- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2006

A consensus appears to be forming among key decisionmakers to send three to five additional combat brigades to Iraq to bring the sectarian violence in Baghdad under control. But the administration has to realize one essential fact: deploying more troops is not the same as solving the problem.

Those in charge of prosecuting the war must understand that in addition to increased combat capability, the potential reactions by the sponsors of Iraq’s sectarian violence must be addressed as part of the decision to deploy. The U.S. must prepare beforehand to deal both strategically and tactically with Iran so as to be proactive, not reactive should the need arise.

And the need will no doubt arise. After all, with Iran’s considerable investment in the radical cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army, Iran has but two basic options to counter a temporary increase in U.S. combat capabilities.

Either the mullahs could tamp down their support and wait out the deployment with Sheik al-Sadr taking refuge in Iran, much the same as Hezbollah Cleric Sayyed Hassan Nazrallah does in Damascus. Or, Tehran could go confrontational by increasing its support to Sheik al-Sadr and the Mahdi Army just the way it clandestinely supported Hezbollah in Lebanon to combat the recent Israeli incursion.

Because we do not have the intelligence assets necessary to provide us Tehran’s intentions, we must therefore prior to the deployment of any combat troops plan for a worst-case scenario that directly addresses increased Iranian support to the insurgency. This will require a detailed review of U.S. options and plans to defeat Iranian overt support.

Our air and naval power must be the primary military elements — America’s “Big Stick” if you will — in addressing the increased Iranian threat. There is critical infrastructure Iran cannot afford to loose. It can be made very clear to Tehran through third parties what their continued support of the insurgency in Iraq will cost them. Indeed, China, Japan and South Korea, all of which are major importers of Iranian oil, can play a significant role in back-channeling to Tehran and we should pursue that option assiduously.

Freezing Iranian accounts would be another tactic our other allies, including those in the region (and perhaps even our NATO colleagues) might be willing to undertake. And should Iran take the first option to wait us out, the additional combat brigades can concentrate on totally eliminating both the Mahdi Army and the al Qaeda in Iraq insurgency.

Another contingency we must deal with beforehand is the cost of this new deployment. I believe the expense of our additional combat capabilities should be shared by our regional allies. After all, it is the Saudi Arabia, Kuwaiti, Qatar, Oman, and Bahrain among others, who will be the primary beneficiaries of stability in Iraq.

Therefore, a regional fund led by Saudi Arabia should be established to defray some of the costs of new U.S. military operations, but also to help pay for equipping and training the new Iraqi army. A separate fund should be established to help with the reconstruction effort. Indeed, our regional allies must be much more aggressive in supporting U.S. efforts in Iraq if regional stability is to be achieved in the near term, and for the long term.

James A. Lyons, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, was commander-in-chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet (the largest single military command in the world), senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations and deputy chief of naval operations, where he was principal adviser on all Joint Chiefs of Staff matters.

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