"Iran arming Iraq insurgents"was last month's story. Today's papers are telling a different story; the new line being pushed by U.S. officials is that Iran is supporting Al-Qaeda.
Today's Washington Post:
Iran Allows Money, Recruits
to Reach Al-Qaeda, U.S. Says
'Secret deal' allegedly supports activities of terrorists in Pakistan
In the New York Times:
Treasury Accuses Iran
of Aiding Al-Qaeda
U.S. Accuses Iran
of 'Secret Deal' With Al-Qaeda
The Post calls this "the most serious U.S. allegation to date of Iranian aid to the terrorist group"– though it later notes that "U.S. officials have repeatedly accused Iran of assisting Al-Qaeda, links between the two have been difficult to prove." This time around the charge is that a Syrian middleman operating from Iran transfers money and recruits to Al-Qaeda leaders based in Pakistan. Iran denies any role in this alleged scheme, and the evidence offered in the stories amounts to statements from U.S. officials asserting that this is happening.
The notion that Shi'ite Iran would be working closely with Sunni fundamentalist Al-Qaeda is a leap, as some of this coverage suggests.
But the Times account, by Helene Cooper, seems to go the furthest in helping to shore up the U.S. case, making the bizarre argument that the existence of U.S. allegations and the Treasury Department sanctions against individuals in the supposed network mean the case against Iran is solid:
The officials said the sanctions were nonetheless meaningful because they would serve to demonstrate that Iran was working with Al-Qaeda.
That's like saying that the fact that the U.S. invaded Iraq to destroy its WMDs means Iraq must have WMDs.
When not providing justification in its own voice, the Times allows U.S. officials to anonymously push their argument further:
Indeed, one senior administration said the action sought to expose both "a key funding facilitation network for Al-Qaeda and a key aspect for Iranian support for international terrorism."
"Our sense is this network is operating through Iranian territory with the knowledge and at least the acquiescence of Iranian authorities," the official said in a conference call with reporters.
Of course, if Iranian officials were really allowing this to happen, U.S. officials would probably say so on the record.
Floating allegations about an Iran/Al-Qaeda connection isn't new. For a good dissenting take on media coverage from last month, you can read this piece from Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett.
And it's worth pointing out that the other Iran story, which alleges that Iran is shipping arms into Iraq to kill U.S. soldiers, isn't going away either.