In the latest war of words between American and Iranian officials, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made the charge on Monday of Iran arming Iraq militants, including Shiite groups responsible for recent deaths of American troops. Iran’s Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi dismissed Panetta’s charges on Wednesday, adding such accusations were merely US attempts to sow discord in the region and advance US hegemony.
Accusations and denials of nefarious behavior by state officials are nothing new and will surprise few who follow the region’s events carefully. The information presented by each side is not necessarily of primary interest when considering such exchanges. The propaganda value each side hopes to gain from the timing and content of the message can be just as important. The reasons behind the timing of Secretary Panetta’s remarks are not mysterious; all 46,000 US troops in Iraq are scheduled to leave at the end of 2011 and US officials have expressed the desire to keep an “enduring presence” in Iraq for years to come. American officials must present the argument to both the war-weary American people and the pressured Iraqi government that it is worthwhile to have American troops staying in Iraq for years to come. Providing evidence of Iran arming Iraqi militants helps make that argument.
The US and Iran have long been vying for influence in Iraq and the region. Both the US and Iran have skillfully deployed numerous tactics to advance their interests in Iraq, including sending agents, weapons and money to aid and strengthen friendly groups. This should not be a matter that is continuously denied, but rather accepted as a reality in asymmetric proxy war. Another reality of such warfare is the constant battle of propaganda fought in the realm of worldwide media. A recent Wall Street Journal article provides details of the United States’ accusations of Iran’s arming of Iraq militants written from an American perspective generally supportive of the US government’s goals and outlook. A Press TV article denying these accusations written from the Iranian government perspective seeks to demonize the US government’s actions in the region.
An independent observer seeking objectivity should not fall victim to the propaganda suggested by officials on either side. It is important to understand the perspective from which these officials speak. Each side uses selective facts and events to play on the emotions and indoctrinated beliefs of their audience. For example, American officials like to use the deaths of US troops to stir up emotional support for opposition to militants supposedly armed by Iran. Is it a valid argument to use the deaths of US troops in such a way, especially considering the number of people killed by groups armed with American weapons throughout the world? The usual content of the Iranian message suggests it is not, considering the core of their anti-American rhetoric rests on the image of Americans as violent imperialists. The vicious cycle of hypocritical propaganda must stop if any mutual understanding will ever be found between such longstanding enemies.