- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government, led by President Nouri al-Maliki, continues to align itself more closely with neighboring Iran.

According to U.S. defense officials, including one who recently returned from Iraq, Mr. Maliki recently shifted a large number of Sunni-dominated Iraqi troop units near Syria away from the border and replaced them with Shiite troops.

The reason: Iraq's government is preparing for the exit of Iranian paramilitary units from Syria that have been seeking to prop up President Bashar Assad’s regime. Beset by a growing number of high-level defections, the Assad regime is said to be on its last legs.

The Iraqi units near Syria are expected to form a secure corridor into the southern part of Iraq and into Iran for the retreating Iranian troops.

Intelligence reports from the region indicate that members of the late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s regime also are fleeing Syria and returning to Iraq, raising new fears of anti-government terrorist attacks in Iraq.

Mr. Maliki in July announced that Iraqis in Syria could return to Iraq, including Baathists but excluded those involved in crimes.

According to reports from the region, Iraqi intelligence has been checking the passports of those arriving from Syria at Baghdad International Airport against a list of 300 people wanted by the government.

Additionally, in Kirkuk, police on July 24 arrested an al Qaeda terrorist who had entered Iraq from Syria. And five former Saddam regime leaders entered Iraq from Syria around the same time and were planning to finance suicide bombings in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, according to Iraqi press reports.

The increasing terrorist threat comes against the backdrop of a little-noticed campaign of targeted assassinations of middle-level government officials in Iraq.

A U.S. official said the Obama administration and the Pentagon have ignored the increasing threats in Iraq since the pullout of U.S. forces from the country in December. “I don’t think the Pentagon wants anything to do with Iraq anymore,” the official said.

An Iraqi Embassy official had no immediate comment.

N. Korea’s deceptive flood figures

North Korea’s communist regime recently issued inflated figures for rainfall and casualties from rains and flooding in order to obtain foreign aid, according to a Western diplomatic official.

An analysis of weather events since June in North Korea revealed that rainfall and flooding were less severe than that which occurred during floods in 2011 and 1995.

The North Koreans claimed severe damage. According to official state media: A total of 169 people died, 400 others went missing and more than 200,000 were left homeless in recent flooding.

However, an analysis of weather patterns in the region contradicts Pyongyang’s rain and flood claims. It found that severe drought in May and June was eased by the rain, rather than it causing massive damage.

Heavy rains in July also were shorter in duration and produced lower rainfall totals than heavy rains in 2011 and 1995. Yet Pyongyang reported three times the casualties, which the diplomatic official said was “drastically” overstated.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un appears not to have visited the flood-damaged regions. Instead, he was reported to have visited a North Korean amusement park during the floods.

Also, his order to repair flood damage came 10 days after the flooding, a indication the rainfalls did not produce a major natural disaster.

Reports from North Koreans living outside the country also stated that Mr. Kim issued special orders to officials in late July to exaggerate casualties from the floods as a way to extract more aid from the international community.

International inspectors who traveled to North Korea could not confirm the high casualty totals claimed by the government.

Said one diplomat: “North Korea is squandering enormous amounts of money on pointless projects,” including weapons of mass destruction and construction of a palace for the embalmed bodies of past leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il, along with a large amusement park.

Foreign aid sent to help flood-damaged regions in North Korea has had “negatives effects,” such as allowing the communist regime to avoid having to build costly flood-prevention measures, the diplomat said. As a result, North Koreans continue to fall victim to recurring floods.

“The international community must be discreet in providing support to the North Korean regime,” giving aid only when the regime’s efforts to cope with floodwaters have failed and it is left with no other option but to seek emergency assistance, the diplomat said. “That way the international community will help North Korea to enhance its ability to manage natural disasters.”

Poland moving away from U.S.

The Obama administration’s conciliatory policies toward Russia on missile defense are prompting one NATO ally to rethink its reliance on the United States.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski announced Aug. 15 that Poland must replace its aging Soviet air and missile defenses with a “Polish shield” that will be part of NATO missile defenses.

