The ruling ayatollahs in Teheran have received a nasty surprise in Iraq.
Their natural allies in the fight against Big Satan, Iraq’s majority Shiites are so pleased to be liberated from decades of discrimination, repression and the murder at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni hatchet men that they are reluctant to join up for Tehran-instigation subversive operations against US forces.
Shiite religious institutions are flourishing, new seminaries serving thousands have opened in the cities of Karbala and Najaf and mosques have been renovated. Smaller scale construction is afoot also in Basra, Samara and Baghdad. A lot of this prosperity is funded by Iran, but Shiite
communities around the world are sending large donations.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources report that the Al Badr Brigades, the military arm of the Iranian-supported Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI, is unpopular by and large in the Iraqi community. In another setback, Tehran has failed to bring Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali al-Sistani, the top Shiite religious authority inside Iraq, under its influence.
The Iranians are seeking to raise a rival to Sistani, the much younger and ambitious Hojat-el-Islam Moqtada Sadr, who owes his standing to the martyrdom of his father Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq Sadr at the hands of Saddam’s executioners, rather than his own inadequate scholarship. Sadr was accused of complicity in the public assassination of a rival Seyyed Abdul Majid Khoei in the Imam Ali Mosque of Najaf on April 10 shortly after his return from exile.
As a last resort, Tehran has switched on eight radio stations which beam Arabic-language propaganda across the border, glorifying martyrdom against foreigners and heretics but steering clear of direct anti-American incitement. They have little effect on the mostly secular Iraqi community.
For lack of any other options, the ayatollahs have turned to Iraqi Sunni Muslims, their bitterness at losing the privileged positions they enjoyed under the Saddam regime in the military, bureaucratic, financial and business sectors, providing fertile soil for subversion.
The Sunnis moreover have the skills for fighting a guerrilla war, as the backbone of Saddam’s army, with a proud British-inspired fighting tradition. Former officers have looted weapons depots and placed the arms in hiding places for safekeeping. Former Sunni soldiers have carried out many of the recent attacks against US troops. The operations were models of planning, incorporating speed, surprise and well-charted escape routes.
Just to be on the safe side, Iran has moved several Al Qaeda and Hezbollah combat experts into Iraq to organize and advise the ex-military men and members of the Iraqi Baath party now in hiding or living under assumed names. They will be assigned to small squads charged with carrying out major attacks. Iranian agents have also been sent to Qatar and Bahrain to explore the possibility of showcase strikes against US military command headquarters and even US naval ships in the Gulf.
According to intelligence assessments obtained by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources, some 1,240 low- and mid-ranking Al Qaeda men are currently in Iran, along with five senior commanders who are living in the lap of luxury in large and secure villas in Teheran and Mashhad, a northeastern city near Afghanistan.
This week, Iran announced it had uncovered the identities of several “arrested” Al Qaeda operatives. An Iranian government spokesman did not release their names or positions within the terrorist organization. He also declined to disclose their nationalities, but did say that Iran intended to extradite or try them. US intelligence officials were not buying the charade. They believe the Al Qaeda men are living under Iranian protection and preparing, at the command of Iranian extremists, to launch attacks in the region and around the world against “enemy” – mainly US and Israeli – targets. Hizballah operatives will take part in some of those missions.