The final American military exit from Iraq on Dec. 18, conferred on a belligerent Tehran a strategic gift beyond its wildest dreams: wide open overland corridors to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan, as well as a direct military road link from Tehran to Damascus.
Seizing the moment, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei established a new command for all the special and intelligence units operating outside its borders at about the same time as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki wound up his talks with President Barack Obama on Dec. 14 in Washington.
The unified command is headed by Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, commander of the al Qods Brigades which is responsible for Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) overseas covert and terrorist operations.
He now has the added task of running the special units charged with buttressing Shiite domination of the Baghdad government and securing direct military routes through Iraq to Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Israel answered Tehran the next day, Dec. 15 when Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz launched a new Israel Defense Forces-IDF command for “depth” missions in distant locations.
The new corps, said the IDF spokesman, would give Israel military operations "strategic depth.” It is headed by Maj. Gen. Shai Avital, a former special operations commander who retired from the armed forces in 2002.
The new corps "could assist in mobilizing special forces in the Iranian nuclear context," said the statement.
Equally important, it will chart and execute operations related to the covert war on al Qaeda and Iran in such places as Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Sudan and the countries of the Horn of Africa and East Africa.
Saudis tighten Gulf military and financial ranks against Iran
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates reacted with strong words and the closing of ranks.
Monday, Dec. 19, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz opened the annual Gulf Cooperation Council-GCC meeting in Riyadh warning that its members' security was under threat: "No doubt you all know that our safety and security is targeted and so the Gulf Arab states must close ranks as "a single entity," he said. "We learn from history and experience not to stand still when faced with reality," said the King. "Whoever does that will end up at the back of the caravan trail and be lost. That is why I ask of you today to move beyond the stage of cooperation and into the stage of unity in a single entity," said Abdullah.
With these words, the Saudi king decisively spurned Tehran's bid for an anti-US partnership which Iranian intelligence minister Heidar Moslehi put before Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz in Riyadh on Dec. 12.
The statement ending the GCC summit Dec. 21 called on Iran to "stop these policies and practices… and stop meddling in the internal affairs of the Gulf nations."
By "single entity," King Abdullah had two steps in mind: Gulf cooperation in developing nuclear weapons and the creation of a unified GCC military command, approved Tuesday, Dec. 20, to orchestrate the preparations for war with Iran.
In fact, only two members have real military muscle to contribute – Saudi Arabia alone has military forces for operations outside the Gulf, while the United Arab Emirates has the only air force with warplanes for the "single entity" command. Therefore, the summit's final resolution boiled down to all members putting their hands in their pockets to stump up the funds for arming the bloc with a nuclear weapon. The inference drawn by our sources is that this effort is well advanced.
Gulf Arabs signify disapproval of the way US exited Iraq
In the wake of the Iranian and Israeli generals, the Saudi king appointed his incoming Defense Minister Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz head of the just-created GCC joint command. Each of the six members will appoint a professional military man as deputy.
With an eye on these developments, the Obama administration dispatched Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint US Chiefs of Staff, to Riyadh. But the Gulf rulers, including the Saudi defense minister, declined to meet with him. They joined forces to signify their disapproval of the way the US departed Iraq which left Baghdad under Tehran's thumb and show Washington it had no role to play in GCC nuclear and military policies.
Gen. Dempsey had to be content with meeting officials of the Saudi Ministry of Defense officials and National Guard and military officers of Gulf armies.
In his comment on the snub, the US general told reporters traveling with him: “I’ve been very clear with all of our partners – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others – [that] if you’re concerned about the future of Iraq, then we should all work together to help ensure that we achieve a brighter future for Iraq…[If Iraq] is left unattended or left to its own devices,” he said, “then countries that could have helped the newly sovereign nation shouldn’t come back and complain about the outcome.”
Al Maliki begins purge of Sunni politicians
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources report that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners are especially peeved by the discovery – largely from Saudi intelligence agencies – that the Obama administration chose to disregard the Iranian takeover of Baghdad out of US strategic concerns relating to Iran, Syria and Turkey.
They learned that US President refused to take issue with the presence of Hadi al-Ameri, Iraq’s Trade Minister in the Al Maliki entourage he received at the White House last week, although he knew about al-Ameri's notoriously close friendship with Iran's Supreme Leader and the al Qods chief Gen. Soleimani.
Gulf officials complain that US officials were deaf to their contention that the ex-terrorist mastermind's reception in the White House may not mean much to the Americans but was received in the region as a resounding statement capable of releasing Iraq's endemic sectarian demons.
And indeed, Tehran and al-Maliki, exploiting what they saw as American weakness, were already moving forward on their three-pronged scheme for grabbing power in post-war Iraq.
On Dec. 19, just 24 hours day after the last US military convoy rolled out of the country, the Shiite prime minister obtained a warrant for the arrest of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi. Signed by five judges, it charged al-Hashemi with offences under Article 4 of the anti-terrorism law and barred him from leaving the country.
The Sunni leader's thereupon fled to the self-governing Kurdish province in northern Iraq.
Maliki demanded his handover or else, he threatened, the Iraqi army would launch an offensive against the Kurdish Peshmerga army.
DEBK-Net-Weekly's sources report that Maliki also saw his chance of a showdown to challenge Kurdish control of the oil city of Kirkuk which the US military presence had kept at bay.
Tehran wields al-Maliki for domination of government, clergy and street
As Tehran and its Iraqi puppets behaved as though they no longer had anything to fear, fifteen deadly bomb explosions ripped through Baghdad Thursday, Dec. 22, killing 67 people and injuring more than 200 – an ominous sign of the sectarian strife – or even partition – awaiting the country if its current regime goes through with its master plan to install Iran as Iraq's hegemon and Shiite Islam as the ruling faith.
One part if this plan is to push Sunni Muslim politicians like Tareq al-Hashemi out of the ruling machinery in Baghdad and segregate them in the western enclave of Al Anbar province far from the corridors of national power.
To implement the second part, DEBKA-Net-Weekly reports, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, a high-ranking radical Iranian cleric close to Khamenei, was imported from the Iranian holy city of Qom to the Iraqi shrine town of Najef. By this move, the Iranian clerical hierarchy of Qom assumed control of Iraq's Shiite religious centers and asserted its supremacy over the Shiite world's most important centers of pilgrimage.
The third segment devolved on the pro-Iranian radical Iraqi Shiite cleric and long US antagonist Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mahdi Army militia controls Iraq's Shiite masses, just as Hizballah rules the streets of Lebanon.
Our sources report that al Sadr only pretended to seek cooperation with the United States, a deception he dropped after the last American soldier left the country.
Tehran counts on him – like Hassan Nasrallah in Lebanon – to keep the lid on people power in the streets of Iraq and avert popular Arab uprisings that could spill over into Iran.
Tehran has therefore moved fast to slot its Shiite pawn Nouri al Maliki unopposed into the top rung of Iraq's ruling political and military systems in Baghdad; put Ayatollah Sharoudi in charge of its religious establishment and deployed Moqtada al Sadr ready to brandish a whip to keep heads down on Iraqi streets.