Reports from Poland said Mr. Komorowski’s announcement represents a strategic shift from the U.S. in the aftermath of the Obama administration’s 2009 decision to cancel a long-range interceptor base in Poland as part of its “reset” policy of seeking closer ties to Moscow.

Polish military analyst Artur Bilski wrote recently that Poland’s plan for its own missile defense was prompted by President Obama’s overheard conversation in April with then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. Mr. Obama promised the Russian leader that he would have “more flexibility” to negotiate a missile defense agreement after he is re-elected.

The comment was widely interpreted by congressional Republicans as plans for further concessions to the Russians, who are demanding legally binding restrictions on U.S. missile defenses in Europe, a position so far rejected by the United States.

A U.S. defense official said another problem for the Poles on missile defense has been the head of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, whose leadership style has alienated allies in Europe and Asia who are seeking to cooperate with the U.S. in building missile defenses.

GOP defense platform

The Republican Party platform made public this week highlights a return to Reagan administration defense policies that called for “peace through strength.”

“We are the party of peace through strength,” states the platform, which was released Tuesday. “The Republican Party is the advocate for a strong national defense as the pathway to peace, economic prosperity, and the protection of those yearning to be free.”

It criticizes the Obama administration for “weakness” in responding to growing national security threats, including the spread of terrorism, belligerence by North Korea, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear arms, Chinese hegemony in Asia, Russian “activism” and threats posed by cyberespionage.

It notes the administration’s plan to cut defense by $487 billion over 10 years and opposition to Republican efforts to block another $500 billion in “devastating” cuts through congressional sequestration set to occur in 2013.

The platform also criticizes the administration for “contemptible” leaks of classified information that endanger national security.

The platform states that the administration’s most recent national security strategy report reflects “the extreme elements in its liberal domestic coalition.”

“It is a budget-constrained blueprint that, if fully implemented, will diminish the capabilities of our Armed Forces,” the platform says. “The strategy significantly increases the risk of future conflict by declaring to our adversaries that we will no longer maintain the forces necessary to fight and win more than one conflict at a time.”

On strategic weapons and defenses, the platform states that the administration has reneged on plans to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal and undermined missile defenses.

“A strong and effective strategic arsenal is still necessary as a deterrent against competitors like Russia or China,” the platform states.

The platform lacks specifics on the threat posed by China, which is building up both conventional and strategic forces.

The only reference to Beijing’s arms buildup is as part of a sentence that notes China’s “pursuit of advanced military capabilities without any apparent need.”

The mild tone on China is said to reflect differences among Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s advisers on Asia, who are said to be split between those who favor a more muscular tone on the threat from China and those who favor continuing pro-trade policies and avoiding mention of threatening military developments.

Israel drone ready for Iran

Israel’s military recently reinstated a new long-range unmanned aircraft that is capable of reaching Iran that had been grounded since January.

The Israeli defense trade newsletter Globes reported Aug. 14 that the Heron TP, also known as the Eitan, was Israel’s most advanced reconnaissance aircraft, and was ready for action after all the drones were grounded following a payload-carrying crash in late January.

The Eitan is expected to play a major role in any Israeli military strike on Iran and would provide real-time intelligence and targeting information for the Israeli defense forces. The drone also is expected to carry precision-guided missiles or bombs that could be used in strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.

The drones, which cost $5 million, were used by Israel’s air force in attacking convoys in Sudan that were believed to be carrying weapons from Iran to terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

“The Eitan’s latest intelligence gathering capabilities in difficult conditions, its ability to closely monitor a target, its state-of-the-art observation systems, and ability to stay aloft for over 35 hours while using satellite communications systems, make it relevant under any scenario of a possible Israeli strike on Iran,” Globes stated in an Aug. 14 report.

“Meanwhile, the Air Force is making sure to have the Eitan ready for such a war, and is keeping a low profile about its operational capabilities.”