Just before President Barack Obama set off for a family holiday on Monday, Aug. 24, he received the intelligence that Tehran's hand was behind the latest spasm of terrorist violence in Iraq. Its instrument was the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards al Qods Brigades, which specializes in terror and espionage outside Iran.
The attacks reached a deadly crescendo Wednesday, Aug. 19, with half a dozen coordinated suicide and mortar attacks on government buildings, killing 100 people and injuring over 1,000.
Gen. Suleimani stars on the United States list of terrorists and was targeted for sanctions by UN Security Resolution 1747 in March 2007.
The al Qods commander is a familiar face to US commanders in quite a different capacity: In March 2008, he helped American forces negotiate a ceasefire with the Mehdi Army, thereby stifling a deadly revolt staged by its leader, the radical Iraqi cleric Moqtada Sadr.
Twice in four days, the US president was shown proof that the Iranian leadership is dominated by past and present terrorist executives.
Thursday, Aug. 20, debkafile broke the news that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's designated defense minister Ahmadi Vahidi is wanted by Interpol and the Argentine prosecution for plotting and directing the bombing attack on the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in 1994. The attack left 85 dead and hundreds injured. He acted then in his capacity as al Qods commander, predecessor of Gen. Suleimani.
Courting Syria is a waste of time
Vahidi rose in the ranks after he ran a well-oiled kidnap-cum-murder machine against Americans and other Westerners in the Lebanon of the 1980s. Two of his victims were William Buckley, CIA station chief in Lebanon, who was abducted in 1984 and Col. William Richard Higgins, who was the senior American military and intelligence figure in Lebanon when he was snatched four years later. Both were tortured to death.
This week, President Obama was warned by his intelligence advisers that Suleimani had been given orders directly from the office of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to let loose a surge of terror in Baghdad and southern Iraq.
Its objectives are listed by DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Iranian sources:
It was to be Tehran's payback for alleged US involvement in stirring up unrest in Iranian cities in the wake of the June 12 presidential election. The al Qods chief was instructed to stage massive terror operations to show Washington that Iran's arm is long enough to punish the US in faraway places, whether Iraq or even Afghanistan. (Read next article for details of their deployment.)
The attacks must be orchestrated by al Qods networks based in Syria. He was told to make a point of recruiting the Iraqi Baath's Syrian networks (remnants of Saddam Hussein's ruling party) and al Qaeda cells based in Syria, to convey three messages to Washington:
- Shiite Tehran has no difficulty in mobilizing Sunni Iraqi insurgents or al Qaeda cells anywhere in the Muslim world.
- Iran can at any time open its borders for al Qaeda operatives to stream from Afghanistan and Pakistan into Syria, Iraq and the Persian Gulf. This means Tehran has the power to unleash a second Afghan war in the Middle East.
To underline this point, Suleimani was told to hire followers of the high-profile al Qaeda sheikh Issa al Masri to bomb Baghdad.
The sheikh arrived in Damascus at the end of June to reorganize al Qaeda networks for Iraq. He came from the Pakistani tribal area of Waziristan and travelled to Syria via Iran. According to US intelligence, the al Qaeda leader works under the protection of Syrian security services.
- This new build-up in Syria of a haven for terrorists, jihadists and agents of subversion as guests of the Assad regime was meant to provide Washington with living proof that all its efforts to cut Damascus away from its strategic bonds with Tehran are in vain.
The Obama administration is therefore wasting its time wooing the Syrian ruler.
Al-Maliki is isolated and diminished, must kowtow to Tehran
- The goal which most surprised US intelligence experts was Tehran's wish to overthrow Iraq's Shiite prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in order to prevent a strong government rising in Baghdad.
Iran has been working on two levels to topple Maliki: The first is by horrific terrorist attacks and the second by burrowing under his power base.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources disclose that the prime minister's allies' sudden decision to desert his coalition and form an opposition Shiite bloc six days after the Baghdad atrocity was engineered from Tehran.
According to those sources, the new Shiite block is headed by former prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, and Vice President Adel Abd al-Mahdi, who represents the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq's leader, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, who died of lung cancer this week after spending eighteen months in a Tehran hospital.
Another participant is the ex-rebel cleric, Moqtada Sadr, who too spent many months in Iran.
Members of the Badr Brigades, the strongest Shiite militia in Iraq, have jumped aboard the anti-Maliki bloc despite the fact that they are ostensibly part of the Iraqi army.
Thus the Iraqi prime minister was not only badly damaged politically by the terror attacks and his security agencies' failure to prevent them, but he has ended up isolated in his own Shiite community.
He has thus lost the option of forming a strong regime in Baghdad with himself at its head and must bow to dictates from Tehran.
Iran's maneuvers have succeeded in two strategic aims, denying Iraq a strong government and forcing it to kowtow to Tehran instead of Washington.