That the mass Iraqi Shiite pilgrimage to Karbala this week passed off peacefully – contrary to most predictions – did not happen of itself. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Gulf sources, no more than 3,000 agitators seriously tried to turn the estimated two million worshippers into an anti-American mob. They did not succeed. Iran, which was at first bent on stirring up trouble by means of the armed Badr Brigade militants and agents it pumped into Karbala and Shiite districts of southern Iraq, changed its orders at the last moment.
Western intelligence sources present at the ceremonies easily identified the Iranian agents and militiamen whose weapons were barely concealed under their robes. However, they were also seen to conduct themselves quietly, exhibiting no signs of violence.
A similar impression of quiescence was gained by the sources keeping a close watch on the secret forward base the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (Pazdaran) had improvised for the pilgrimage at the southern Iraqi town of Al Amarah. That base was strikingly inactive despite the presence of some very heavy Iranian brass: Brigadier-General Iraj Masjedi, Head of the Ramezan Headquarters of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards; Lt.-Colonel Muhammad Obeidavi, from the Revolutionary Guards Fajr headquarters; Lt.-Col Hamid Taghavi, from the Revolutionary Guards Ramadan headquarters, and Colonel Mahmoud Farhadi, Intelligence chief at Revolutionary Guards Zafar base.
Tehran called off its dogs of revolution at Karbala after receiving through unofficial channels
a stern ultimatum from Washington that had nothing to do with Iraq:
1. Iran was cautioned not to exploit the US-North Korean dispute over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program (the subject of subsequent talks in Beijing Thursday, April 24), to activate its nuclear facilities and confront Washington with a fresh nuclear crisis. DEBKA-Net-Weekly carried three exclusive reports last October exposing the Iranian-North Korean partnership in the manufacture of two or three nuclear bombs.
2. Iran was warned not to proceed with the development of nuclear devices using the materials and components it had stocked.
3. Iran was required to sign the Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty which allows unscheduled inspections without notice of the nuclear installations of member nations.
The general tone of the American warning left no room for doubt about Washington’s intentions. The French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, who arrived in Tehran Thursday, April 24, advised his Iranian hosts that the Bush administration was in no mood to suffer Iranian defiance on the nuclear issue any more than North Korean intransigence. He suggested that Iran would do well to discuss freezing its nuclear program for the time being or risk direct American action. To cool American tempers and buy time, the Iranians let the Karbala pilgrimage go by without incident. However, in the view of DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iran experts, the regime in Tehran is incapable of lying down under American ultimatums. The ayatollahs will simply bide their time and then go back to developing their nuclear weapons program, confronting Washington with the need to force its will on them one way or another. Tehran is where the next serious crisis is brewing, alongside the Korean nuclear standoff.