More than any other Middle East government, the ayatollahs’ regime of Tehran was scared of the American invasion of its western neighbor-cum-foe, Iraq. Yet fourteen months later, Tehran emerges with the biggest strategic gains:
Its historic enemy has been disarmed, stripped also of its weapons of mass destruction. Thousands of Iranian troops were victims of Saddam Hussein’s WMD during the six years of their war in the 1980s. Therefore Tehran has always been a lot more sensitive to the presence of banned weapons in Iraq than any American or Westerner; the dismantling of Iraqi military strength in general is good news for the Islamic republic.
The prospect of Iraq’s fragmentation on ethnic and religious lines suits Iran’s strategic aspirations which center on the creation of a form of Shiite statehood in southern Iraq and its fall into Tehran’s political and religious orbit.
This will open the way in the long term for Tehran’s eventual takeover of southern Iraqi oil riches which the Iranians have always maintained belonged to them as part of their territorial claims to Iraqi Khozestan and the Shatt al-Arb waterway.
Poised to claim these rewards, Iran maintains in central and southern Iraq – notwithstanding the American-British occupation – a 12,000-strong highly trained secret army called “the Badr Force.” This force has just undergone reorganization and an upgrade of its weapons systems in readiness for two missions: A. To constitute the only trained military force capable of combat operations among the Shiite majority of Iraq. B. To operate as a rapid deployment force against the Americans or any other army preparing to attack Iran from Iraqi soil.
No real US or other international pressure has ever been applied against Tehran in the five years that factions of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have maintained strategic ties with al Qaeda. During that period, Iran has got clean away with providing operational bases and havens in important towns like Tehran and Mashhad for al Qaeda leaders such as Seif al Adal and Musab al Zarqawi, as well as opening its borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan as transit corridors for the passage of Osama bin Laden‘s men to the Persian Gulf and the Middle East.
Neither has Iran ever been called on to pay the penalty for sponsoring the Hizballah terrorists and feeding them operational and intelligence support, or for succoring at least two Palestinian terrorist organizations. Today, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian – the General Command and the Jihad Islami are both fully bankrolled from Tehran.
Tehran’s operational links to Hizballah, supported by the Assad regime in Damascus, provide Iran with logistical backup for its army in Iraq and a foot through the door to the Iraqi guerrillas and their al Qaeda confederates. Hizballah terrorist specialists are to be found scattered through many Iraqi insurgent centers, from al Qaim in the west to Fallujah in the Sunni Triangle and the Shiite towns of Najef and Naseriya in the south. The Lebanese Shiite group supplies a large part of Iraqi insurgent weapons procurement.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s experts on Iran, the Islamic Republic’s ambition to spread its strategic influence through Iraq and across the great land mass from Iraq’s eastern border to the shores of the Mediterranean is as powerful as its ambition to become the first Islamic nuclear power.