Iran’s theocrats, realists and knowledgeable about the capabilities and character of their next-door neighbor Saddam Hussein, accurately predicted the war ending in an American victory and girded themselves for this prospect.
On March 31, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s exclusive sources report a top-level secret strategy conference – with the notable exclusion of reformist president Mohammad Khatami – to plot the post-war campaign against Big Satan.
The following decisions were made:
— To keep Iraqi hostilities simmering as long as possible – both to keep America’s military hands too full to turn their attention to Iran and to exploit “the sufferings of the Iraqi people” for inflaming the Shiites and turning them against the Americans, thereby enhancing Tehran’s protective influence in the New Iraq.
— Iran will continue the “all options” policy it has conducted since before the war – fostering close ties with Iraq’s Kurds, Shiites, Ansar al-Islam Kurdish extremists – and also with US-led coalition forces, on the one hand, and Saddam Hussein, on the other – or whichever ruling Iraqi clique emerges in Baghdad. By meddling in Iraq’s affairs and rivalries, Iran’s fundamentalists believe they can ward off US military action against themselves and continue exporting their Islamic revolution.
Iranian leaders were encouraged to believe that Washington would be convinced by the stiff Iraqi resistance US forces encountered at the start of their war campaign to think twice before tackling Iran in the next stage. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources reveal additionally that conference participants congratulated themselves on the success of their clandestine military aid pipeline to Saddam with Syria’s help. One route developed by Syria, at Tehran’s request, diverted Iranian military arms destined for the Lebanese Hizballah to Iraq. Another arms consignment was shipped to Iraq by Russia with Iranian funding. Smaller quantities came out of Syria’s own arsenal against an Iranian promise of payment. Iranian leaders resolved to find ways of directly arming Iraqi units forced to retreat up to the Iranian border.
(Participants at the March 31 meeting included the entire “who’s who” of Iran’s top hardliners:
Supreme leader Ali Khamenei; his deputy, Ali Akbar Heshemi-Rafsanjani; expediency assembly chief Ali Meshkini; judiciary head Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi; Mohammad Yazdi, a powerful member of the guardians of the constitution council; Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, an adviser to Khamenei; Mostafa Haddadian, head of the leadership bureau’s intelligence service; Habib-Allah Asgar-Ovladi, head of the Islamic coalition organization that is in charge of terrorist activities in Moslem countries; former foreign minister Ali-Akbar Velayati, now Khamenei’s international affairs adviser; Mohammad Mohammadi Rey-Shahri, in charge of the Hajj organization and head of decision-making in Khamenei’s bureau; Mohammad Bagher Zol-Ghadr, deputy chief commander of the revolutionary guards; Ghassem Soleimani, commander of the revolutionary guards’ al-Quds division; Medi Ryahi, head of overseas terrorist operations for the leadership bureau’s intelligence services; Ali Safai, operational planning officer in the intelligence services’ unit 43; Mohsen Ghaemi, in charge of liberation organizations in Arab and Islamic countries for the 2nd bureau of the ministry of intelligence).
Raising up Iraq’s Shi’ites
Iran’s top leaders got down to designing a remote-control campaign of terror against the US military presence in Iraq, to start shortly after the three main Shiite cities of Basra, Najef and Karbala fell. In Basra, the attacks would appear to come from Baath party elements, while in the two holy cities of Najez and Karbala, the local Shiite faithful would be called out by a battle cry accusing the infidels of desecrating their shrines. Truck bombs will blow up at US troop locations and bases, while avoiding harming Iraqi civilians. They will be made by Hizballah-trained bomb-makers in makeshift laboratories in the three cities from ingredients smuggled in before the invasion.
Above all, Iran’s role in orchestrating the terror conspiracy must be kept dark.
The leadership conference budgeted $2 million for the terror campaign – one part shared between activists in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, a second to underwrite the establishment of an Iranian command center at the city of Ahvaz in Khozestan province to oversee the operations.
Tehran is also busy stirring up anti-American sentiment among Shiite fundamentalists worldwide, by playing up the “the suffering of the Iraqi people” motif and organizing memorial gatherings for victims of US “aggression”.
