Iranian and Syrian leaders put their heads together in Tehran Sunday, March 16 – three days before the US launched its campaign against Iraq – but reached no agreement on a scheme hatched by Tehran for launching an Intifada-type campaign of harassment against the US military presence on both their doorsteps. Bashar Assad heard the Iranian spiritual leader Ali Khamenei out, but turned down his bid for Syrian cooperation, turning a cold shoulder to the Iranian leader’s old folk parable
It went like this: Two thieves were quarreling over a donkey they had stolen together. A third thief came out of nowhere and made off with the animal. The moral of the story is that the US-Iraq crisis provides Iran and Syria with a golden opportunity to steal Iraq right from under Washington’s nose.
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, Khameinei argued in vain that when the Americans were done in Iraq, they would turn against Iran and Syria. He had developed a scheme to keep the American army trapped in the Iraqi quagmire – and off the backs of Tehran and Damascus. But if the Syrian ruler preferred to stay out, he said, Iran would go forward on its own.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources lay out the Iranian spiritual leader’s rationale for its anti-American plan of action:
— US military intervention in Iraq is like a time bomb under the Iranian and Syrian regimes. They will undoubtedly find they are next on the American hit list.
– There is no chance of the Americans leaving Iraq any time soon, given their grand plans for establishing a transitional military government that will transfer power later to pro-US groups and leaders. In any case, Washington is not expected to acknowledge the rights of Iraq’s Shi’ite majority in full.
– The wholesale bloodshed Khamenei foresees in the Iraq war will provide first-rate propaganda fuel for enraging Muslims worldwide against the United States while rallying support for the Islamic revolution.
These considerations led Iranian leaders to draw up the following plan:
A. Iran will take direct action to prolong the US-Iraq war on the assumption that as long as American troops are mired in Iraq, Washington will have no attention to spare for tackling Iran.
B. Tehran has drawn up a blueprint for an Intifada – terrorist violence on the Palestinian model – to bedevil the Americans. This campaign will be put into action if the United States military stays overlong in Iraq after the war is over, or if Iraqi Shiites are denied representation in government commensurate with their place in the population – 60 percent.
Upsetting Iraqi Equation
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report that the first half of this program is already in motion. Iran has begun shipping to the Iraqi army large quantities of military equipment, mainly communications gear. The state of the art equipment, based on US technology and purchased in the Far East, will keep Iraqi army communications channels open after the United States knocks out their control and command headquarters and links. Iranian supply trucks are being filtered across the border into Iraq through scattered crossing points to avoid detection by US and Israeli spy satellites. They are delivering various types of military equipment as well as medical and humanitarian provisions.
To further boost the camp fighting US forces, Iran has completed the repatriation to Iraq of the bulk of the Badr Brigade, an armed Iraqi opposition brigade which Iraq’s Kurds and Washington regard as an Iranian proxy. The brigade’s high-profile appearance in Bandrikhan in northern Iraq this week was a warning from Tehran that Washington will not be allowed to pursue its aims in Iraq if it neglects Iran’s interests and objectives. Altogether, 15,000 Badr fighters have been poured in – complete with medium and heavy weapons, including tanks, shoulder-held missiles and artillery – to throw the Iraq equation further out of balance.
With the same end in view Tehran has two-timed the two main Kurdish parties on two scores: It has furnished the al Qaeda-backed Ansar al-Islam group in northern Iraq with war equipment through a third party, so as not to be caught out betraying a pledge to help them defeat the Ansar thorn in their sides. In a second act of duplicity, the Iranians instructed their agents in Turkey to egg Turkish military officers on to invade Iraq and snatch territory. If this happened, the Kurds would line up in a solid phalanx to repel their historic enemy instead of focusing on defeating the Iraqi army. Therefore, a Turkish land grab would add to the obstacles holding up the completion of the US military mission and keep US troops lingering in Iraq.
Iran, thrusting a finger in every corner of the Iraqi pie, is also planning, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, to nurture special Iraqi units for a last stand in the marshlands of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, whose miles upon miles of reeds form a perfect battleground for guerrilla warfare.
In the 1980-89 Iraq-Iran War, the Iranian troops who invaded the marshlands were finally flushed out only after Iraq applied mustard gas and other chemical weapons.
Further north, Iran has ordered several Shi’ite groups living in Baghdad to turn their guns on the US invaders. The rulers of Tehran believe that warding off the “barbarians” at the gates of Baghdad would be another effective way of prolonging the war. Piling up US casualties would moreover stoke the anti-war opposition to the Bush administration at home.
