HISTORY REARS UP TO SPIT IN YOUR FACE. The enormity of what happened in Irbil yesterday is just starting to become clear. To recap, U.S. forces raided the Iranian liaison office in Irbil -- apparently it's not an actual consulate -- seized a number of computers and other documents, and took six Iranian nationals into custody. The six are accused of involvement in attacks on U.S. forces. What will happen to them? Here's Eli Lake in today's New York Sun:
Another administration source yesterday said the White House and State Department do not consider the Iranians arrested yesterday to have diplomatic immunity because the building that was raided was not a consulate. This means that unlike senior Iranian officials arrested last month, those detained yesterday will likely not be returned to Iran.
Forgive me my daily shrillness, but ... have we just taken Iranian hostages? Practically everyone who's not part of the Bush administration has condemned the raid: the Kurdish warlord faction that controls Irbil, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, has denounced it furiously. The BBC quoted Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari as saying that all six have been working "under the approval of the (Iraqi) government."
But, look: this is the logic of the Iraq war itself. If the U.S. is going to relentlessly threaten Iran, and then invade its neighbors, and then play footsie with the idea of toppling the country, and then issue public statements saying Iranian "interference" in Iraq won't be tolerated, it shouldn't be a surprise that Iranian forces attack U.S. troops. And then it shouldn't be surprising that U.S. forces would respond. I have no idea if these particular six Iranians had anything to do with any attacks, but it wouldn't come as a shock. Indeed, chances are the U.S. moved on the quasi-consulate not merely because of any specific provocation, but to send a message to Iran that it's in the crosshairs. Expect negotiations to end the detention of the six Iranians to underscore that message heavily. Such is the way that the U.S. and Iran stumble into open war with one another.
Something that should give everyone pause is the way Bush has returned to speaking of Iraq as one piece in a broader Middle Eastern picture, a trope that had ebbed since 2005's purple-finger moment. In the hands of a sane man, that would be a sensible thing -- the application of context and strategy to Iraq -- but in the hands of Bush, who's bolstering naval assets in the Persian Gulf, it means ratcheting up the danger of expanding the war throughout the region. A senior defense official told reporters yesterday, "There's virtually no bit of the Middle East that you can take in isolation of its neighbors or its region." Whether by design or by miscalculation, the prospect of a broader regional war is escalating rapidly.