Mechanics of Iran’s Takeover of a War and a Territory

Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s decision to launch his army in a crackdown on the Shiite militias rife in southern Iraq was covertly manipulated from Tehran.

It took the US army and intelligence commands completely by surprise, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources report. They had no inkling of this plan before March 25 when Maliki and 20,000 government troops were already on the high road to Basra.

Because the US military command was not approached for assistance – and would most likely have refused – the government army marched without logistical support to supply food, water, ammo, fuel and vehicles for moving around among battle sectors.

Tehran stepped into the breach.

All the Iranian military and intelligence agents and cells who were working undercover in southern Iraq, behind such front organizations as charitable foundations, medical facilities and religious seminaries, were quickly mobilized. Armed with fistfuls of dollars, they hired a fleet of hundreds of trucks and pick-ups to ferry Iraqi government forces fighting to dislodge armed groups between Basra, Kut, Nasiriya, Dawiniya, Al Amara and dozens of small townships and villages.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers distributed the vehicles among the sectors. They delivered ordnance from Iraqi army stores across the country and food to the soldiers in the South, filling the tanks of Iraqi armored vehicles. Pick-ups rounded up the wounded from the battle arenas and drove them to hospitals.

The adviser at Maliki’s side was Gen. Hossein Shawani, chief of Iraqi intelligence, who acted as his go-between with the Iranians.


No interference by the Americans


DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report that the Americans stood by and did not interfere with the Iranian initiative, only ascertaining that they stayed out of four towns, Baghdad, Najef, Karbala, and Samara. The Iranians, understanding they were warned off, treated the four towns as no-go zones.

But the IRGC agents also succored the militias, notably Moqtada Sadr’s Mehdi Army, which government forces were fighting to quell. They too depended on the Iranians for supplies, food and vehicles.

By keeping its hand on the levers of the two antagonists, Tehran was able to govern the level and intensity of combat.

This control was further exercised by attaching Iranian intelligence officers to the militia chiefs and their commands.

The biggest gun, Brig. Gen. Qassem Suleimani, chief of the IRGC’s al Qods Brigades, was attached to the largest and most powerful militia, the Sadrist Mehdi Army. The al Qods Brigades are responsible for running Iran’s external terrorist organizations in Iran, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority and the Gulf.

As Maliki’s forces struggled for headway, Tehran set about muddying the water to conceal its double game. They put out the word that the young Shiite cleric was in the Iranian center of learning at Qom. Would-be truce negotiators were encouraged to travel to Iran to talk to him.

The tale was swallowed by Iraqi and American media, which reported that the officials who had gone looking for him in Tehran had sought in vain.

(The New York Times, April 1, 2008: Iraq Seems Calmer after Cleric Halts Fighting).

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources discovered that from the moment the crisis began, Sadr never once left his headquarters in the Iraqi Shiite shrine town of Najef, where he kept his head down surrounded by bodyguards and Iranian advisers.


Iranians play Shiite antagonists against each other


Those advisers were behind the Mehdi Army chief’s flip-flop.

When Maliki in desperation offered cash to militiamen who surrendered, Sadr ordered his followers to press for the prime minister’s resignation. Before the fighting got out of hand, they advised him to call his men off the streets in return for a government amnesty.

Gen. Suleimani adroitly played the two Shiite antagonists against each other.

On the one hand, he had ammo delivered to the Iraqi tanks threatening to smash their way into Sadr’s strongholds in Basra; on the other, he assured the Iraqi cleric that the city’s alleys were too narrow for those tanks to navigate and they would be at the mercy of the anti-tank guns Iran had given his Mehdi Army.

Certain Iraqi Shiite informants confided to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources that Gen. Suleiman in the course of the six-day battle drove in and out of Iran in his armored convoy. This is not confirmed. But questions were raised in many quarters in the region about the fact that US military and diplomatic officials stood by and made no move to hamper the al Qods commander’s freedom of movement

For years, he is believed to have been hand in glove – and not only in Iraq – with Hizballah’s super-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in February in Damascus.

Latterly he worked with the Hizballah Brigades in Iraq which the Lebanese Shiite group established in southern Iraq.

Gen. Suleimani’s track record is long and unsavory.

He is credited by US officials with running the smuggling routes for the deadly Explosively Formed Projectiles, the extra-powerful roadside bombs, used by Shiite insurgents to kill American troops.

The US Treasury Department bars Americans from doing business with him. He rated a mention in UN Security Council resolution of March 2007, which ordered Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program and his financial assets were ordered frozen by UN member-states.


Tehran is setting up Maliki’s state visit to Damascus


DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Iranian sources describe the Islamic Republic as exploiting the Basra outbreak for three objectives:

1. To loosen the fringe militias’ and criminal gangs’ control of southern Iraq’s oil fields and export installations. Targeted in particular was the Iraqi Fadhila Party’s armed wing headed by Sheikh Yakobi, which has a special relationship with the oil companies based in the Basra region and the local security forces guarding port installations.

Fadhila’s leader Mohammed al-Waeli is governor of Basra.

2. To develop the Iraqi government’s expeditionary force to Basra into the largest armed force in Iraq’s third biggest town.

This force accounts for a quarter of all Iraqi armed forces. Tehran means to keep it pinned down in the South and unavailable to the Americans for engagements in other parts of the country.

Maliki's total dependence on Iranian support and supplies will be exploited to make him toe Tehran’s line. Iranian officials in Baghdad and Damascus are working hard to organize a state visit by the Iraqi prime minister to Syria as guest of president Bashar Assad.

This visit would dramatize Iraq’s affinity to the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah axis and enhance its standing in the Arab world.

Iran has gained popularity among the Shiites of southern Iraq as the power which averted a bloody fraternal Shiite conflict.

This week, two high-ranking Iraqi Shiite delegations paid urgent trips to Washington to caution the administration that America’s new direction in the South would inevitably land the entire country in Iranian hands.

They were not received by senior US officials and they left after meeting juniors with the sense that their warning had fallen on deaf ears.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email