Tehran Stirs up Iraqi Pot against Washington

Iran’s two-timing tactics are becoming the biggest headache for American war planners, who have heavily underpinned their Iraqi war strategy on understandings with Tehran and Iran’s pledges to cooperate in the offensive against Iraq.

Those understandings appear to be making way for arrant double-dealing. While some parts of the Bush team still cling to the belief in Iran’s adherence to its commitments, even they are getting worried.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s exclusive sources in Iran substantiate these concerns. On the ground, as our sources discovered, the Iranians are betraying their understandings with Washington right and left. They are threatening pro-American Kurdish chiefs with one hand, attempting to buy them off with the other, and keeping them in a state of fearful suspense.

Last week, our sources report, Iran transferred large quantities of light and medium weapons to Ansar al-Islam, an Islamic terrorist group associated with the Taliban and al Qaeda, which has set up a pro-Saddam enclave in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq. Several thousand Ansar fighters are believed to have overrun neighboring villages and fortified them with land mines.

As an object lesson and warning to Tehran, US forces launched a punishing offensive against Afghan renegade pro-Iran Gulbuddin Hekmatyar on Thursday, January 30, at the end of three days of fierce fighting in the mountains of Spin Boldak near the Afghan-Pakistani border.

In the meantime, fearful of Ansar inroads on their territory, Kurdistan’s two main leaders — Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Masoud Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, both of whom have signed pacts with the United States – turned to Tehran for help in ridding their region of the Ansar threat.

Iran made its help conditional on the two Kurdish leaders making good on their promises of a substantial cut for pro-Tehran Shiite candidates in future power-sharing in Baghdad. But behind their backs, Iran let Saddam Hussein’s weapons supplies for Ansar take the short cut through its territory. The Iranians even topped up the Iraqi supply train with contributions of mortars, communications devices, night vision equipment and large quantities of ammunition.

Some of those Iranian mortars were discovered by Barzani’s men this week in the possession of captured Ansar fighters. They also contend that the killer of USAID officer Laurence Foley in Amman last October has found refuge in the Ansar enclave. They named the assassin as Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, but the report is still unverified.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian experts note that supporting Ansar is part and parcel of Tehran’s Iraq strategy. The extremist Kurdish group is funded by Saddam Hussein and fanatical enough to become a thorn in the sides of the Americans and the government they hope to install in Baghdad. The landing strips US forces are building and extending for the use of transports, warplanes and helicopters may prove to prime targets for Ansar zealots.

By arming Ansar, Iran keeps the heat up on the two main Kurdish groups and increases their dependency on Tehran. At the same time, the ayatollahs pose as the best friends of Barzani and Talabani. This week, they promised each $1 million – a sum with enormous purchasing power inside Iraq – in the hope of weaning them away from their reliance on the United States. Yet, to keep the Kurdistani chiefs on the hop, the Iranians are playing on their age-hold fear of Turkey. They are whispering in the ears of Talabani and Barzani that Turkish troops will advance into northern Iraq and seize the oil regions of Mosul and Kirkuk.

On the political front, mediation efforts have been under way in Iran between Ayatollah Mohammad Baqer Hakim, head of the opposition Iraqi Supreme Revolutionary Council, and the leaders of the less religious Ad-Dawa party, a group that enjoys a measure of US support and could play a key role in a future Iraqi government. Initial reports suggest the talks helped smooth over differences between the two factions.

In another dramatic move, Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the opposition Iraqi National Congress, visited Teheran for talks with the other opposition groups, including Hakim’s faction. Iran initially denied Chalabi’s visit, but later said he was just passing through on his way to another destination.

But DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report that Chalabi, who arrived in Teheran early in the week, is still there. The contest over the post-war Iraqi administration is heating up. Chalabi found himself an object of pursuit while engaging in intense lobbying in his own interest.

Iranian officials are leaning hard on him to accept their power-sharing format, while Chalabi took the opportunity to sell his views of power division to Hojat-el-Islam Abdel-Aziz Hakim, head of the military arm of the Iraqi Supreme Revolutionary Council. Hakim, for his part, tried to win Brigadier Najib al-Salehi, a former Iraqi general now living in the United States, to Tehran’s side.

Iran is also working hard to pre-empt any deals on an Iraqi government line-up that might be forged in a meeting of Iraqi opposition groups at the State Department in Washington on January 31. The Iranians hope to have bought broad support by separate transactions with the faction leaders invited to Tehran in the last ten days.

The convention of 75 senior Iraqi opposition activities slated for mid-January at the Kurdish city of Irbil has been postponed again until mid-February with no firm date.

The Iranians are not neglecting their terrorist option, counting on this threat to back up their claims for seats and jobs in the next Iraqi government. While continuing to play host to Iraq’s radical Shiite leaders, they are stepping up training for their military arm, Sephah Badr, which has conducted a series of guerrilla warfare exercises. These fighters are expert in the use of shoulder-held missiles against low-flying aircraft. Radical factions in Iran are getting ready to carry out attacks on American targets should the coming regime changes in Baghdad not be to the liking of the ayatollahs. They argue that Shiites comprise at least 60 percent of the Iraqi population and deserve key positions in a future government.

Hossein Shariat-Madari, editor in chief of Iran’s daily Kayhan newspaper, spoke on Tuesday, January 28, of a possible Shiite revolt against the United States and worldwide terrorist attacks should Washington attempt to disenfranchise Iraq’s Shiite leadership.

“If a (US) attack (on Iraq) takes place, not only will the US army run into extreme popular resistance, including terrorist attacks and growing anger among Muslim nations, but no American, anywhere in the world, will be safe,” he wrote.

Shariat-Madari called this week on Islamic nations to launch guerrilla attacks against Americans all over the world.

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