The third deadline for an African Union-brokered peace accord between the Sudanese government and Darfur factions expired Thursday night, May 4, as US deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick shuttled between Khartoum and the talks in Abuja, Nigeria, in a frantic effort to wring more concessions out of Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir.
He stepped into the breach after thousands of Americans protested in support of a demand to end the slaughter, rape, looting and starvation that have driven 2 million Darfur refugees across the border into Chad.
However, the Sudanese ruler Bashir is playing a deep double game, as DEBKA-Net–Weekly‘s intelligence sources reveal exclusively here.
Tuesday, May 2, two Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (Pasdaran) companies made secret landings at Khartoum’s military air field aboard a C-130 military transport. They were driven without delay to a military installation on the outskirts of the capital.
Their arrival signaled the onset of an Iranian airlift to transport a complete RG brigade to Sudan.
This clandestine operation is the first step in the implementation of a secret deal Omar Al-Bashir concluded in three days of marathon talks with Iran’s clerical rulers in Tehran on April 24-27.
The crux of the accord, our sources reveal, is the Sudanese president’s consent to safely store Iran’s most sensitive nuclear equipment, including its turbo speed P-2 centrifuges, against a potential US or Israeli attack. In return, Bashir was promised military aid from Tehran to speed up government operations to crush the Darfur rebellion.
Since the centrifuges enrich uranium by spinning uranium hexafluoride UF6 at very high speeds, the Iranians will first have to produce UF6 at their UCF installation at Isfahan in Iran, and then adapt storage space in Sudan for tens of tons of the gas.
Secret Iranian contingents may slip over into Chad
Intelligence and Iranian sources report to DEBKA-Net-Weekly that the Iranian contingent which landed in Khartoum is led by Lt.-Col. Asghar Mobarake and accompanied by a cleric, Hojat-Ol Eslam Mostafa Ramazani, who is head of the Revolutionary Guards intelligence division RGID.
Tehran has code-named its Sudan operation Zolfagha, for the two-edged sword wielded by the Shiites’ most revered saint, Imam Ali. The troops are members of the 3rd Brigade of the 7th RG unit called Vali E-Asar, after one of the titles borne by the Mahdi, the Shiite messiah.
Bashar intends deploying the Iranian units without delay at the Mellit base in western Darfur, our sources reveal. Their officers have been granted permission in advance to send upon request small reconnaissance bands into Chad, and deploy them at particularly inaccessible Darfur rebel sanctuaries, such as Am Timan in the Saalamat province of eastern Chad.
The Iranian troops have been handpicked and are seasoned in combat.
All are of Arab origin and speak fluent Arabic. Some served in Iraq or were trained by Iraqi Shiite Badr Force instructors in Iran; others hail from Iran’s Arab-speaking oil region of Khuzestan. An entire group served in southern Lebanon, training Hizballah terrorists in guerrilla tactics.
The contingent was flown to Sudan directly from the Khuzestan capital of Ahwaz, where it was engaged in combat against Arab Shiites guerrilla forces fightingTehran for their region’s independence.
For months, Tehran has been complaining that US, British and Iraqi intelligence officers present in southern Iraq and the Persian Gulf are training the Khuzestani rebels and supplying them with arms, explosives and funds. The Iranian clerics therefore feel justified in sending military aid to Sudan as payback.
The transport flying troops to Sudan took a roundabout flight path through Libya to escape American and Israeli notice, after Tehran requested and received permission for a stopover in Tripoli.
To transport the centrifuges, Iran is planning to use its own cargo vessels. On their regular routes to East Africa, the boats will put in at anchorages controlled by armed militias on the Somali coast. Offloaded there, the centrifuges will be transported overland to Sudan. Iranian agents along this route have pledged handsome sums in gold and dollars to helpful militia chiefs.
Russian meddling in Darfur?
In a further top-secret development discovered by DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, the Iranian commanders dispatched to Sudan are also under orders to cooperate with an officer of the Russian GRU military intelligence, known only as “Captain Razhabov,” who is reportedly posted under cover at the airfield of Nyala in western Darfur, to conduct operational liaison with the Khartoum-backed Arab militias, such as the janjaweed.
Despite all its efforts, DEBKA-Net-Weekly has not obtained firm confirmation of this link in the murky Sudan-Iranian chain. If verified, the information would provide the first proof of Russian military intelligence meddling in the Darfur conflict.
Up until three years ago, Sudan and Iran were in cahoots in shared subversive-terrorist activity. The Islamic republic shelled out hefty sums of cash to the Khartoum government for new roads and bridges to develop the country, as well as sending pilots to fight in Khartoum’s war against the south Sudanese secessionists.
After peace was signed with the south, Sudan drew back from its close ties with Iran under heavy US and international pressure.
The two erstwhile allies came together again last year, when the situation in Darfur took a turn for the worse and Sudan faced an international outcry over the genocidal atrocities committed by Arab armed forces in the service of the Bashir government.
Lengthy undercover exchanges were broached between Tehran and Khartoum on renewed cooperation. They culminated in the Sudanese president’s visit to Tehran last month.
The secret deal on the transfer of Iran’s nuclear equipment was implicitly touched on in the public statements winding up their talks.
Bashir was the first foreign leader ever invited to tour Iran’s nuclear installations at Isfahan.
When he received the Sudanese president on April 24, Iran’s supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said quite openly that the nuclear capabilities of Iranian scientists were “one example of the numerous scientific movements in the country,” adding mystifyingly: “The Islamic Republic is ready to transfer this experience and the technology and knowledge of its scientists to its neighbors.”
In return, the Sudanese president praised Iran’s enrichment of uranium as a “great victory for the Islamic world.”
Last month, too, Bashir said out of the blue that his country was considering creating a civilian nuclear program.
As for the military assistance accord for Darfur, this too was reflected in the statement he made in his joint news conference with the Iranian president at the end of their talks.
The Sudanese president maintained that the issue of Darfur was raised by the United States in order to inflict damage to the Sudanese government. He accused the US of intending “to damage Sudan’s resources.”
Lining up with Iran’s virulent anti-West and anti-Israel line, Bashir went on to accuse the Western media of “propaganda against Muslims in recent months.” He said developments in Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan and the US and Israel’s “efforts to cause discord in Syria and Lebanon as well as Iran’s nuclear issue” were among instances of “enemy moves to discredit Muslims.”
The Sudanese president congratulated the Iranian government and people on their “recent nuclear achievement.” He said his country believes that the “God Almighty has been helping Iran and no one can harm that country.”