President George W. Bush and his aides must be patting themselves on the back this week over a most surprising feat. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and Iranian sources report that months of laborious bargaining have produced a secret US-Iran military cooperation agreement for the war against Iraq.
Both sides also reaffirmed the military pact they sealed on the eve of the Afghan War last October to do battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in the Gulf reveal the deal was struck in Doha, capital of the United Arab Emirates, after lengthy negotiations between an official from the office of Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and representatives of the White House National Security Council.
The Iranian representative was Abbas Malachi, former deputy foreign minister, who used the pseudonym of Tom Serkiss. The American called himself Jonathan Smith Jr. Both claimed to be on the staff of the US embassy in Kuwait.
Our sources list the high points of the accord:
The Americans undertook three key commitments:
A. Iranian irregulars would be admitted into the parts of northern Iraq controlled by US and Turkish special forces and participate in military action against Saddam Hussein’s regime.
B. America and Iran would collaborate in the political moves for installing an alternative Iraqi government in place of Saddam’s administration. Tehran sought and received a US pledge to include Iran in the current preparations in northern Iraq for convening the Iraq National Council. This body will bring together all of Iraq’s minority and opposition groups — Kurds, Turkmen and Shiites – that together make up about 60 percent of the population. The Shiite Iraqi Supreme Moslem Revolutionary Committee, led by Mohammad Bakr al-Hakim, who has long lived in exile in Teheran, will be awarded a seat on the council.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources expect the National Council to convene soon, probably in the Kurdish-controlled city of Irbil in northern Iraq, and declare itself Iraq’s transitional parliament. The Council will dissolve all other ruling bodies, including Saddam’s government and the ruling Baath party institutions. The National Council in its capacity as transitional parliament will invite world nations, led by the United States and Britain, to come to the aid of the Iraqi people and liberate it from Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule.
Throughout this process, the United States is committed to protecting the rights of Iraqi Shiites, granting them military protection in the same measure as is extended to the Turkmen and Kurds. The Shiites will also be afforded the same degree of autonomous government as their two fellow groups and appropriate representation in the federal administration scheduled to rise after the regime is overthrown.
C. Washington promises assistance to Iran for repulsing any Iraqi offensive and for preparing against a possible nuclear, biological or chemical attack.
The Iranians countered with the following pledges:
A. No additional regular or irregular Iranian forces will enter Iraq before, during or after the war. Iran effectively recognizes Iraq’s territorial integrity.
B. There will be no Iranian attempt to damage or commandeer Iraqi oil fields, in part or in whole.
C. No more Iranian agents will be planted in the predominantly Shiite areas of Iraq. Anti-US agitation and propaganda will be discontinued in the Shiite community and Tehran will refrain from meddling in Iraq’s domestic politics during and after the war.
D. US special forces, after proper coordination and accompanied by Iranian liaison officers, will be permitted to cross into Iran from Afghanistan in pursuit of al Qaeda fighters taking refuge in the country.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources liken Clause D of the new accord to the understandings Washington reached with Pakistan for US special forces to conduct operations in Afghan-Pakistani frontier districts. But, unlike Islamabad, Tehran will not tolerate the presence of CIA or FBI agents in its cities – certainly not in Mashhad in the north and Teheran and Qom in the center of the country, the very locations where al Qaeda operatives are believed to be hiding. Iranian officials agreed merely to act on US intelligence information and launch their own investigations on the whereabouts of al Qaeda fugitives in those cities. Any discovered would be deported.
Our sources discerned the first application of the landmark accord last week, when
a battalion-strength vanguard unit, made up of Iraqi and Afghan rebels from the Badr force, an elite counter-terrorism contingent of the Revolutionary Guards, crossed into northern Iraq. US and Turkish special forces officers escorted the Iranian unit to its deployment zone in the Kurdish Sulemeniyeh area.
Meanwhile, Iraq’s Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Massoud Barazani sent his cousin, Nachirwni Barazani, to Teheran to meet leaders of the opposition Iraqi Supreme Revolutionary Committee. He brought back with him to northern Iraq a large party of Revolutionary Committee members for talks with Massoud Barazani.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iraq experts note that this exchange of visits marks a historic reconciliatory “sulha” between the Iraqi Shiite opposition leadership and Kurdish tribal chiefs. Had they not buried the hatchet, the Americans would have been held up in their efforts to create a political infrastructure to replace the Baghdad government.
The US-Iranian rapprochement has already yielded valuable fruit for Washington’s war on terror.
According to our intelligence sources, the arrest of Mullah Krekar, leader of the Iraqi extremist Moslem group Ansar al-Islam, at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport on September 12, was the result of an Iranian tip to US counter-terror authorities. He was picked up en route from Tehran to Oslo.
Teheran next ordered its penetration agents in Ansar al-Islam, an organization that hosted al Qaeda trainees in northern Iraq, to quit and return home.
Hundreds of group members, realizing that without Iran’s protective umbrella they would be easy prey for Kurdish forces, have begun turning themselves in – some to the Kurdish authorities, others to US special forces.
Iranian agents have been working alongside American interrogators to weed out al Qaeda operatives buried among the extremists. They are also useful for fingering al-Ansar fighters who collaborated with al Qaeda or are suspected of possessing information on bin Laden’s network. As a result, al Qaeda’s most important ally and supporter in northern Iraq has been disabled.
Wednesday, September 24, several hundred US special forces troops entered the border town of Doupshta, near the Afghan-Iranian border station of Islam Qala (Fortress of Islam). The commandos will continue their journey over the weekend and be led by Iranian officers across the frontier for a lengthy operation against the hundreds of al Qaeda fighters who have set up bases along the Iranian border.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources remark that neither the Americans nor Iranians are under any illusions about the lasting effect of their accord or its ability to prevail over underlying dissonances. But, as an ad hoc device, the collaboration pact has made it possible for the United States to tighten the noose around the necks of Saddam and his regime. Iran is deemed in Washington a vital strand in the rope for snaring the Iraqi leader.