Blending in The Society for More Terrorist Operations
After US forces expanded their control over different parts of Iraq, the clerical regime’s leaders reached the conclusion that they cannot directly face off with the Americans in Iraq. They therefore embarked on a two-pronged strategy.
The first was to expand public activities by setting up charity, assistance, medical help and other civil network, similar to the Hezbollah in Lebanon. They also expanded clandestine armed cells to conduct military operations against US forces and Iraqis opposed to the presence of the Iranian regime and its affiliated forces.
This strategy derived from the analysis that time was to the US detriment in Iraq in that the US public would not tolerate a long presence of US forces in Iraq. The best approach, therefore, was to expand the organization of the regime’s affiliated forces in Iraq to have the upper hand in any development. At the same, the thinking was that with use of secret armed cells a secure and stable environment the US was after had to be disrupted. Tehran leaders believed that Iraq
“would be a ripe apple, which it could pluck up sooner or later.”
In a private meeting of the regime’s leaders on April 21, Hashemi Rafsanjani said:
“We can invest in Iraqi Shiites. The situation could not be better. There is no time in detente, which calls for passive action. We must activate Iraq and the region full forces. The British had prepared the situation for us for expansion in the south.” This view is reflected in the clerics’ public comments as well. Rafsanjani said on …, “The fight against blasphemy and arrogance has surpassed geographical borders. Islam was never restricted to a particular border.” “Referring to the many problems the US has in Iraq, he said money, military force and strong propaganda are not impediments in confronting the US,”
state-run news agency, ISNA, reported. 3
Arbaeen demonstration, a springboard
In a meeting between Khamenei, the Revolutionary Guards commanders and those responsible for Iraqi affairs on April 20, it was decided that Arbaeen, (commemorating the fortieth day marking the anniversary of the martyrdom of Hussein, the third Shiite Imam) into a show of force against the Americans. Subsequently, is a private meeting with Hakim, Khamenei said:
“The US wanted to set up an American brand of Shia in Iraq through Majid Kho’i. However, it no longer has a pawn. The situation is ripe to solidify our position.” He added: “Try to demonstrate maximum show of power by exploiting the religious sentiments of the Shiites in Karbala. At the time when popular support is on the rise, try to go to Iraq. Given the presence of Shiites in the south, you much achieve maximum expansion and control the power in the cities.”
The Arbaeen ceremony was a springboard and the first phase of the regime’s plan to set up its own alternative in Iraq. Tehran had three specific objectives:
-Slogans against the US presence in Iraq and in support of the Islamic Republic;
-Establishing the position of Mohammad Baqer Hakim as the vali-e faqih (Supreme Leader) of Shiites in Ira q. Khamenei said this must be accomplished even if it entailed 5,000 casualties; and
-Popularizing the slogan of “no East, no West, and only Islamic Republic.”
The Ramazan Garrison was assigned to implement this plan with Khamenei’s personal financial help. The regime had planned to bring millions of people as supporters of Baqer Hakim. To this end, Revolutionary Guards commanders in Karbala held a meeting with 200 Iraqi oppositionists, all on Tehran’s payroll, and briefed them about the objectives of this ceremony.
Sheikh Hassan Hashemi Golpaygani, Khamenei’s representative in SCIRI carried Khamenei’s message to the leading clerics in Karbala and Najaf. He called on them to put up a united front and invited the people to stand united under the banner of Hakim.
The Revolutionary Guards has divided its activities in Iraq into two main regions. The Zafar Garrison is responsible for Baghdad and Diyala Province and the Fajr Garrison is responsible for other Iranian cities. Thousands of mullahs’ agents are present as military and paramilitary forces as well as religious preachers in different Iraqi towns, including Baghdad, Al-Amara, Baquba, Al-Kut, Najaf, Karbala and parts of Basra and continue their work in the framework of “expanding influence.” In smaller towns and regions, Tehran affiliated forces and groupings run the administrative affairs through which they intend to institutionalize and at the same time expand their influence and control.
Reacting to Tehran’s meddling
So extensive was the Iranian regime’s meddling in Iraq that it prompted US and British officials to openly warn the mullahs about their actions. On April 25, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that the United States would not allow a pro-Iranian regime to be established in Iraq, in a strong warning to Tehran not to interfere. He said:
“A vocal minority claiming to transform Iraq into Iran will not be permitted to do so…. We will not allow the Iraqi people’s democratic transition to be hijacked by those who might wish to install another form of dictatorship… There is no question that the government of Iran has encouraged people to go into the country and that they have people in the country attempting to influence the country.” 4
In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Rumsfeld again issued a stern warning to Tehran, reiterating that “interference” in Iraq by its neighbours or their proxies “”will not be permitted.”
Rumsfeld particularly warned Iran against “seeking to mould the future path of Iraq’s social and political development.” He said: “Indeed, Iran should be on notice: Efforts to try to remake Iraq in Iran’s image will be aggressively put down.”
Rumsfeld added there had been discussion in Washington on whether to deal with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, a moderate, or deal with the clerics, or not deal with either. He said the argument for dealing with Khatami was that it would encourage moderate forces:
“The argument against that is that he clearly is there at the whim of the clerics, and each time he moves toward very much reform, he gets his leash, the chain, pulled on him and he is stopped from doing that.
