doesn't make it true, and it certainly doesn't justify anyone claiming it is true. If we want to make assumptions, it's just as reasonable, if not more so, to assume that the British action of sailing in or close to Iranian waters was a deliberate provocation designed to provoke an Iranian response. Whether or not the British were technically in Iranian waters (and it seems there is no clear international agreement on what those waters are), the fact that the British are boarding ships in an area of the Gulf which is close enough to Iranian waters (if not in them) to be potentially confused as such is in and of itself a provocation; there was clearly no reason for them to have to do that in order to "protect" Iraq from whatever they were protecting it from.

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