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Commentary: Iran's Strategy In Iraq

the fog of war

Washington (UPI) Aug 15, 2005
"If Iran wanted, it could make Iraq hell for the United States." So said Iraq's deputy Foreign Minister Hamid Al Bayati last February.

Well, Iran not only wants to, it already has. The scenario is well known to the intelligence community on both sides of the Atlantic. Iran began enlarging its already wide footprint in Shiite Iraq as the U.S. buildup for the war on Iraq began in Kuwait in 2002.

Today, according to TIME magazine's exclusive on intelligence reports from Iran, the U.S. and U.K., the geopolitical confrontation between the United States and Iran runs through Iraq. The Shiite-dominated Iraqi government and the new Iranian government are moving steadily closer, and forging a strategic relationship. Since Ibrahim al-Jaafari took over as Prime Minister, U.S. officials have concluded that what is said or shared with the Iraqi government winds up in Tehran.

Iraqi Shiite leaders know when the U.S. leaves, Iran and its geopolitical heft will still be there. It wasn't that long ago (1980) when Saddam Hussein decided to teach Iran's new revolutionary regime a military lesson. He reckoned it would last a week or two. Instead, they bled each other of one million lives over eight years -- to a Mexican standoff.

TIME's Michael Ware nailed down the details of Iran's plans to create a greater Iranian Shiite empire from documents smuggled out of Iran and dozens of interviews with U.S., British and Iraqi intelligence officials, an Iranian agent, armed dissidents and Iraqi militia. The scope of the Iranian endeavor rivals the U.S. objective of creating a secular Iraqi democracy. And it clearly involves a confrontation with the U.S. for influence in the region.

Iran's insurgency leader is Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani whose network is supplied by Iran, which introduced a new breed of roadside bombs more lethal than any seen before. Based on a design from the Iranian-supplied Lebanese militia Hezbollah, the weapon employs "shaped" explosive charges than can punch through a battle tank's armor like a fist through a cardboard wall.

Sheibani's 280-strong team is divided into 17 bomb making and death squads. A copy of what appears to be an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps intelligence report, sent in April 2003, describes the arrival of U.S. troops in the city of Kut (where 23,000 British Indian Army soldiers perished in a five-month siege in 1917), and says, "we are in control of the city."

Documents include extensive pay records from August 2004 that show Iran was paying the salaries of at least 11,740 members of the Badr Shiite militia. A former member of Saddam's armored corps told TIME last summer he was recruited by an Iranian intelligence officer in 2004 to compile the names and addresses of Interior Ministry officials working closely with American personnel.

As U.S. troops battle the Sunni-led insurgency, in close cooperation with a Shiite-leaning government in Baghdad, Iran is busy consolidating its hold on Shiite Iraq, which is about 60 percent of the population.

The intelligence community is now raising questions with increasing frequency whether the U.S. is on the right side of this insurgency whose stakes are nothing short of a greater Shiite empire, aided and abetted by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, and the acquiescence of Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a populist and former revolutionary.

Some analysts believe Iran's objective could be a civil war between Shia Muslim and Sunni Muslim that would 1) encourage the U.S. to pull out its troops post-haste rather than be caught in the middle, and 2) secure Shia Iraq for a greater Shia Islam. The eastern Saudi oilfields, where Shia Arabs are in the majority, would then be one small Kuwait away.

Jordanian intelligence estimates the influx of Iranians into Shia Iraq in the south, where the richest oilfields are located, of up to one million, many of them Iraqis who sought refuge in Iran during the eight-year war. This number included 12,000 armed men and intelligence officers.

If the U.S. and/or Israel decide to launch air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities -- a prospect that draws ever closer now that Ahmadinejad has broken the U.N. seals on its Isfahan nuclear facility -- some 46 Iranian infantry and missile brigades are poised near the common border to move into Iraq,

Now that the EU3 -- U.K., France and Germany -- negotiations with Iran have failed, plan B is the U.N. Security Council and a tough sanctions regime against Iran. There, Iran can count on a Chinese and possibly Russian veto. Besides, with oil climbing to $70 a barrel, Iran would have the wherewithal to circumvent sanctions and import whatever it needs through the free port of Dubai across the Gulf.

President Bush said plan C -- the military option for air strikes -- is on the table. It is also fraught with peril. Chancellor Schroeder said count Germany out. A regional war would become a distinct possibility. Iran can still field a global terrorist network. Sunni Osama Bin Laden and Shiite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would find themselves in a common crusade against the U.S. and Israel.

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A Peaceful Iraqi Town, Far From Baghdad
Samawa, Iraq (UPI) Aug 09, 2005








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