“For that reason, he said, US policy in recent years has been ‘not to engage the top two layers of that country’ in the hope that the people of Iran would ‘find ways to persuade the leadership in that country that they are going down the wrong road.'”5
The White House also warned Tehran that its meddling in Iraq is unacceptable. The Los Angeles Times wrote:
“As Shiite Muslims in Iraq flexed their political muscle, the Bush administration said Wednesday that it had warned Iran’s fundamentalist Shiite government against interfering with its neighbour’s ‘road to democracy.’…In a message to Tehran, the Bush administration ‘made clear to Iran that we would oppose any outside organization’s interference in Iraq,’ White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said.”6
An initial assessment in Tehran
A month after the fall of the Iraqi regime, the clerical regime summoned all 9th Badr Corps commander and leaders of the Supreme Council for Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) to Iran to assess the progress of its policy in Iraq and determine the future course of action. These meetings were held on Wednesday and Thursday, May 21 and 22, 2003, at the Qods Forces’ headquarters at the former US embassy in Tehran. A number of Badr commanders also attention special meetings with the commanders of the Qods Force and the Ramazan Garrison. After initial assessment, Khamenei received all 9th Badr Corps commanders at his residential quarters to finalize the discussions. Some of those taking part in this meeting included:
-Abu Hassan Ameri, the 9th Badr Corps commander;
-Abu Ali Basari, former 9th Badr Corps commander and current commander of the southern axis based in Basra and Baghdad;
-Abu Hessam, the 9th Badr Corps Counter-Intelligence commander of the southern axis, based in Basra;
-Abu Morteza Mashadi, the 9th Badr Crops Personnel Directorate chief;
-Abuzar Khalesi, Mostafa Brigade commander in Diyala Province;
-Seyyed Abu Legha’, the 9th Badr Corps operations commander and current commander of Baghdad operations;
-Abu Zolfaqar, Imam Ali Division commander who was originally arrested by the US forces. After his release, he went to Iran to take part in these meetings;
-Abu Ahmad Badran, commander of the Heidar Karar Division;
-Abu Ahmad Rashed, commander of Hazrat Rassul Division;
-Abu Montazer Hussayni, commander of Imam Hussein Division;
-Abu Mojtaba Sari [Savari], commander of the Hezbollah movement in Al-Amara Province;
-Abu Jaafar Moussavi, deputy commander of Seyyed ol-Shohada movement, and three other commanders of this movement;
-Three commanders of the 15th of Sha’ban movement.
The Revolutionary Guards and the Bassij pledged to share their experiences with the 9th Badr Corps in a series of political briefing. Other issues of discussion included problems with receiving wages from the Guards Corps, anti-US demonstrations, US attack on the SCIRI and the 9th Badr Corps headquarters and the arrest of a number of their leaders.
A week later, toward the end of May, officials of the SCIRI held a meeting in Tehran, attended by senior officials of the council. SCIRI leaders met senior regime officials on May 20 and 30, 2003. They included:
-Abu Islam Sa’di, Chief of SCIRI’s Budget and Credits;
-Abu Ali Mowla, Executive Chairman of SCIRI and a top deputy to Mohammad Baqer Hakim;
-Two other SCIRI officials, who came through the Mehran border and went to Tehran from Ilam Province;
-Seyyed Mohsen Hakim, SCIRI spokesman and son of Abdul Aziz Hakim. He took part in several meetings with officials of the Iranian Armed Forces Command Headquarters and the Nasr Headquarters.
The continuing meddling of Tehran several weeks after the disarming of the PMOI on May 10, 2003, again irritated US officials.
On May 28, U.S. administrator Paul Bremer complained of “troubling” Iranian activity in Iraq and said it could result in serious problems if it went too far. Reuters quoted him as saying:
“We have seen a rather steady increase in Iranian activity here, which is troubling… What you see at the most benign end of it is Iranian efforts to sort of repeat the formula which was used by Hizbollah in Lebanon. (That) is to send in people who are effectively guerrillas and have them get in the country and try to set up social services and decide that these social services are their ticket to popularity.” And then they start to arm themselves and you wind up with a serious problem if you let it go too far.” 7
Even in the south of Iraq, where the British had offered major concessions to Tehran to dissuade it from interfering in Iraq’s internal affairs, the top British official in that country, John Sawers, voiced dismay over the mullahs’ meddling. The Guardian wrote:
Britain’s most senior official in Baghdad warned yesterday that Iran was still giving ‘unwelcome’ support to fundamentalist Shia groups in Iraq.
John Sawers, the prime minister’s special envoy to Baghdad, accused Iran of backing religious militias vying for power in post-war Iraq. ‘We have seen signs of and attempts to exercise undue and unwelcome influence in support of fundamentalist groupings,’ he said in an interview.8
The Inter Press Service reported that Tehran had offered 200 to 300 US dollars to young Iraqi clerics to go on six-to-nine month missions to Iraq and promote its policies. It wrote:
Iran has officially denied U.S. allegations that it is meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs. But a visit earlier in June to the Iran-Iraq border post near Khaneqin indicated otherwise. Ali Behbehani, an Iraqi Shiite who fled with his family to Iran in the 1980s and returned to Iraq last month, said religious leaders in Iran’s holy city Qom were offering Iraqi religious students money to return home and preach Islam.
‘The program was started a month ago by the International Centre for Islamic Studies,’ he said. ‘They have offered 200 to 300 dollars to Iraqis who volunteer to return to their city of origin and preach Islam for a period of six to nine weeks. After that we can either return to Qom or continue to live in Iraq and earn our living.’
Behbehani said the Qom centre is home to about 500 Iraqi students and about 2,000 international pupils from Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Europe, and the United States. It is not clear whether the Qom centre has similar return programs for other countries.” 9
3 Rafsanjani, ISNA news agency, 25 May 2003
4 Donald Rumsfeld, AFP, 25 April 2003
5 Rumsfeld, Speech in The Council on Foreign Relations, New York, AFP, 28 May 2003
6 The Los Angeles Times, 24 April 2003
7 Reuters, 28 May 2003
8 The Guardian, London, 3 June 2003
9 Inter Press Service, 4 July 2003