Sunday, April 11, 2004

The Wider War

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which translates articles from the regional press, cites an April 9 report that Iran was in the process of infiltrating Iraq on a massive scale even before Operation Iraqi Freedom. The preparation included the use of the Shi'ite religious network, the infiltration of agents into the mass media, the recruitment and training of thousands of militants, the fielding of candidates for the promised elections and a program of targeted assasination. All backed by seventy million dollars a month in secret funds from the Mullahs.

The London Arabic-Language Daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat quoted extensively the former Iranian intelligence official in charge of activities in Iraq, identified as Haj Sa'idi, who recently defected from Iran. "Haj Sa'idi told Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that the Iranian presence in Iraq is not limited to the Shi'ite cities. Rather, it is spread throughout Iraq, from Zakho in the north to Umm Al-Qasr in the south, and the infiltration of Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Al-Quds Army into Iraq began long before the war, through hundreds of Iranian intelligence agents, amongst them Iraqi refugees who were expelled by Saddam Hussein in the 1970's and 1980's to Iran, allegedly because of their Iranian origin, and who infiltrated back into Iraq through the Kurdish areas that were out of the Iraqi Ba'th government control.

"After the war, the Iranian intelligence sent its agents through the uncontrolled Iraq-Iran border; some of them as students and clerics, and others as belonging to the Shi'ite militias.

"Haj Sa'idi said that the assassination last summer of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakim, who headed the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), was a successful operation carried out by the intelligence unit of the Iranian Al-Quds Army. He also revealed that there was a failed attempt on the life of the highest Shi'ite Marja, Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, at the Eid Al-Adha holiday last year, and that there was another plan to assassinate Ayatollah Ishaq Al-Fayadh.

"Haj Sa'idi claimed that some of the Iranian intelligence officers in Iraq are known to everybody, for example in Al-Suleimaniya and Derebendikhan in the north. However, he said, the real threat comes not from the officers that are known, but from those that are unknown. Amongst them are 18 Shi'ite charities in Kazimiya, in Al-Sadr city in Baghdad, in Karbala, Najaf, Kufa, Nasiriyah, Basra, and other cities with a large Shi'ite majority. In those offices, new agents are recruited every day, under the guise of financial aid, medicine, food, and clothing for the poor.

"Haj Sa'idi said that the Iranian plan to turn Iraq into another Iran is a wide-ranging plan, and it involves the recruitment of thousands of young Shi'ites for the next stage, which will take place with the [first] parliamentary elections in Iraq. Those recruited now are supposed to enlist their relatives to vote for candidates that will be endorsed by the Iranian intelligence apparatuses.

"Haj Sa'idi also mentioned that more than 300 reporters and technicians who are working now in Iraq for television and radio networks, newspapers, and other media agencies are in fact members of the Al-Quds Army and the Revolutionary Guards intelligence units.

"He also mentioned that the Iranian money allocations for activities in Iraq, both covert and overt, reached $70 million per month. He claimed that 2,700 apartments and rooms were rented in Karbala and Najaf, in order to serve agents of the Al-Quds Army and the Revolutionary Guards.

If true, these reports suggest that American and Iranian forces are now in a meeting engagement in Iraq. Nearly a year ago today, Michael Ledeen at the National Review warned of the mustering of Iranian agents in strangely prescient terms. Ledeen's 12-month old article so eerily resembles events that are unfolding today that they would shame, by comparison, any "smoking gun" the 9/11 Commission may uncover in relation to the WTC attacks.

The military battle to destroy the Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein has virtually ended. Now the political battle for the freedom of the Iraqi people ensues, and it may be over very quickly, to our surprise and shame.

