Iran is Nudging the US to Move over in Baghdad

Five days before the third anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, on March 20, 2003, the Bush administration took two significant steps, political and military, to arrest Iraq’s plunge into a hopeless sectarian civil war


First came an announcement in Washington:


Former US secretary of state James Baker was appointed to head a new bipartisan task force to examine the effectiveness of American policies in Iraq.


Mr. Baker, a Republican who served under President George W. Bush‘s father, has promised an honest assessment of the situation facing US forces.


The task force was set up at the request of the US Congress. Its 10-member panel also includes the former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton. He was vice-chairman of the committee of inquiry into the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, some of whose findings highlighted failures in the White House.


A few hours later, the US military in Iraq announced the launch of Operation Swarmer, billed as the largest air-ground assault in Iraq since the 2003 invasion. Due to last several days, the offensive is targeting al Qaeda and insurgent strongholds in the hotbed Salaheddin province around Samarra, 100 north of Baghdad. Involved are more than 50 aircraft, 1,500 US and Iraq troops and 200 tactical vehicles. The bombing of the Shiite shrine at Samarra, attributed to al Qaeda, sparked a round of calamitous sectarian tit-for-tat violence that is bringing Iraq to the brink of civil war. Drastic action was indicated to stabilize the situation.


Some informed circles in the US capital define the Baker panel’s task as being to determine if the United States is winning or losing the Iraq war and whether Iraq is indeed on the verge of a “low-intensity civil war.” However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington sources describes the task force’s mission as rather being to figure out an acceptable bipartisan formula for US forces to quit Iraq with the least possible military and political damage to the United States.


 


Washington and Tehran stake the same prime minister


 


(See DNW 244 of March 3, 2006, US Generals Go from Offensive to Defensive)


It had become urgent to create this impressive commission because of three strategic developments, over and above the slide in popular approval of the Bush administration’s Iraq policies.


1. American forces had begun pulling out of key areas, leaving critical regions in the west, the central Sunni Triangle and the capital Baghdad defenseless, without previously determining how to handle the fate of Iraq – and its neighbors – in the course of and after the American army’s exit.


2. Iran has launched an aggressive clandestine campaign to take over Shiite political institutions and through them the Iraqi government administration in Baghdad and the Shiite regions of the south.


3. Al Qaeda and Iraqi Sunni insurgents are fast encroaching on the areas evacuated by American forces.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iraq sources point out that by the time the Baker task force carries out its remit to collect all the relevant data, analyze it and draw conclusions, its work may well be overtaken by the pell-mell deterioration in the country.


Our Iraqi experts report that the greatest danger looming over Iraq, which the Bush administration and the US military command have not treated seriously until now, is the swift tempo of Iranian inroads in Iraq.


(More details are offered in the next article in this issue.)


Whereas Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s al Qaeda network and the Sunni guerrillas represent a military problem, an Iranian takeover would represent a far-reaching, military, political and strategic blow. If Tehran gets away with its lightning grab for positions in Iraq, the United States will see its plans for Iraq and the entire Bush vision of a new democratic Middle East crash to the ground.


The US ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalillzad is beavering away to get a national unity government installed in Baghdad. He is backing Shiite prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari, head of the Dawa party, who won the nomination of the majority Shiite United Iraqi Alliance which holds 130 seats in the 275-member parliament.


His nomination is fiercely resisted by Kurdish and Sunni Muslim factions.


At the same time, Tehran is deepening its influence over that selfsame United Iraqi Alliance bloc, the bulwark of the national unity government Washington wants to see installed in Baghdad.


That influence is measurable.


 


Six Iraq lawmakers are six undercover Iranian brigadiers general


 


DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources in Baghdad report a discreet scan was made of the political affiliations of the full list of 275 candidates which Jaafari’s movement posted in the December election.


Almost 130 of those candidates were found to be connected in some way or other with, or on the payroll of, the Iranian bodies pulling the wires of Iraqi politics from across the border.


Six Iraqi lawmakers elected on the United Iraqi Alliance ticket are revealed here to be undercover “amid” officers – brigadier-generals – of the Iranian revolutionary guards and intelligence service. They used political fronts to disguise their undercover missions on behalf of the Islamic republic.


DEBKA-Net-Weekly reveals the names and functions of those six Iraqi politicians-cum-Iranian brigadier generals.


Abu Muchtabi Sari – former secretary general of the Iraqi Hizballah.


(The next article in this issue reveals how this group furthers the planting of Iranian intelligence agents and suicide teams in Iraq).


Abu Hassan Al Amari – the last commander of the Badr Force at its base in Iran.


Abu Mahdi al Muhandis – former Badr Force officer.


Rajah Alwan – former Badr Force officer.


