Disaffected Ethnic Power Harnessed to Destabilize the Clerical Regime
The oft-delayed referral of Iran’s nuclear misdeeds to the UN Security Council has had the disappointing effect of demonstrating the international community’s helplessness to arrest the Islamic Republic’s progress towards a nuclear bomb.
Rather than imposing sanctions, the UN Security Council gave Iran a 30-day deadline to halt enrichment without any real penalties for non-compliance.
The Bush administration is therefore calling up a mixed bag of counter-measures to intimidate the Iranian regime with the threat of destabilization. Some of them were tried successfully in the Cold War and ultimately contributed to the break-up of the Soviet empire. They depend heavily on a hostile front in international institutions, barring Iran to foreign business corporations and investments (A ban on US investments in Iran’s oil industry has been in force for some years), stirring up Iran’s repressed minorities against the regime, sponsoring overseas Iranian opposition groups, and running a precisely-focused anti-government propaganda campaign over television and radio.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports from Washington that the state department and the Pentagon have set their traditional rivalries aside and are working together on the anti-Tehran project.
This collaboration has come about because US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is more hawkish on the Iranian issue than her predecessors. She is moreover backed by the vice president’s daughter, Elizabeth Cheney, a state department official with long experience of Iran. The White House and National Security Council also came around after consulting Iran experts and conducting surveys of the situation there. Rice also intends to reinforce the state department’s Iran desk with 20 more top specialists.
On the ground, agents run jointly by the state department and the CIA from US embassies in countries bordering on Iran have been instructed to set up contacts in disaffected ethnic groups and opposition movements inside Iran to enhance intelligence-gathering.
Pulling Iran apart from by its four corners
Iran’s four corners are inhabited by repressed, embittered minorities with strong grievances against central government.
The 2.5-3 million Baluchis of the southeast and their kinsmen in Pakistan are Sunni Muslims. Shiite-dominated regimes in Tehran from the days of the shah have discriminated against them, with the result that Sistan-Baluchestan is one of the most backward and neglected provinces of Iran.
Its inhabitants subsist mainly on smuggling – drugs from Pakistan and Afghanistan and goods from the oil emirates through the Persian Gulf coast and the Sea of Oman.
They are already several months into a guerrilla campaign against government targets.
The Baluchi guerrilla commander is Abdol-Maalek Rigui, who has fought the ayatollahs regime for years and runs operational bases in Pakistani Balochistan and Afghanistan.
He calls his group Mojahedin Jond-Allah (Fighters of God).
His guerrilla operations are making Baluchistan a dangerous place for Iranian officials. Three months ago, he kidnapped 8 Iranian border guards to obtain the release of 5 of his men in Iranian custody, but was forced to let them go under pressure from Islamabad. An attempt was also made on the life of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Baluchi gunmen ambushed his convoy on the highway south of Zahedan, the capital of Sistan-Baluchistan. He was not in the car attacked and escaped harm. But his driver was shot dead.
Rigui’s armed group’s latest attack left 22 Iranian officials dead, some of them district commanders. Baluchi gunmen also abducted a dozen officials by ambushing their convoy at Zabol, the place where the Iranian, Pakistani and Afghan borders meet.
This time, he swears to keep hold of the kidnapped officials until his demands are met. Some were shown under armed guard on al Jezeera Arabic television begging for their release.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report that US agents have injected fresh, newly equipped Baluchi recruits into the ranks of the Mojahedin Jond-Allah. They will soon become operational.
Another corner of Iran, the southwestern province of Khuzestan, is home to the Farsi-speaking ethnic Arab minority some one million strong, which too has always been downtrodden by the central government. But under the Islamic regime, their plight has gone from bad to worse. Their spiritual leader Shobeir Khaghani is forced to live in the shrine city of Qom, banished there in the early days of the Islamic revolution for demanding equal rights and freedom for his community.
The ethnic Arabs of Iran also have close kin outside the country’s borders in the Basra region of southern Iraq, Persian Gulf emirates and Saudi Arabia. They keep up their historic relations with the British dating back to the early 1900s and maintain offices in London.
Kuzestani Arabs, Kurds and Turkomen ready to boil over
Khuzestan insurgents, having carried out dozens of attacks on the oil pipe network of the oil-rich region, are a serious threat to Iran’s oil industry. In recent months they have engaged government forces in bloody clashes and planted several bombs at strategic points in the provincial capital of Ahwaz and other towns.
Iran accuses the UK of fomenting uprisings at the two opposite corners of the Islamic republic, but DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources disclose the Americans are behind the troubles of the last few months and will soon be operating a central headquarters in Washington to run the Arab guerrilla campaign in Iran.
In western Iran, the Kurdish minority of six million or more has been in bloody conflict with the regime from the early days of the Khomeinist revolution.
Here too, the unrest is ready to boil over. Cities like Sanandaj, Baneh, Mahabad, Marivan and Dardasht see regular armed clashes with Iranian security forces. Alongside the two traditional Kurdish parties, the Democratic Kurdish Party of Iran and the Kumaleh, several radical guerrilla groups have sprung up. They operate out of Iraqi Kurdistan and cross back and forth across the border without difficulty, bringing with them from Iraq to Iran fighters and weapons.
On the march too are the roughly half a million Turkomen of the northeastern province of Khorasan. As Sunnis, they are victimized by the Shiite government on both religious and ethnic scores. The Turkomen too rose up in the early days of the Islamic revolution, only to be brutally subdued. American agents are now present working on the organization of a new uprising. They are also negotiating for bases of operation on the other side of the border in Turkmenistan.
The fourth minority targeted by the Americans for revolt against Tehran are the Azeris of the northwest, expatriates from neighboring Azerbaijan. The difficulty here is that there are Azeris in central government – Iran’s Supreme Ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is of Azeri descent – and they are financially comfortable and socially accepted.
But a small, vocal Azeri group complains that Iran is suppressing Azeri culture and language and they seek the annexation of their region to Azerbaijan. While American influence in the northern republic is strong and activating agitators presents no real difficulty, very few Azeris are expected to stand up and fight.
American experts calculate that uprisings by the four minority groupings against the government would have the potential effect of threatening the republic with serious cracks and possible disintegration by breakaway minorities. They judge this danger a far lesser evil than an Islamic nuclear bomb in the hands of the ayatollahs.
The Bush administration must now persuade Congress to allocate the funds for this campaign of subversion against Tehran. Informed Washington sources believe congress is on the warpath against the Islamic republic and will therefore not raise obstacles, especially since this project would be less costly than a direct military strike and entail a far smaller loss of life.