American strategists in Washington and at military headquarters in Baghdad’s Green Zone say that by whipping up the renegade Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr‘s revived bloody revolt in southern Iraq, Iran has finally played into Washington’s hands. That advantage will be played to the hilt ahead of the complaint due to be submitted to the UN Security Council in September against Iran’s violation of its commitments under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The fierce battles, raging for more than a week between US and Iraqi forces and Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia in half a dozen southern Iraqi cities, have in fact thrown up a mass of incriminating evidence against Tehran. DEBKA-Net-Weekly military sources report that, amid the thunder and fury climaxing in the Najef showdown on Thursday, August 12, US and British forces quietly captured 1,200 Iranian fighting men intermingled with Sadr’s forces – some 900 of them undercover agents, the rest member of Iran’s armed forces.
They were taken captive in battle arenas and detained at the numerous checkpoints the Americans and British set up between the Iranian frontier and the embattled Shiite cities.
Iraqi general Hashem Jizari organized the separation of Iranian agents from servicemen and sent them to different Iraqi prisons for interrogation. The spies were questioned and brought face to face with the evidence removed from the Iranian consulate in Karbala, after the new Iranian consul in Karbala, Fereydoun Jahani was kidnapped. It consisted of documents and a large haul of automatic rifles, explosives and communications equipment.
The chief of Iraqi military intelligence General Abdullah Shaharani is now preparing to stage a spectacular expose before the world’s television cameras of Iran’s role in stirring up the current violence in Iraq. He will parade captured Iranian secret agents, who broke under questioning. They will describe the training they received from Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ al Quds Brigades, name the officers who assigned them to Iraq and spell out their missions, which also included terrorist attacks on American and Iraqi government and military targets. Shaharani will also display deciphered Iranian orders in code, an array of Iranian-manufactured weapons, fake Iraqi identification papers and counterfeit Iraqi dinars – some found in the agents’ possession; some in the Karbala consulate.
The PR exercise will demonstrate that the Sadr revolt is in fact a proxy war between Tehran and Washington. For the first time since the US-led invasion in March 2003, the Bush administration will directly accuse an Iraqi neighbor of taking a hand in the terrorist war raging in the country, although it has shied away till now from fingering Tehran’s closest ally, Syria’s Bashar Assad,
Certain US-led military operations in the last ten days take on new meaning in the light of Iran’s expanding military and undercover presence in Iraq, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s military sources note:
Some American military raids turn out to have aimed more at bagging large numbers of Iranian agents than beating Sadr’s militiamen. Raids in Najef, Karbala, Baqouba and Baghdad’s Sadr City – like similar British operations in Basra – were actuated by incoming US intelligence tip-offs on clusters of Iranian intruders.
US military action, behind a blanket of secrecy clamped down by the US military command, was also mounted far from the current war arenas against another element of the secret US-Iran war. Our military sources found US troops operating in the border region northwest of the Kurdish city of Penjwin to stem the incoming tide of Iran-based Ansar al-Islam and al Qaeda fighters from the Iranian city of Marivan.
(See DNW Issue 166, July 23, “A Thousand al Qaeda Poised on Iran-Iraqi Frontier”).
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who host the jihadist terrorists, are suspected by American generals of plotting a second front in northern Iraq to relieve US pressure on Sadr’s forces and their Iranian allies in the south.
The US military presence is also meant to nip in the bud any Tehran plan for a joint terrorist offensive with al Qaeda in northern Iraq aimed at destabilizing Kurdish-ruled regions. But, most of all, the Americans wanted to lay hands on Iranian commanders and secret agents as well as the communications equipment al Qaeda operatives use for staying in touch with their headquarters deep inside Iran.
The US military command is secretly employing Mujahideen al-Khalq special units as a screen to block Iranian infiltrators and identify those who manage to slip into Iraq. This Iranian opposition group, which has fought the Khomeinist revolution from Iraqi soil for decades, maintains more than 3,800 fighters in Camp Ashraf, near Baqouba, some 60 miles (100 km) northeast of Baghdad.
The arrest warrants an Iraqi judge issued Monday, August 9, against Salem Chalabi, the US-appointed lawyer presiding over Saddam Hussein’s trial, and his uncle, former Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi, are part and parcel of America’s determined drive to disarm Iran’s assets in Iraq.
As exiled opposition leader, Ahmed Chalabi was the Pentagon’s favorite candidate to rule post-Saddam Iraq. Last month, he suddenly dropped out of favor, accused of passing secrets to Tehran. Now, he is charged with counterfeiting dinars and money laundering.
His nephew, Salem Chalabi, 41, is accused of arranging the murder of a Finance Ministry official who was looking into the Chalabi family’s illegal seizure of Iraqi government property. The warrants were issued deliberately in the absence of Ahmed Chalabi in Tehran and his nephew’s visit to London. CIA officials in Baghdad and prime minister Iyad Allawi‘s office hoped the pair would prefer to stay away. They also wanted all Iraqi political and religious leaders to understand that relations with Tehran would no longer be tolerated. Any who persisted would have their ties cut for them.
