Forget the rhetoric: Iranian leaders may be waxing enthusiastic about the capture of an old enemy Saddam Hussein, with whom they have a long reckoning. At the same time, their clandestine dealings with him would not bear the light of day, and their worries over what he might reveal to his US interrogators are a lot deeper than the “spider hole” he called home.
Weeks before America’s March invasion of Iraq, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources report, Iran helpfully flooded Saddam Hussein’s military arsenal with large quantities of weapons and ammunition for standing up to possible attack.
More importantly, Tehran agreed to store in secret places dozens of containers of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons. They were to be transported back to Iraq if they were needed to fight off an American military advance. In the event, everything happened too fast. The US pushed up to Baghdad with lightning speed and the Iraqi army caved in too quickly for Saddam and his late sons, Uday and Qusay, to reclaim the stockpile.
On August 16, 2002, DEBKA-Net-Weekly 73 reported:
Intelligence spotters were initially mystified by the 60-truck convoy that US spy satellites photographed last week busily shifting crates at a key Iraqi biological weapons site once known as the Taji Single Cell Protein plant, some seven miles (10 km) northwest of Baghdad. The CIA declined to comment on the report. But DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, noting that Israeli spy satellites also picked up the convoy, have since learned it was part of a highly complex and ambitious Iraqi operation to whisk most of its nuclear, biological and chemical weapons-making equipment to safety with its erstwhile foe turned ally, Iran, ahead of a feared US offensive.
Saddam has put his son Qusay in charge of the high-powered project. Handling the Iranian end is another high-ranking figure, Mohammad Bagher Zolghadr, acting commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards units posted on the Iran-Iraq border.
About 150 containers packed with some of the most sensitive equipment Iraq has developed for the production of weapons of mass destruction have already made their way east across the border into Iran. Over the weekend, Iraq plans to move out another three convoys, each carrying between 35 and 50 containers of similar cargo.
Our military sources also pinpointed the exact destination of the contraband:
…the Zagros Mountains that dominate western Iran’s Kermanshah province near the border with Iraq. In the last four years, Iran has been constructing special nuclear- and smart bombproof tunnels under these almost impassable, snow-clad peaks, some towering to between 12,000 to 15,000 feet.
The first 100 Iraqi containers were deposited in two tunnel sites in the Zagros Mountains – one in the Baba Abbas area outside the suburbs of Khorram-Abad and the other in the Harour Hills in the Khorram Abad region.
The two sites are 20-30 kilometers (12-18 miles) east of the Iraqi border.
For all DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources know, the containers are still there.
The United States therefore has the approximate locations of at least two of Saddam’s secret WMD storage areas outside Iraq – in Syria and Iran. With all their bravado, the rulers of Tehran are quaking lest Saddam spills all the beans about their role in the subterfuge, fearing the United States would be provided with yet another motive for hostile action.
All this has not stopped Iranian leaders from gloating over Saddam’s humiliating capture.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Saddam a wild animal, murderer and war criminal and said Iranian families who lost loved ones in the eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s were thanking God that he would soon be brought to justice.
It was the burning ambition of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, father of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, to see Saddam punished and brought low for his crimes, thereby adding six years to the bloody conflict fought between the two countries for most of the 1980s. The Iraqi ruler, realizing he could not defeat Iran, had been ready to cease fire after the war entered its second year. But Khomeini was determined to fight on until Saddam was toppled, the secular Baath party ejected and the Iraqi people freed of tyranny. This was only achieved in 2003 by Khomeini’s Big Satan, the United States led by President George W. Bush.
But a million Iranians and Iraqis were to pay with their lives for his obduracy.
In another twist of irony, the former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, now head of Iran's top political arbitration body, said Saddam’s capture was Divine Retribution, effectively elevating the Americans to the status of Allah’s emissaries. Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, head of Iran’s judiciary and responsible for the jailing and execution of dozens of the regime’s opponents, declared Allah had shown that tyrants are punished in this world, and not only in the after-life.
However the heads of the Islamic regime in Tehran are not relying on Divine intervention to get them out of the hole created by the Iraqi ex-ruler’s capture. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian sources report back-to-back secret meetings in the Iranian capital to decide how to handle the predicament over Saddam’s WMD stores in the Zagros Mountains.
The ayatollahs are also deeply apprehensive about the encouraging effect of Saddam’s capture on the domestic opposition.
Expatriate Farsi-language radio stations – mainly on the West Coast of America – daily air telephone calls from Iranians impatient for the day when Iran’s religious rulers suffer the same fate as the Iraqi dictator. It is time, they say, for Bush to give those rulers a taste of the medicine he meted out to the Taliban in Kabul and Saddam in Baghdad. After all, he named Tehran an arm of his axis of evil.
Elaheh Koula’i, a 46-year-old Tehran legislator arrested numerous times for criticizing the government, said: “This will be the fate of all despots, everywhere and any time.”
Iranian leaders have attempted to deflect the popular rage against them by hauling out two standard whipping boys — the United States and Israel. In a speech on Tuesday, Khamenei said: ” I heard the US president told Saddam 'the world is a better place without you'. I want to tell the US president he should know the world would be an even better place without Bush and Sharon.”
Rafsanjani put in: “Saddam offered the people of Iraq and his neighbors nothing but wickedness. America and Israel will share the same fate.”
Hojjat-Ol Eslam Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pour, a founder of the Lebanese Hizballah and chairman of the reformist faction in the Iranian parliament, accused the United States of falsely claiming credit for Saddam’s capture when it belonged to Iraqi citizens. Iraqis, he added, were buoyed by their own success. Government spokesman Abdollah Ramezan Zadeh was the only official to welcome Saddam’s detention unreservedly, although he could not explain why it had taken him a whole day to release a comment.
At the same time, Iran’s hard-line press played down Washington’s achievement. The Kayhan newspaper even claimed US forces had captured a Saddam look-alike. Johmouri-E Eslami saw in the affair an American conspiracy and warned it would backfire when Saddam took the stand at his trial and exposed American war crimes and involvement in atrocities in the region.