Tehran Expands, Grants Autonomy to Targeted Brigade

Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki has begun sliding away from Washington’s thunderous accusations of Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs. He seems to be going his own way.

The first cracks broke through in the exchange of public statements between Iranian and US officials this week. The government spokesman in Baghdad, Ali al-Dabbagh, talking to reporters Sunday May, 4, played down American evidence of Iran’s support for anti-government Shiite militias. He said it was not conclusive. If there is hard evidence, “the government will deal with it,” he said.

US Rear Admiral Patrick Driscoll‘s response was non-confrontational yet revealing. He said: “It looks like now the government of Iraq wants to set up an official process to discuss Iranian interference with the Iranians… We’ve made the case. Now I think it’s proper for the Iraqi government to make their case based on their interpretation of the facts and have a dialogue with the government of Iran.”

The exchange took place after an Iraqi government delegation went to Tehran to discuss Iran’s support for Iraqi Shiite militias.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report that the Maliki government and the US military appear to have been at cross purposes over the mission. Whereas the Americans hoped the Iraqis would slap down a stern warning to Tehran to rein in the al Qods Brigade, the Revolutionary Guards external arm, and its intervention in Iraq, the delegation’s complaint was brushed off and the Iraqis were sent to have it out with the al Qods commander, Gen. Qassem Soleimani.

He flatly denied their allegations and instead accused the Americans of falsifying the facts and displaying fake weapons as though they were made in Iranian Revolutionary Guards munitions factories.

Caught in the middle of the argument, Maliki opted for the well-worn shift of burying the hot potato out of sight by establishing a special inquiry commission.


Al Qods is upgraded and separated from the IRGC


The IRGC’s al Qods Brigade is indeed a hot potato, all the more menacing for its arcane structure and missions.

In January 2007, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources picked up signs that Tehran’s clerical rulers were revamping the 150,000-strong Revolutionary Guards’ structure and reorganizing its key arm, the al Qods Brigade.

It was then that Iran’s National Security Council decided to double the Brigade’s manpower, expanding this intelligence-cum-special operations force by another 15,000 men. Al Qods thus ballooned to four or five times the size of the IRGC units engaged in comparable tasks which number 7,500.

Tehran had provided itself with additional intelligence-special operations resources, armed with a measure of autonomy, to keep pace with its developing nuclear and missile programs.

This separation was semi-formalized ten months ago when Maj. Gen. Mohammad-Ali Jaffrey was appointed supreme commander of the Revolutionary Guards.

Although Gen. Soleimeni was placed under his command, Khamenei assigned him separate duties.

Jaffrey remained responsible for securing the regime against external attack and subduing domestic destabilizing elements, such as the Sunni Arab rebels of Khozestan and the ethnic Baluchis of the north. He was charged with exposing and breaking up US and British ties with these underground bodies.

For help in these missions, Gen. Jaffrey was given command of the Basij civilian volunteer army of 1.5 million, which was formerly under separate command.

Jaffrey and the IRGC are also in charge of Iranian missile forces and its nuclear weapons program; when the programs achieve their objectives, they will acquire a military nuclear arm.

Gen. Qassem Soleimani’s duties and areas of responsibility are external, encompassing espionage, intelligence-gathering and the foreign terrorist, subversive and special operations organizations and militias sponsored by Tehran.


A powerful mix of terrorist-cum-intelligence functions


Soleimani can walk right into the office of supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He is described by intelligence sources as speaking at top-level Iranian conferences as though he heads a separate and independent organization outside the IRGC.

The Al Qods force is divided into battalions according to region and country. The number of battalions operating in Iraq is not known for sure, but is estimated by intelligence experts as between two and four – one in Baghdad, one in Najef and Karbala, another in the Nasiriya and Basra areas of the south and a fourth in central or northern Iraq.

An al Qods battalion is undoubtedly deployed in Afghanistan, another in Lebanon which also supervises Iran-backed Palestinian organizations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Sudan certainly has an al Qods battalion of its own, which controls the force’s operations in Africa, including Egypt and Chad.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources believe al Qods has established a clandestine presence in countries not generally regarded as subject to Iranian subversive activity. These are not quasi-military battalions, but more like the “directorates” common in Western secret services.

Such directorates are believed present in Pakistan, India, Turkey and Saudi Arabia; another covers Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. Three more operate under cover in Central Asia, Europe, and North America. The last directorate is responsible for clandestine operations in the United States.

The division of work between the operationally-active battalions and the intelligence-oriented directorates has transformed the al Qods Brigade into one of the most powerful paramilitary intelligence structures in Iran – and the covert world at large.

It has been structured to match and cross swords with the mighty US Central Intelligence Agency, the Russian SVR, the Chinese MSS, and the Israel Mossad and Shin Bet, all of which function through combined intelligence and operational branches.

Maliki’s inquiry commission cannot even start to contend with al Qods even if it honestly seeks solid evidence of its interference in Iraqi affairs. The Baghdad government lacks intelligence on the subterranean forces operating in Iraq; it is short of resources and skills for contending with a sophisticated clandestine machine like Iran’s al Qods Brigade.

If Washington does indeed go ahead and attack al Qods’ home bases in Iran, it would be the first time in military history that a world power’s national army has confronted the clandestine organization of another state.

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