Two such assemblies of government-sponsored religious leaders took place recently in Teheran and the holy city of Qom. Last Friday, March 28, Iranian masses were called out in support of Saddam Hussein, drawing criticism from some Iranian newspapers and news Internet sites. The reformist Baztab web site ran an editorial by Foad Sadeghi maintaining that the Iraqi president’s survival was more dangerous to Iran than a stronger US foothold in the region.
Official Iranian television and radio, in contrast, are playing up American “failures” and international anti-war protests, in a bid to persuade the Iranian public that Washington is doomed to an embarrassing defeat. Several senior pro-government clerics recently issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against the United States. Ayatollah Hossein Nouri-Hamedani demanded that Moslems worldwide boycott US products because of America’s war against Islam.
Nonetheless, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Teheran believe the truck-bomb suicide attack on the British embassy in Tehran last Monday was not orchestrated by the Iranian government. It was the work of young Iraqi Shiite zealots living in Iran but not controlled by the Iraqi opposition leader, Ayatollah Mohammed Bakr Hakim, who lives in exile in Teheran. The driver apparently missed the embassy’s iron gate and crashed into the perimeter wall instead. Iran promised Britain there would be no more attacks, while the London agreed to refrain from a public outcry over the incident.
Not sure they can count on the Shi’ites of Najaf and Karbala waging a sustained guerrilla war against US forces at this stage, Tehran has attached more strings to its terrorist bow.
Kurdish Extremists on Tap
American special forces together with Jalal Talabani’s Kurdish militia this week smashed the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al Islami’s main base at Biyare north of the Iranian border town of Halabja in Kurdistan. Some of the group’s leaders nipped across the border to Iran and safety. Among them were Abu-Ubeid al-Shafei, Ayyub al-Afghani, Abu Vael and a man known only as Mansour.
(The names are all aliases and the men may well be al Qaeda fugitives from Afghanistan who fled to Iran together with bona fides Kurdish Ansar leaders).
Iran has found more terrorist proxy material against American forces in another Kurdish group, The Hezbollah of Kurdistan, with which Tehran’s connections have strengthened in reverse relation to its weakening ties with Jalal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, ever since the PUK began working closely with Washington. (Masoud Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party was never as close to Iran as the PUK).
While consolidating its covert campaign against the United States, Iran is making a show of low-key cooperation with its adversary. Two US soldiers blown off course into Iran while parachuting over northern Iraq to fight the Ansar were quickly sent back. Iran has turned a blind eye to over-flights by US and British bombers and not made a fuss over the misfiring of a US cruise missile into its territory – or even, more importantly, the US airborne warning and control system (AWACS) planes circling regularly over Iran – ostensibly to peer across the border into Iraq, but also to gather valuable intelligence data on Iranian troop positions.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military and intelligence sources, the AWACS have picked up fresh Iranian military movements suggestively close to the Iran-Iraq border.
The Third Brigade of the 21st Hamzah Regiment has been redeployed from the city of Marand to the Kermanshah district along the Iraqi border. In addition, units of the 28th Regiment have relocated from the city of Sanandaj to the border area of Mehran, along with elements of the Revolutionary Guards’ 10th Regiment. Contingents of the 16th Armored Regiment formerly based in the central Iranian city of Qazvin are now positioned at the Sare-e Pol-e Zahab border area, along with numerous other units.
Inside Iraq, the Revolutionary Guards have set up an intelligence and operational center at Qasr Shirin to feed “Terror Central” at Ahvaz and assign missions in the country.
The Iranians know they are under the eye of US airborne surveillance, but are letting it go without protest, knowing full well there is nothing they can do about it.
The ayatollahs behave in character by smiling at their target while stabbing him in the back.
In addition to the weapons shipped to the Iraqi army via Syria, Tehran provided Saddam’s Special Republican Guards divisions with sophisticated communications gear and television and radio equipment. In undercover talks with Iraq, Iran agreed to take in any fleeing members of Saddam’s family and senior commanders and facilitate their passage to Russia, although they would prefer those refuges to seek refuge in Syria.