... So that You may be kept informed

FED: The arrival of a superpower - Iran on the rise

By Peter Veness
05 Mar 2009 10:24 PM
Subject: FED: The arrival of a superpower - Iran on the rise FED: The arrival of a superpower - Iran on the rise

CANBERRA, March 5 AAP - Robert Baer is uniquely positioned to talk about Iran.

He worked in the Middle East as a CIA agent for 20 years and nowadays spends his time warning the West about a nation he calls a superpower.

Now an author and journalist, Baer has used his latest book, The Devil We Know, to plot the last 30 years of Iranian politics and its slide from revolutionary to pragmatist.

The most worrying part of Baer's thesis is that no one in the West, at least no one with power, appears to have realised what Iran is up to.

"Iran is a closed society and a remote enemy," Baer writes in his introduction.

"It's not surprising then, that the United States missed how Iran has evolved over the last 30 years - how it has modernised, grown up, having abandoned both terrorism and Khomeini's revolution.

"Iran is still riding the wave of Islamic fundamentalism that's sweeping away the last vestiges of a secular Middle East but at the same time it's now a rational actor, coldly and methodically pursuing its national interests."

The Persian tool of choice has become proxies.

While the US routinely finds evidence of Iranian involvement in the Iraq war via weapons and soldiers, it's harder to discover the truth elsewhere.

Those proxy powers include Hezbollah, political parties across Iraq and even groups that might appear to be enemies like the PKK - a listed terrorist organisation fighting for an independent Kurdistan on the Iraq-Turkey border.

That last relationship, perhaps more than any other, showcases the pragmatism of Tehran.

Iran's population is about seven per cent Kurd yet here is Tehran supporting Kurdish independence.

Baer explains it like this. "While the rest of the world dismissed Greater Kurdistan as strategically insignificant, Iran saw that the Kurds sit astride the most strategic areas of the world - a crossroads between Iraq and Europe, between the Arab peninsula and the Caucasus, between Iran and Europe.

"Iran also saw the Kurds as a convenient proxy to stir up problems in Turkey, Syria and Iraq."

Alongside the military proxies, Iran's also been hard at work fiddling with economies. Baer reports that the Iraqi port city of Basra has been economically invaded by Iran.

"Quietly, without firing a single shot, the Iranians have effectively annexed the entire south, fully one-third of Iraq. In Basra today, the preferred currency is the Iranian rial.

"The Iraqi police, the military, and at least one of its intelligence services answer not to Baghdad, but to the Iranian-backed political parties."

Baer warns the economic invasion doesn't stop in Iraq. The western Afghan city of Herat also prefers the rial.

This invasion by stealth is a far cry from the 444 days of the Iranian hostage crisis, which started in November 1979, where Iran showed very publicly its hatred for the US but also showed itself to be anything but subtle.

The slyness doesn't stop with economic machinations, at least not in Baer's readings. If you've read a story about Iran in the last few years it's likely been hotly focused on its nuclear ambitions.

Baer believes the nuclear story has been completely misread.

He doesn't even think Iran wants the bomb.

"The Iranians have been seeking our attention, much like the North Koreans do, for years," Baer told AAP this week while in Australia to promote his book.

"They want to sit down and talk to us.

"I really do not think that they're going to push the limits on a bomb simply for the fact the entire world would come down on them at the worst possible time."

The worst possible time is the global financial crisis where the price of oil drops from highs near $US150 a barrel to somewhere near $US40.

It's a time when unemployment is at about 12.5 per cent according to Tehran's estimates and inflation is running at 28 per cent.

Baer's analysis means it might just be possible to take at face value Tehran's embassy in Canberra when it says the nuclear program "is completely peaceful".

"Iran has removed any so-called `concerns' or `ambiguities' with regard to its peaceful nuclear activities in the past and present," the embassy said.

On Wednesday Iran said its first nuclear power plant, built by Russia, would start generating power by September.

Now, it would seem, the ball is back in the court of basketballer and US President, Barack Obama.

* The Devil We Know by Robert Baer is out now via Scribe. RRP $32.95

AAP pv/ss/de =0A

FED: The arrival of a superpower - Iran on the rise