DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Teheran report that, despite the agreement Iran reached with the United States on military and political cooperation over Iraq (as reported in our last issue), the Iranian leadership finds it politic to feign opposition, or at least a neutral posture, to a US offensive against Saddam Hussein.
Iranian leaders hosted Iraqi foreign minister Naji al-Sabri in Teheran this week, as if nothing had changed. But intelligence reports on Sabri’s visit and the military cooperation memorandum Iranian and Kuwait defense ministers signed in Tehran the next day, brought some cheer to the White House.
The Iraqi foreign minister demanded that Iran intensify covert and overt action to deter the United States from invading his country. Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi replied that Iran had tried to thwart the Americans by diplomatic pressure and the threat of retribution by Hizballah and Islamic Jihad terrorists. In one such warning, which Washington then passed on to Israel, Iran threatened that rockets would fly from southern Lebanon at Haifa’s industrial and refinery installations.
Sabri also asked Iran to sell Iraq – as a first step — 10 Shehab-3 surface-to-surface missiles. He sweetened the request with an offer of a 300 percent premium on the purchase price – in cash. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard commanders were eager to snap up the money, but its top officials turned down the deal, fearing America would punish Tehran even before invading Iraq.
In a word, Iran’s leaders decided to hold back from any subversive act that Washington could interpret as hostile.
Finally, the Iraqi foreign minister appealed to Iran’s Shiite Moslem clergy for a religious edict, or fatwa, declaring a jihad on the United States if its troops marched into Iraq.
The Iranians prevaricated and made no promises. But they presented the Iraqi visitor with a list of their own, the first item of which was a demand to disband opposition Mojahedin e-Khalq bases in Iraq and extradite its leaders, Massou Rajavi and his wife Maryam, to Iran.
Iraq offered to consider the request as a quid pro quo for Iran meeting Baghdad’s demands.
Iran also asked to receive the bodies of Iranian soldiers who fell in combat in Iraq, especially those killed in the Faw peninsula and the Majnoun islands during the first Gulf War. Iraq was asked to halt its repressive measures against its Shiite community and release jailed Shiite clerics. Sabri denied there was any repression in Iraq. All Baghdad wanted was for Ayatollah Mohammad Bagher Sadr to stop cooperating with the United States and conducting subversive activities against Saddam Hussein.
Kuwait’s defense chief Sheikh Jaber al-Mobarak al-Hamad al-Sabah came away from Tehran a lot happier than the Iraqi foreign minister. The Kuwaiti and Iranian defense ministers signed a memorandum of understanding on security issues, which did not really commit Kuwait to act in Iran’s defense, but which Teheran saw as a crowning achievement of its foreign policy. For years, Teheran has tried unsuccessfully to draw the Gulf emirates away from the United States and Britain and attract them to Iran’s sphere of protection. Iranian leaders trust that the memo signed by Kuwait will lead to more such accords with additional Gulf States, made possible by the dramatic easing of its old frictions with Saudi Arabia.