From The Wekend Australian, April 12, 2008, by Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor:
EVERY day it becomes clearer that one of the fundamental conflicts of Iraq, and of the broader Middle East, is between the US and Iran.
Now a new missile site has been discovered at which Iran is building ballistic missiles that could hit Europe. Soon enough, Iran will have nuclear weapons to put on those missiles.
This week, General David Petraeus, the commander of US troops in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, Washington's ambassador in Baghdad, fingered Iran as supplying weapons, training, money and fighters to keep the conflict in Iraq boiling. Petraeus said that Iran's interference was the single biggest threat to the emergence of a democratic, viable Iraq.
Now US President George W.Bush has gone further. He has said that Iraq is the centre for two of the biggest threats the US will face this century - al-Qa'ida and Iran.
Bush warned Iran starkly. In an important speech, he said to Tehran that it had the choice of living with Iraq in peace, or it could keep funding and training militant groups that terrorise Iraqi people and destabilise the nation. If Iran makes the wrong choice, Bush said, then "America will act to protect our interests, and our troops, and our Iraqi partners".
Anybody who discounts a threat by Bush to use force is a fool. The Iranians should realise that there is still a serious threat of a US military strike on Iranian nuclear and missile facilities before the end of the Bush administration. Bush has shown he will use the power of his office to the full and will not be deterred from actions he believes are strategically necessary.
Almost no one in the US power structure supported the troop surge in Iraq - not Defence Secretary Robert Gates nor Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice nor the joint chiefs of staff.
Bush and Cheney supported it. And carried it out. And it worked.
The decline in violence in Iraq in recent months has had three causes - the surge, the so-called Sunni awakening in which Sunni groups, sometimes funded by the US, have turned against al-Qa'ida, and the ceasefire observed by Moqtada al-Sadr's militia.
It is that ceasefire which has partly broken down in recent weeks, and there is no doubt that the Iranians are fishing in troubled waters among the Shia militias.
Of course, whether Bush strikes Iran or not, the next US president will face the same fundamental clash of interests between the US and Iran. This conflict has a long way to go.