The Bush administration has authorized the U.S. military to kill or capture Iranian operatives inside Iraq as part of an aggressive new strategy to weaken Tehran’s influence across the Middle East and compel it to give up its nuclear program, according to government and counterterrorism officials with direct knowledge of the effort.
British Army spokesman Maj. Charlie Burbridge stresses that there is not firm evidence of any direct Iranian meddling in southern Iraq. And British Army field commander Lt. Col. David Labouchere, whose 600 troops patrol Maysan, says that any Iranian influence is a result of a long and tragic history, one that coalition forces should understand before letting fears of Iranian infiltration influence policy.
For 4,000 years the Marsh Arabs have inhabited what is now southern Iraq. For much of that history they were ignored by the various governments that rose and fell in the region. The result is a xenophobic, deeply traditional society where tribal leaders are the highest authority — and where political borders are largely irrelevant.
Meaning they cross into Iran almost daily, often without even realizing it — or caring if they do. Their intents aren’t to smuggle in weapons or to undermine the Iraqi government, but to trade, fish and visit family and friends.
In 2005 I visited a Marsh Arab village to see for myself:
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