Saddam Hussein put together a bagful of propositions he believed to be irresistible and sent his foreign minister Naji Sabri over to Tehran this week to present them.
They were attractive enough, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Iranian sources, to gain the Iraqi visitor long interviews with Iranian president Mohammed Khatami, foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi, chief of staff Hassan Firouz Abadi, Revolutionary Guards commander Yahya Rahim Safavi and his deputy, Mohammed Baqer Zolghadr. Sabri’s request was also granted to meet directors of the propaganda department at Iranian military intelligence. He asked about organizing a joint campaign to stir up Iraq’s Shiites against US forces.
Asking his hosts to put the bitterness of the Iraq-Iran war behind them, the Iraqi minister called for a historic reconciliation between the two neighbors and promised to dismantle the armed Iranian opposition Mujahideen a-Khalq, the biggest and most powerful Iranian opposition group based in Iraq. His price: Iran must call off its secret negotiations with Washington on military and political collaboration for the war against Baghdad and the makeup of the post-Saddam administration.
The Iranians smiled politely, secure in the knowledge that Saddam had already scripted out a combat role against the American invaders for the 15,000 Mujahideen fighters in his country. Sabri went on to offer to meet all Iran’s longstanding territorial claims for sovereignty
over some of the northern Persian Gulf islands, the Faw Peninsula and most of the Shaat al-Arab coastland. Iraq would only retain a narrow strip on the western bank.
Iraq too was suddenly prepared to pay Iran many millions of dollars in war damages for the eight-year war between the two countries in the eighties. Payment would be spread over 10 years.
Iranian officials asked the Iraqi minister to elaborate on what was meant by calling off negotiations with the Americans. He explained that Saddam expected Iran to fight alongside Iraq when the Americans invaded, because, he argued: “When the Americans have conquered us, it will be your turn.”
Unconvinced by Saddam’s largesse and Sabri’s arguments, the Iranians replied with a flat negative. They admitted that had Iraq come forward earlier, they might have been interested. Now, it was too late; the American offensive was imminent.
The Iraqi minister was not put off. He moved on to a request. Should the US campaign succeed, would Tehran agree to provide a haven for top Iraqi leaders?
The Iranians replied that their country would be off-limits to all Iraqi politicians and senior military officers. But some junior officers and government officials might be admitted with their families. Tehran estimates that a quarter of a million Iraqis will flee across the border to Iran when war erupts.
Finally, Sabri also asked Iran to send food, fuel and medicines to the Baghdad area during the war, using the thousands of Iranian tankers and trucks that smuggled Iraqi oil to the emirates and the Islamic Republic. His request was meant to guarantee essential supplies for the troops massed in the Iron Triangle defense zone to be able to stand up to American attack.
This was the only Iraqi request to which Iran acceded. Even then, the Iranians set a price.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report that Iraqi officials will have to be posted at the border crossings, with wads of hard currency to pay in dollars or pounds sterling for every truck allowed through with supplies for Iraq.