Preparing Terrorist Mayhem
The Iranian leaders held back from stirring up trouble on only one front: the Hizballah of Lebanon. They heeded – albeit only for now – a tough American warning handed to Teheran and Damascus to keep the Lebanese Shiites on the leash or face harsh retaliation. Syria would be punished by Israel, the Americans warned, but Tehran would have to face the music from the United States.
Stage two of the Iranian plan will swing into motion after the United States topples Saddam Hussein. The pretext will be found in the failure to satisfy Shiite demands for key positions in the post-war Iraqi administration – especially if Tehran’s protege, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) led by Mohammad Baqer Hakim, is short-changed.
SCIRI wants the interior and internal security portfolios in a post-war cabinet as vantage points for whittling down Sunni Moslem and Kurdish empowerment in government. Alert to this threat, Washington proposes keeping SCIRI representation in the cabinet down to minor roles, certainly no access to sensitive posts.
Iran plans to bend America to its will by stirring up a rash of civil uprisings and anti-US guerrilla warfare throughout the region, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report. To fan hatred of the United States, Iran will harp on the theme dear to Islamic hearts that the Americans have embarked on a second Crusade against the Muslims and must be fought as infidels.
The outline of this campaign is discernible in the Iranian media and official rhetoric.
Khamenei’s mouthpiece, Johmouri-e Eslami, wrote on March 17: “The (US) goal to eliminate Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and establish democracy in Iraq… is ludicrous. We must not be silent. The region’s rulers have been frightened into playing ball with the United States, but not the masses; they can be rallied, for they hate the Big Satan.”
The still more extremist Kayhan had this to say on March 16: “Bush, Blair and Aznar must be shown the gates of hell. Their nightmare is just beginning. Let them kill as many as they want but their time is up and salvation is on its way.”
SCIRI’s Hakim wrote recently: “The United States aims to conquer Iraq and establish a military regime in our country. Opposition to world tyranny and arrogance (two of the Iranian government’s favorite catchphrases) is a religious duty.”
Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah declared this week to a Beirut audience of half a million Shi’ites: “The era has dawned that will lead to the obliteration of Zionism and US hegemony. American troops in this part of the world will be prey to suicide attacks. America, do not expect a welcome from the peoples of the region. You will be greeted by guns, bullets, blood and suicide attacks.”
First Moves in Warfare by Terror
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Tehran trace the initial steps taken by the Iranian authorities to get its campaign of terror off the ground:
1. Iran has transferred large quantities of light arms, ammunition, communications gear and other equipment to Shiite underground groups in their holy cities of Karbala and Najaf in southern Iraq, for use in the post-war insurrection. The arms will be distributed gradually as the Shiite guerrillas get ready in all of the Iraq’s southern cities.
2. Large Shiite groups in Baghdad, where nearly two million members of this community live – half of them in the city’s slums – have been given large quantities of light arms, explosives and equipment for urban warfare.
3. Iran plans to talk the Kurds of northern Iraq into rebelling against the Americans. They will be promised a larger role in the Baghdad post-war government and a greater measure of self-government in the Kurdish enclave of the north – as soon as the Americans and their hirelings are thrown out of Baghdad.
4. Iran will carry out petty attacks across the country to plague the Americans into leaving Iraq.
But a guerrilla war proper will be saved for when an appointed head of government withholds from the Shiites and Kurds what they regard as their due in government. He will then be challenged with a destabilizing guerrilla campaign.
5. As if there were not enough extremist Islamic groups in northern Iraq, Tehran has created a new one. Called Hizballah of Kurdistan, it consists of sleeper terrorists equipped with enough weapons and money to operate and hold out for some time.
6. Iran may also consider working with the al Qaeda-linked Ansar al-Islam, deadly enemy of the main Kurdish tribes, after making an initial investment in its weaponry and equipment. Iran expects the United States in the course of its military offensive in northern Iraq to eradicate these extremist terrorists. But some of the Ansar’s top people have made arrangements to flee ahead of the peril and Tehran has plans to use them in the future.
Spectacular elements of the mayhem the Iranians are planning for the second, terrorist, stage of their campaign against America will be staged, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources report, outside Iraq, though not too far away, in the Arab world:
A. The Iranians have high hopes of fomenting a general Islamic revolt against the US presence in the region by accusing the Americans of massacring Iraqi Moslems and committing war crimes against Islam.
