When Gen. Ray Odierno, top US commander in Iraq, accused Tehran Tuesday, June 30 of continuing to support and train militants who are carrying out attacks, he remarked: “Usually their leaders are still in Iran”
This was no idle comment. It was a sharp prod for Gen. David Petraeus, the US Central Command chief and overall war commander to start clamoring for Washington to approve attacks on bases in Iran where “these leaders” are located and from where they are striking in Iraq.
The alternative is letting Iraq's security situation roll downhill.
(See separate article on Iraq's military difficulties after the US military withdrawal from the cities)
The bases Gen. Odierno referred to belong to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' infamous al Qods Brigades, its external undercover terror arm which operates outside Iran under the command of Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleimani. These bastions are strewn the length of the Iranian-Iraqi border region for the sole function of generating and backing up violent operations in Iraq at Tehran's behest.
The US military has all the necessary intelligence data for wiping them out:
They are located in Saqqez and Sanandaj in the north – opposite Iraqi Kurdistan; at Kermanshah and Ilam in central and western Iran – opposite the Iraqi cities of Baquba, Ramadi and Baghdad; and in the south, in the Iranian cities of Shush and Shushtar – with easy access for al-Qods operatives and their Iraqi trainees for missions in Amarah, Nasiriyah, and Basra in oil-rich southern Iraq.
Al Qods trains three types of operatives for Iraq
DEBKA-Net-Weekly counter-terror sources report that three types of operative are sent into Iraq from the al Qods facilities:
The first are especially trained in urban warfare, the ambushing of strategic installations such as police stations, military bases and highway traffic, attacking military and civilian convoys and blowing up bridges.
They cross the Iranian-Iraqi border armed to the teeth with roadside bombs, anti-tank weapons and mortars, all made in Iran.
The second group consists of Iranian undercover operatives and Iraqi Shiites trained for intelligence missions. They join the clandestine Iranian networks buried in every city, town, and village of southern Iraq and Shiite communities in other parts of the country. Once in place, these operatives form intelligence and logistic sleeper cells on standby for Tehran's orders to seize control of their operating turf.
The third group is best described as gun-runners. These agents do not sell to the highest bidders, like most of their ilk, but only to select parties which Gen. Suleimani deems worthy of Iranian arms.
US forces know a lot, can do nothing
Gen. Suleimeni's staff authorizes such sales, whether to Shiite, Sunni or al Qaeda, according to a simple criterion: Their use against US or Iraqi forces in a manner that promotes Iranian interests or those of its surrogates.
Gen. Ray Odierno's headquarters, for its part, has accumulated precise intelligence data on these bases – including even the names of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers running the Iraq operation and the exact number of Iranian and Iraqi personnel it employs. His staff often can tell in real time what courses are taking place at these camps, when the next arms shipments are due for delivery to Iraq – and even where and how they are to be smuggled across.
Should Tehran choose to retaliate for alleged US meddling in its presidential election by a major offensive against US contingents in Iraq, all that it needs to do is order al Qods to step up the influx of fighting men and arms into Iraq. Surrogates will be forced into action against US targets by the threat to withhold munitions.
But both Generals Odierno and Petraeus have also drawn up detailed operational plans for US special forces' to raid al Qods installations, destroy them and kill or capture their commanders. Action would also be taken to eliminate the spy networks Iranian intelligence has planted throughout Iraq.
But those plans are likely to remain on paper.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly military sources report the US military as generally pessimistic about the chances of a go-ahead from Washington to hit al Qods bases. They note that if the Bush administration withheld permission – even when Iranian arming of al Qaeda with explosives and roadside bombs was at its peak in 2004-2005 – President Obama cannot be expected to act otherwise, even if American forces in Iraq face increasing security hazards.
The same goes for Afghanistan.
Afghani warlords play two masters
On Wednesday, June 10, US forces reported an air strike had killed a “warlord” and 16 other terrorists in Ghor Province, western Afghanistan. They identified him as Mullah Mustafa, chief of a 100-strong militia with reported links to Taliban chiefs and Iran's Revolutionary Guards.
Mullah Mustafa was an example of the dozens of Afghan warlords employed by both and earning a double measure of funds and arms from two masters. This double game gives them the freedom to pick and choose which operations to carry out and squeeze more funds from the highest bidder.
The most troubled areas of Afghanistan are awash with Iranian weapons. Afghan border police regularly intercept consignments of dozens of anti-tank mines and mortars which Tehran funnels to Afghan militiamen willing to fight US-led NATO forces. A four-day sweep of Helmand province last month netted a total of 44 bricks of Iran-made explosives and scores of mortars in the town of Marjeh.
Not only the Taliban, al Qaeda and their associates are abundantly armed by Iran, but also drug smugglers in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
With its hand on the spigots of the arms pipelines to Afghanistan and Iraq, Tehran can calibrate the heat on US forces in either – or both – embattled countries.