Ahmed nonetheless returned to Baghdad Wednesday, August 11, to brazen it out, whereupon his Baghdad office was forcibly cleared and government trucks removed the furniture.
As for the younger Chalabi, the United States and the new Iraqi government realized how embarrassing it would be to remove and vilify the man chosen to sit in judgment on Saddam Hussein. But they believed that leaving him on the bench might be disastrous. Tehran could use him as a ticket to the legal proceedings; Chalabi would be susceptible to persuasion and might agree to tilt the trial to benefit his uncle’s partisan interests or even let the deposed dictator abuse the occasion for his ends.
But now the Iranians face an embarrassing predicament of their own. They do not know who kidnapped their consul in Karbala, laying bare the compromising evidence of their ulterior plans for Iraq, and have nowhere to turn to obtain his release. Fellow Shiites, followers of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq – SCIRI – are generally suspected of staging the abduction, in protest against Tehran’s intrusive policies. This party was created by Iran in former times. But it has been at odds with its former sponsor since its highly respected leader, Mohammad Baqr Hakim, was murdered in a violent car bombing in Najef exactly a year ago, after voicing his willingness to cooperate with the Americans to establish a stable Iraqi government with a Shiite majority.
The Hakim family and the Americans are convinced Moqtada Sadr carried out the assassination on Tehran’s behalf in a bid to usurp the Iraqi Shiite leadership.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and counter-terrorism sources report the Iranians are not sitting on their hands in the face of the American-led drive against them. Their first counter-move was an order to Ansar al-Islam and al Qaeda fighters in Iraq to attack Kurdish intelligence chief Kosrat Rasul at his home in Irbil. Sunday night, August 7, the residence was hit by mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons fire. Apparently forewarned, Rasul and his family were away from home, but one of his bodyguards was killed.
This was a bold move in terms of the Iraqi conflict. Rasul is a key figure in the new Iraqi intelligence apparatus directed by the Kurdish vice premier and security adviser, Braham Salah. He is also one of the most trusted CIA operatives in Iraq. It was Rasul who in December 2003 guided the Americans to Saddam’s hidey hole. (See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 138, December 19, 2003, “Kurdish Light Hidden Under Bush-el”). The Tehran-instigated raid on Rasul’s home was therefore tantamount to an assault on the US-Iraqi security partnership.
The al Qaeda assassins crossed the border at Marivan. Their daring infiltration of the Kurdish power center was undoubtedly engineered by Iranian intelligence.
On the same night, an unidentified armed band attacked Allawi’s National Accord Party headquarters in Nasiriya, southern Iraq, and torched the building. Personnel present were told to get out of town or be killed. The attackers filmed the operation and sent the tape to Western news agencies in Baghdad, typical of Lebanese Shiite Hizballah modus operandi, but not Sadr militia practice.
Both these operations betray the hand of the top Hizballah and Iranian terror operative Imad Mughniyeh, who often orchestrates joint operations with al Qaeda. He is known in fact to have spent some time in Nasiriya last autumn. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s counter-terror sources, he was engaged in building Hizballah and Iranian terrorist networks across southern Iraq’s Shiite towns and gearing them up ready for Tehran’s order to go. Intelligence experts believe one of those networks carried out the attack in Nasiriya.
US sources have information that during the months he spent in with Iraqi Shiite radicals, he helped build up the Mahdi Army as a fighting militia.
Where is this elusive figure whom America has been seeking for more than two decades?
According to a report US intelligence recently leaked to opposition Iranian journalists based in Europe, Mughniyeh is gone to ground at the command base of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards al Quds Brigades in Kermanshah in southern Iran. He is in contact with Ansar al Islam but his main task now is to liaise between al Qaeda’s Ayman Zuwahiri and the Iranian forces fighting in Iraq. He is also in charge of sending Lebanese Shiite radicals from the Hizballah to join the battles against American forces in Nasiriya and Baghdad’s Sadr City district.
Our Iranian sources reveal that the veteran master terrorist has just undergone his fifth facial change operation, performed at the Revolutionary Guards hospital in western Tehran.
Monday August 9, Iran suffered another setback to its aspirations with the arrival in Baghdad from London of Ayatollah Hussein Hadi al-Sadr, who outranks Moqtada Sadr in the distinguished Shiite clan’s familial and religious hierarchy.
The Americans tried long and hard to persuade the senior Sadr to return to Iraq and supercede Moqtada at the head of his following. He agreed only after the most prominent Najef ayatollah, Ali Sistani, a moderating influence in the Shiite community, was forced by a heart condition to leave the country for extended medical treatment in London. Hussein Hadi al-Sadr then decided to fly to Najaf to bring a steadying hand to the Shiite scene and sideline the firebrand Moqtada.
For Iran this is a double blow: not only has a superior authority arrived to draw Moqtada’s teeth, but the new arrival will boost the pro-American Najef clergy’s credentials as the dominant force in the Shiite world, further demoting the ayatollahs of Tehran.