Inside of a month and a half, a lot of news has come down the pike.
Most of it suggests that the nightmare scenario, rather than 'turning the corner', is in play.
Let's check 'em out together...
If inertia decides the next fiscal year of war, the Coalition presence in Iraq will probably fall to pieces in a matter of months (perhaps even as soon as November 2006). Things are going that badly, and getting that much worse, that quickly.
Movement of arms from Iran to sympathetic factions in Iraq, especially in the south
Oops. too late
Iran's hand also is rumored to be behind Shiite militias in Basra, although little evidence of a direct link has been made public.
U.S. officials have long accused the Iranians _ though not necessarily the Tehran government _ of smuggling weapons to Shiite militias in Basra.
More clandestine movement of weapons, training cadres and irregulars (sic?) to fight alongside the Mehdi Army or its like.
Oh, it's I think that's already happening
Chiarelli said a dispute between Western powers and Iran over Tehran's nuclear ambitions has prompted U.S. and Iraqi forces to be more vigilant along the Iranian border.
U.S. Major Vic Lindemeyer, a border patrol adviser, said smugglers were using the area to transport explosive projectiles and AK-47s into Iraq.
"Rising tension with Iran has cautioned us to be concerned about illegal weapons and equipment in all borders," Chiarelli said, adding U.S. border agents who patrol the U.S.-Mexican border have been sent to Iraq to train the Iraqis.
The Iraqis at Fort Tarik said they had intercepted 1,972 illegals trying to cross from Iran, mostly Iranian pilgrims heading for the holy Shi'ite cities of Najaf and Kerbala.
Of course, this paints a picture that Iraq and Iran are at odds with one another. Maybe in some ways, but it's also interesting that the two countries Issued this joint statement, which doesn't sound too acrimonious. In fact, it sounds like the diplomatic equivalent of a group hug...here's the section regarding borders...
The two sides pointed out the importance of maintaining the shared boundaries and of looking at them as reflections of peace and friendship between the two countries. They also stressed that control of borders should receive due care for their security. They also pointed out as important the development of prospects of cooperation among the governorates, establishment and revival of border markets and outlets and recognition of them and active confrontation of the illegal practices of arms and drugs smuggling and infiltration of terrorists between Iraq and Iran, as well as prevention of border problems and incidents, by, inter alia, including the bilateral treaties between them such matters.
More Iranian influence, which could complicate the situation.
Sunni Arabs deeply distrust Iranians and consider Shiite politicians little more than Iranian agents. Rumors circulate widely that Iranian intelligence agents direct death squads in Baghdad.
...the Iranians prefer to work behind the scenes, doling out cash to key Shiite political players -- chief among them the biggest Shiite political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic evolution in Iraq.
Iraqis clearly take sides with Iran, and against us
We might not be there yet, but Iraq and Iran have hardly made their Fondness for one another a secret
Iran has wasted little time in moving to shore up ties with the new government that took power last month in Baghdad. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki flew to Baghdad on Friday, where he was warmly welcomed by Iraq's new leadership, including not only Shiites but also Sunni and Kurdish politicians.
In addition, work has already started on a multimillion-dollar international airport near the Shiite holy city of Najaf, financed mostly by a low-interest loan from Iran. The airport is designed to serve Shiite religious pilgrims visiting Najaf's shrines and provide a major boost to the economy of Iraqi's impoverished Shiite south.
Coalition forces are asked to leave
Not quite, but I have to say, when the Iraqi PM is saying THIS, you're on the verge of wearing out your welcome:
BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 1 — Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki lashed out at the American military on Thursday, denouncing what he characterized as habitual attacks by troops against Iraqi civilians.
As outrage over reports that American marines killed 24 Iraqis in the town of Haditha last year continued to shake the new government, the country's senior leaders said that they would demand that American officials turn over their investigative files on the killings and that the Iraqi government would conduct its own inquiry.
In his comments, Mr. Maliki said violence against civilians had become a "daily phenomenon" by many troops in the American-led coalition who "do not respect the Iraqi people."
I'd say Maliki is telegraphing his meaning. But maybe it's just me.
Mobilization of Iranian forces at frontier with Iraq
This has more to do with Turkish AND Iranian crackdown on Kurdish fighters. In my opinion, Iraq has a lot more to worry about from Turkey than Iran...
While the Kurds lust after Kirkuk, they are being threatened by the Turkish and Iranian armies. That's because of Kurdish support for PKK radical nationalists. The Kurdish government in the north has tolerated the presence of several thousand PKK fighters. The PKK is fighting for "Greater Kurdistan" (including southeast Turkey, northern Iraq, parts of Iran and Syria.) This sort of thing is very popular with most Kurds, thus the Kurdish leaders feel they cannot crack down on the PKK (as the U.S. and Turkey constantly demand). This year, the PKK has been very active just across the border in Turkey and Iran, attacking police and army units. The Turks and Iranians are fighting back. There are already over 2,000 Turkish troops inside Iraq. This sort of presence has been tolerated for years, as long as the Turks were just looking for PKK camps in remote areas. But the Turks have over 50,000 troops on the border, and appear ready to expand their operations in northern Iraq. Meanwhile, to the east. Iranian troops are moving to the border, and Iranian artillery is being fired into Iraq, at areas believed occupied by the PKK.
The Kurdish government in northern Iraq basically tells the PKK, "you're on your own." But if the Turks and Iranians do serious damage to the PKK (by finding and destroying many of the PKK camps, which are often disguised as civilian villages), many of the PKK fighters will just flee to Kurdish government controlled areas and blend into the civilian population (the PKK gunmen don't wear uniforms). This would tempt the Turks to just keep going. The Turkish army has been fighting, and defeating, Kurdish irregulars for centuries. No big deal. Many Turks believe that northern Iraq really belongs to Turkey (it was taken away from defeated Turkey after World War I, so that Turkey would not have access to the newly discovered oil in the area.) Iraq does not want to give up the north, but they cannot defeat Turkish troops. Only the U.S. can. For the moment, the Americans are telling the Turks to stick to hunting PKK, and forget about lost provinces. For the moment, anyway.
Kurds, who make up 14 percent of Iran's population, have long complained of discrimination in Iran. Iraq's Kurds backed the US invasion of their country. Would the Kurds of Iran take the US side if tensions escalated there?
"The Iranians are clearly very concerned over the mobilization of their own Kurdish minority," said Toby Dodge, an Iraq expert at Queen Mary College, University of London.
And Tehran may also be flexing its muscles to remind Washington that it shares a long border with Iraq, and could cause serious problems there for the US.
The Iranians' policy is to warn that "we have the potential to run you out of Iraq if you don't give us some slack over the nuclear issue," Dodge said.
Maybe, or maybe not. Still, it does reveal one thing: Iran is already considering ways to make sure that the first thing the Americans will have to do before invading their own country is making sure they have Iraq pacified first.
And the Iranians are finding that they have significantly more leverage than many analysts in the state, particularly those in the Bush administration, are comfortable thinking about.