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Why are foreign powers getting involved in the Iraq war?

Don't Panic ... your war questions answered

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The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David "Don't call him 'betray us'" Petraeus has once again spoken out against Iranian meddling in Iraq.

The Surgin' General said last Saturday that Iran is "responsible for providing the weapons, the training, the funding" for operations that have left American soldiers and Marines dead.

Taken literally, Petraeus' words are a simple statement of fact. Iran is indeed militarily active in Iraq.

In the context of the Bush administration's increased saber-rattling directed at Iran, Petraeus' statement is also a threat. It's one of the administration's ways of saying, "Hey, American public, if the United States launches air strikes against Iran, it's 'cause they've been meddling in Iraq. We're the only foreign power allowed to meddle in Iraq."

Iran's arming of Shiite militias in Iraq, and the United States' vocalized annoyance, have been going on for years now. It raises a simple question: Why would Iran choose to antagonize the most powerful military in the world, particularly when the United States has already contemplated attacking Iran to cripple its nuclear fuel-enrichment program?

Are Iran's leaders crazy? Or are they strategists engaged in actions they believe furthers their national security agenda?

The answer is yes and yes.

As sure as there are, in fact, gay people in Iran, its country's leaders are a bit wacko.

But their meddling in Iraq, just like Turkey's meddling and Saudi Arabia's meddling, is part of an overall national security strategy that does have logic.

In 1980, with American aid and encouragement, Iraq invaded Iran. It was, at the time, the deadliest land war between opposing armies since Ken Burns' The War. With a green light from Reagan administration envoy Donald Rumsfeld, Saddam Hussein's army used chemical weapons and mustard and nerve gasses against the Iranian infantry. Infantry isn't really the right word. Much of Iran's army consisted of children armed with little more than plastic keys imported from Taiwan. Why plastic keys? To open the gates of heaven, naturally.

An estimated 1 million people died in the war, which ended in a draw between Iran and Iraq but a win for the United States and its ally, Saudi Arabia.

At the time, the United States feared that the Shiite fundamentalist government of Ayatollah Khomeini would attempt to expand beyond Iran's borders into southern Iraq, and south into predominantly Shiite areas of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is ruled by a fundamentalist Sunni Muslim monarchy, but its best oil fields sit beneath sand occupied by the country's Shiite minority. With Iraq and Iran pounding the crap out of each other along their shared border, Iranian expansion was impossible.

With Saddam now sharing a junior suite in hell with Pol Pot, Iran is meddling to make sure the eventual order replacing him in Iraq will not be a threat to Iran. If 3,000 dead Americans on the morning of 9/11 is our justification for trying to remake Iraq in our image, hundreds of thousands of dead Iranians over eight years is Iran's justification for trying to remake Iraq in its image. It's not right. It just is.

Even though Iran is the only meddling country that Americans regularly hear about, it is not the only country meddling.

Saudi Arabia is funding Sunni insurgent groups in Iraq – groups that are in fact responsible for many more American deaths and injuries than Iranian-backed Shiite groups. That's not conspiracy theory or speculation – that's the conclusion of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's report. The Bush administration isn't happy about it, but with Saudi Arabia's leverage over world oil prices, it's hard for Dubya to stay angry with them for long.

And don't be surprised if our NATO ally Turkey invades Iraq one of these days. Kurdish separatists are using Iraqi Kurdistan as a safe haven for launching raids into predominantly Kurdish areas of Turkey. Turkey's government is under mounting pressure to send its soldiers into Iraq to go after the separatists. The United States would not welcome the move, but how could we object? If we can invade pre-emptively, surely we can't pitch too much of a fit if they invade in response to an actual attack.

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