B. The Arab countries hosting American bases as staging posts for the war on Iraq will be singled out for punishment. Their Muslim populaces will be forcefully informed that their leaders collaborated with Big Satan to commit crimes against Islam and the Arabs. The list of Washington’s Arab confederates is headed by Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. Saudi Arabia comes next because Tehran is still bound by its pledge not to agitate against the kingdom in return for Riyadh’s obfuscation of the ayatollahs’ complicity in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers military in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia in which 19 American servicemen lost their lives. The Saudis have withheld from Washington the incriminating evidence against Iran for as long as the Iranians refrain from stirring up anti-Saudi sentiment.
Since becoming convinced that President George W. Bush seriously meant war on Saddam Hussein, Iranian leaders have picked up some old ties with a whole nest of subversive groups in the Gulf emirates and other Muslim and Arab countries, offering to re-hire them for fresh assignments.
The last Moslem hajj in Mecca was the perfect venue for recruitment. Iran’s top Islamic propaganda agency Sazman e-Tablighat e-Eslami planted its agents among the tens of thousands of pilgrims flocking to the shrines. There, they approached some of the most violent clandestine operatives in the Arab world and invited them over to Tehran to talk turkey. The ones who dare not show their faces – even in Tehran – received orders on the spot. They were to be ready to stir up revolts against the Arab regimes in their countries and the United States upon a signal from Tehran.
In the meantime, prohibited groups in Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia sent representatives to Tehran or rendezvoused with Iranian agents in Europe to collect their instructions.
The largest contingent to present itself in Tehran was a group of Saudi subversives, led by Ebn el-Hijaz and two operational officers, who pull dissident wires in the kingdom from clandestine outside bases in Sudan and Syria.
With their Iranian employers, they got down to the specifics of setting up camps for weapons instruction and indoctrination. They were taken to see an icon of the terror world, Imad Mughniyeh, one of the world’s most wanted terrorists and head of the Lebanese Hizballah’s security agencies. He received his Saudi fans with encouraging words and fresh ideas.
The Iranians are resuscitating a long dormant organization, Hizballah of Hijaz, as an active arm of their campaign of violence and have made contact with another group of Saudi subversives, the Liberation Organization of Jazirat el-Arab and likeminded outlawed movements in Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar.
C. At the most recent hajj, Iranian agents tied yet another knot in their tangled conspiracy to destabilize moderate and pro-western Arab countries and hurt American interests. They recruited new blood in various Arab countries for their network of illicit organizations, although aware that some of the new recruits could be government plants.
D. President Muhammed Khatami has allocated $5 million to float this broad net of subversion plus an extra $2 million for emergency operations. More cash will be forthcoming once the project begins to prove itself.
E. An arcane group calling itself “The Muslim fighters of Iraq” set up a meeting in Ankara this week to talk about Iraq’s future and their chances of a stake in post-war power-sharing. Under the close surveillance of Turkish security, these dissidents were yet able to study Iranian operational plans for sabotaging the US war effort.
F. A veteran group called “Hizballah of Turkey” hopes its fortunes will be enhanced by the election of a pro-Islamic government – or at least evade the stern eye of authority for its subversive activities.
G. Lebanon’s Hizballah has been given the leadership role in introducing Stage Two of Iran’s war on America. Its strategic situation lends the Shiite group opportunities for diverse action.
1. Hizballah has been ordered to hold its horses in the early stages of the American war in Iraq. The moment for escalated cross-border action against Israel will come when Iran decides to launch itself against the United States over its occupation of Iraq and insufficient recognition of Shiite rights in the new regime.
2. It will be Hizballah’s task to arrange training facilities in Lebanon for the newly-recruited subversives. They will study operational skills in Lebanon and take indoctrination at special facilities in Iran.
3. Hizballah will supervise the underground groups in the Gulf emirates – though not in Saudi Arabia. Iran is intent on keeping its subversive role in the kingdom dark as it is a breach of its commitment to Saudi leaders to refrain from stirring up trouble in the kingdom.
4. Iran’s Islamic propaganda agency will expand its anti-US hate campaign among the world’s Muslims, focusing on countries which have a strong American presence, such as Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Pakistan.
5. Hizballah intends to pull a lot tighter its ties with al Qaeda and the Taliban and strengthen their collaboration.