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International View: Beware of veiled alliance among Islamic factions

Iraq is a big ol' mess. Few would dispute this. The agreement stops, however, at who's at fault. One thing's for sure: The two lead mess-makers are in a snit over the other making a mess of their respective messes. In other words, al-Qaeda has be...

Iraq is a big ol' mess. Few would dispute this.

The agreement stops, however, at who's at fault. One thing's for sure: The two lead mess-makers are in a snit over the other making a mess of their respective messes.

In other words, al-Qaeda has been trying to make Iraq theirs. Iran has been trying to inspire radicals to make an Islamic state just like theirs through material support and training for Shiite militias. Shiite militias not only battle coalition forces, but also fight Sunni insurgents who have the backing of al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda then threatens to attack Iran if their meddling doesn't cease. Al-Qaeda doesn't want the bloodshed to stop; it just wants to be the one doing the bloodletting and wants its fighters left alone.

"We are giving the Persians, and especially the rulers of Iran, a two-month period to end all kinds of support for the Iraqi Shia government and to stop direct and indirect intervention ... otherwise a severe war is waiting for you," al-Qaeda in Iraq's Abu Omar al-Baghdadi warned in an audiotape released July 8.

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When suggesting that al-Qaeda and Iran could be partners in crime, the theory is usually met with skepticism. All we've seen in Iraq is sectarian bloodshed, after all, and the Shiite Islamic republic has its own ideas about creating a clone next door.

But when we brush off the plausibility of these nefarious entities uniting in pursuit of common goals -- our destruction, Israel's destruction, a world under Islamic law -- we risk missing the intricacies and subtle relationships that spin a tangled web between Syria, Hezbollah, Iran and al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

Bashar Assad, Hassan Nasrallah, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayman al-Zawahri: together at last. Any ideological or political rifts seem to matter less than the common ground of these bombastic leaders.

Take Syria: Since the Valentine's Day 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri several more anti-Damascus lawmakers have been killed, the most recent in a June bombing. Syria, of course, claims no responsibility, but the crimes clearly benefit Hezbollah. Last fall, the White House said it was "increasingly concerned by mounting evidence that the Syrian and Iranian governments, Hezbollah, and their Lebanese allies are preparing plans to topple Lebanon's democratically-elected government."

Iran caused a stir after Sept. 11, 2001, on reports it was harboring al-Qaeda fighters who fled from the U.S. attack on Afghanistan. The 9-11 Commission, in its 2004 report, found long-running links between al-Qaeda and Iran, as well as cooperation with Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah. In fact, the original 1988 U.S. indictment of Osama bin Laden said al-Qaeda "forged alliances ... with the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezbollah for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies in the West, particularly the United States."

The greatest concern that arises from this delicate alliance dance, though, could be cooperation that proves especially deadly to the U.S. and her allies.

"We assess that al-Qaeda will continue to try to acquire and employ chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear material in attacks and would not hesitate to use them if it develops what it deems is sufficient capability," stated the National Intelligence Estimate's "The Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland" document in July.

If al-Qaeda was seeking nuclear material, there's no greater friend to have than Iran, which is so hell-bent on its nuclear "energy" program that Ahmadinejad even offered to serve as a human shield to protect Natanz nuclear facilities. As Iran plays the sanctions game with the U.N. Security Council and steps up uranium enrichment, more time passes in which to produce materials and pass them along.

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Don't expect al-Qaeda in Iraq and Iran to bicker for long, particularly if al-Zawahri has anything to say about it; expect a mutually beneficial relationship along with their other similarly oriented bedfellows.

"We assess Lebanese Hizballah, which has conducted anti-U.S. attacks outside the United States in the past, may be more likely to consider attacking the Homeland over the next three years if it perceives the United States as posing a direct threat to the group or Iran," stated the NIE report.

Though "al-Qaeda is and will remain the most serious terrorist threat to the Homeland," that danger increases with a little help from its frenemies.

Bridget Johnson is a columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News.

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