Dager Moussawi – Head of the Lord of the Martyrs Movement, which Iran’s military intelligence established in the Shiite regions of central and southern Iraq. (Lord in the Shiite sense refers to the holy Imam Hussein)


Tahsin Aboudi – a high-ranking Iraqi interior ministry official, under which cover and as an Iraqi member of parliament, he is a an undercover brigadier general of Iran’s external intelligence service, which is operated by the foreign ministry in Tehran.


Given the subversive nature of the high and mighty of Shiite politics, it is hardly surprising that obstacles are being piled up against the formation of a Shiite-led coalition government. It is also no wonder that parliament’s first sitting broke up in discord after 30 minutes and a cursory swearing-in ceremony. The problems of setting up a government run a lot deeper than sectarian disagreement over a prime minister. Most of the key players know exactly whom they are dealing with, behind the facades of Shiite Iraqi politicians and officials. Their resistance is not just focused on prime minister Jaafari but is aimed at thwarting the rise in Baghdad of a government that is a stooge of Iranian intelligence.


 


The Shiite mainstream is linked to Tehran


 


It is no secret among Baghdad’s political insiders that the Iranians are in the middle of an artfully contrived program to exploit Iraq’s democratic process for the capture of positions of political influence in Baghdad and the southern Shiite regions of Iraq.


Only now, is it possible to assess how much damage US objectives in Iraq suffered from the assassination of the pro-American Iraqi Shiite, Ayatollah Majid Khoei, on April 4, 2003, a bare month after the American invasion. Great hopes rode on this youthful cleric, son of a grand ayatollah who was adulated by millions of Shiites and persecuted relentlessly by Saddam Hussein. Majid Khoei, who lived in exile between New York and London, was recruited before the war and provided with a 3000-strong militia to enter Iraq together with the invading American and British forces. His mission was to help Iraqi Shiites throw off Iraqi rule and Iranian influence and assume the leadership of the community.


At first, Khoei tried working with American and British forces in Basra, capital of the south. That attempt was not a success. The Americans then moved him over to the holy town of Najef, south of Baghdad. He was entrusted with persuading the Grand Ayallah Ali Sistani to issue a fatwa telling Shiites not to resist the Americans. But there, he met his end. The erstwhile rebel cleric Moqtada Sadr, whose Mehdi Army has meanwhile joined the United Iraqi Alliance, sent his men to kill his pro-American rival on orders from Tehran.


After that setback, the Americans shifted their Shiite stake to two power centers: Sistani’s religious base and the former prime minister Iyad Allawi’s secular Shiite faction. For the first year or two, the grand ayatollah performed powerfully on the Iraqi political scene. Of late, he has faltered, unable to stand up to Iran’s drive for positions in the Shiite community. Allawi, too, found his liberal, secular views frowned on by the Shiite mainstream and went in search of allies outside the community among Kurdish and Sunni Muslim groups. In present-day Iraq, this sort of mixed fraternity is more a liability than an asset.


Thursday, March 16, saw a rush of events triggered by the failed parliament session, the political impasse in Baghdad and the appalling scale of sectarian bloodshed bedeviling Iraq.


 


US-Iranian dialogue on Iraq is broached


 


The leader of SCIRI, the largest faction of the Shiite United Iraqi alliance, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, stood up and asked Iran to help resolve Iraq’s controversies. He spoke after Washington accused Tehran of meddling in Iraq’s troubles and Iran, pretending innocence, denied the charges.


Ali Larijani, powerful secretary of Iran’s supreme national security council and its nuclear negotiator, responded by graciously accepting Hakim’s proposal to help resolve Iraq’s problems and establish an independent government.


In comments aired by a Shiite TV channel, Larijani welcomed dialogue with America on Iraq “for an understanding on disputed issues for the benefit of the Iraqi people.”


Before the day was over, the White House said the US was willing to talk to Iran about Iraq – but not about Iran’s controversial nuclear program.


This would be the first public dialogue in many years between the United States and the revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran.


It is also a mark of Iran’s self-confidence. Tehran fully expects the Washington to be balked in its drive for UN Security Council sanctions for its nuclear activities by Russia, China or both wielding their veto options. The Iranians feel they can afford to be magnanimous and extend a helping hand for America and the George Bush administration to climb out of the Iraqi morass. It would be tacitly understood that Washington will reciprocate by letting Security Council deliberations on the Iranian nuclear program peter out in a general declaration that does nothing to hinder Iran’s nuclear development.


It is hard to see this dialogue or any of the events occurring in quick succession in the last two days determining who will eventually rule Iraq – or even the autonomous Shiite province expected to rise south of Baghdad and encompass the southern oil fields.


All three of Iraq’s Shiite powerhouses are closely allied to Tehran: the once-rebellious Ayatollah Moqtada Sadr, prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim.


The truth of the matter is that after three years of an American presence in Iraq, Iran ends up with more influence among Iraqi Shiites and in southern Iraq than Washington and London combined, even though British forces were placed in control of the south from day one.

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