Somewhat tardily, American intelligence in Iraq homed in on the Iranian border to find out how huge quantities of weapons had been reaching Iraq. (Read separate article in this issue and HOT POINTS below). They were amazed to discover that the Iranian consignments were heading straight into the hands of Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s minions on the Iraqi side of the border.
Further US undercover investigations of the traffic sought answers to key questions.
1. Are the shipments part of a one-time large arms transaction concluded between Iran and the Iraqi al Qaeda commander? If so, on whose initiative was the border opened up for masses of anti-air shoulder-carried missiles, anti-tank rockets and extra-power roadside bombs for the Iraqi insurgent movement? Did the initiative come from Iran or from Zarqawi?
2. Is the new hardware all going to al Qaeda or is it being distributed under a pre-arranged deal with Tehran among the various guerrilla groups? The answer to this question is the key to the next.
3. As debkafile‘s exclusive military sources reported on May 15, Iraq saw for the first time in the three-year war the rise of a cluster of apparently new Shiite terrorist groups, which are aggressively attacking US and British forces. They appeared at the same time as the new supply of weapons under such Shiite-associated names as the Imam Kasim Brigades, which seems to operate north of Baghdad; the Imam Ali Brigades of Nasiriya in the south, and the Imam Hadi Brigades which claims to be based in the Rustumiya region south of the capital.
Zarqawi’s terrorists disguised as new Shiite militias
The US command is trying to find out if these Iran-backed Shiite terrorist groups are a new manifestation – one which would upset the existing balance of strength between the various insurgent groups and the American army – or veteran groups, possibly even Sunni Muslims, which have assumed Shiite names to send US intelligence chasing hares.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly has gained exclusive access to some of the answers American intelligence officers found to these questions:
A. Negotiations between Iran and Zarqawi’s representatives on the arms transaction took place in the second half of April at Hizballah headquarters in South Beirut. Hizballah operatives were the go-betweens for Zarqawi’s men, who traveled from Iraq via Syria, and the Iranian delegates who were posted at the Iranian embassy in Beirut.
B. Those talks led to three senior operatives of Zarqawi’s al Qaeda organization crossing into Iran in the last week of April from the eastern Iraqi town of Majid Qadir Agha, north of Baquba, to western Iraq. There, Revolutionary Guards officers awaited them and guided them to Kani Rash, a town north of Kermansha, where a command center had been set up for organizing the weapons consignments to Iraq.
C. American investigators also noted that in the last video appearance of al Qaeda’s Ayman Zawahiri on April 29, when he called on Pakistanis to rebel against President Pervez Musharraf, he also instructed al Qaeda followers to refrain from attacking Iranian targets.
He stressed that he distinguished between war on Shiite Muslims, which was to be encouraged, and attacks against Iran which should stop. This line is consistent with Zarqawi’s behavior and philosophy.
The Americans also observed that in the week the arms deal was settled in Beirut, al Qaeda leaders, who have been living for some years in Iran under the protection of the Revolutionary Guards, suddenly found their voices. After almost a year of silence, they issued statements of support for the Iranian regime.
These findings, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources report, reinforced the theory held by some members of the American military command in Baghdad that the seemingly new Shiite groups of terrorists are really part of Zarqawi’s al Qaeda network in Iraq in disguise. This theory is still being studied.