The US is planning to send tens of thousands of troops to Iraq’s border with Iran in a move that threatens to escalate tensions across the Middle East.
The US military claims the move is part of a “crackdown” on the Diyala province that lies on the border.
General Michael Oates, who commands US troops south of Baghdad, told the Associated Press news agency that the US plans to set up a string of military outposts near key border crossings with Iran.
The US claims that the Diyala province is a key route used by Iran to smuggle arms to the resistance. But with tens of thousands of US soldiers setting up camp along the border, it is set to become a major flash point.
According to Newsweek magazine troops, FBI agents and US “customs enforcement agents” will take control over key border crossings.
The troops will also work with local tribes to put pressure on Iran.
General Oates said that the military is planning a string of these bases. “If you block at one, then they’ll move to another, so we’re looking to develop a coherent strategy across that entire border.”
These bases are part of a network of permanent US outposts highlighted by Socialist Worker last month. They are contained in a secret treaty – known as the Status of Forces Agreement – that the US is attempting to impose on Iraq.
Although negotiations over the treaty have become deadlocked, the US is pushing ahead with its plans to deploy troops along the border with Iran.
The main target of the offensive are the mainly Shia Muslim resistance organisations headed by rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Referring to these organisations Oates said, “We’re going to start squeezing this network pretty hard.”
Sadr instructed his supporters to stockpile arms and ammunition in preparation for the offensive. The Shia leader had ordered his supporters to observe a truce following a similar offensive on the southern city of Basra.
The new offensive on Diyala comes as a spate of suicide bombings shake the northern city of Kirkuk. The future status of the oil rich city has become a key battleground between Arabs and Kurds.
The Iraqi parliament passed a law that would give Kurds and Arabs equal say in the running of the city. The law was vetoed by Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s president and leader of one of the main pro US Kurdish factions that rule the areas of Iraqi Kurdistan.
The law sparked an angry demonstration by Kurds in Kirkuk. This was attacked by suicide bombers with over 60 people killed.
Meanwhile Turkish warplanes have launched a new round of bombings aimed at Kurdish separatists in the north of Iraq.
The new offensive and deepening ethnic divisions show the fragility of the claim by the US that Iraq has become stable following its surge of troops last year.
Protest against the war outside the Labour Party conference, Saturday 20 September. Assemble 12.30pm Manchester. Called by Greater Manchester Stop the War Coalition and CND.