We have a very narrow window in Iraq to win the support of the Shiite community, which constitutes a majority of the Iraqi people. If we do not manage that in the next month or two, the radical Iranian regime will almost certainly succeed in its ambitious and, thus far, brilliantly managed campaign to mobilize the Iraqi Shiites to discredit the Coalition victory, demand an immediate American withdrawal, and insist on “international” — that is, U.N. and European — supervision of the country. That would leave Iran with a free hand in Iraq, strengthen the regime in Tehran to our detriment, and give a second wind to the terror network. Our victory, as the old saying goes, would turn to ashes in our mouths.

Some of our leaders seemed surprised to discover that both Iran and Syria were sending thousands of terrorists into Iraq to attack Coalition forces, but there was no reason for surprise. Both Bashar Assad in Damascus and Ali Khamenei and his fanatical allies in Tehran had publicly announced that America would sink into a Vietnam-like quagmire in Iraq, and the long delay between the end of the Afghan campaign and the onset of the liberation of Iraq enabled the Iranians and Syrians to plan their moves to best assure this outcome. The Syrians have been caught red-handed, opening their border with Iraq to terrorists moving East and weapons and Baathist hierarchs fleeing West. As usual, the Iranians have taken pains to cover their tracks. Even so, there is plenty of reliable information about their operations. In the middle of the war, for example, many Iraqi leaders — reportedly more than a hundred in all — made it by bus across the border to Iran, were escorted onto a commercial aircraft, and were flown to a safe haven in the Sudan.

But the true audacity of Tehran lies in their political moves. The Iranians have infiltrated more than a hundred highly trained Arab mullahs from Qom and other Iranian religious centers into Iraq, especially to Najaf and Karbala, the holy cities of the Shiite faith. They are poisoning the minds of the (largely uneducated) Iraqi mobs with a simple slogan, repeated five times a day in the mosques: “America did it for the Jews and for the oil.” They are also distributing cash to the Iraqis.

Just as they did against the shah, the Iranian Shiite leaders intend to build a mass following, leading to an insurrection against us. Look carefully at the banners carried by the Shiite demonstrators. They are very clean and well produced, with slogans in both Arabic (for the Iraqis) and English (for Western media). That is the Iranian regime at work, one of the most brilliant and patient intelligence organizations in the region. The slogans chanted by the mobs in Baghdad are Iranian slogans, calls for an Islamic state. It may seem fanciful to suggest that our liberation of Iraq could be transformed into a pro-Iranian regime applying sharia law, but after all just last year our negotiators permitted the creation of an Islamic Republic in Afghanistan.

The Iranians will combine this political strategy with terrorist acts and assassinations, as in the case of the very charismatic Ayatollah Khoi in Najaf. He was a real threat to them, because of his personality and his solid pro-Western views. So they killed him, and they are planning to kill others of his ilk, along with as many Coalition soldiers as they can murder. Thousands of Iranian-backed terrorists have been sent to Iraq, from Hezbollah killers to the remnants of al Qaeda, from Islamic Jihadists to top Iranian Revolutionary Guards fighters.

Here are two accounts, one translated contemporaneously from the Arabic press and a year-old analysis from the National Review which agree on almost every single salient point. What we do not know is the extent to which the US Government appreciated the threat, and how this now-manifest Iranian intervention interacted with European efforts to convince Teheran to open their borders to nuclear inspection. In the coming days the public may learn what contingency plans, if any, CENTCOM had poised against this threat. More importantly, we will discover whether these plans were held back or watered down over a desire not to antagonize Teheran, lest the nuclear proliferation issue be entailed. The linkage between the two would establish that the current war in Iraq is far more perilous than it might seem at first glance. What we are witnessing is not a confrontation between the United States and some nationalist "insurgents", but possibly the opening acts of a confrontation with a nuclear armed terrorist state.

My first thought was, he lied in every word,
That hoary cripple, with malicious eye
Askance to watch the workings of his lie
On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford
Suppression of the glee, that pursed and scored
Its edge, at one more victim gained thereby. ...

There they stood, ranged along the hillsides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! In a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
And blew. 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.'
-- Robert Browning