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Iran/Iraq: Renewed Speculation About Tehran And Instability In Iraq

The aftermath of a bomb attack in Baghdad last month "One of the biggest one-week death tolls for U.S. forces in Iraq and a continuing surge in killings of Iraqi forces and civilians showed that the insurgency is increasing its lethality and expanding its scope," "The Washington Post" reported on 7 August, citing U.S. and Iraqi officials and casualty counts. There are indications Iran could be contributing to that rising body count. --> /featuresarticle/2005/8/E82673DC-723A-4955-91AC-F8F4D0F7BC3D.html

Anonymous U.S. military and intelligence officials asserted in the 6 August edition of the "New York Times" that "many of the new, more sophisticated roadside bombs used to attack American and government forces in Iraq have been designed in Iran and shipped in from there." These supposedly sophisticated new bombs include shaped charges, which are designed to penetrate armor. A shipment of these from Iran was reportedly captured in northeast Iraq.

The anonymous sources mentioned possible and worrying cooperation between Shi'a Muslims from Iran and Sunni Muslims from Iraq. However, Ken Katzman of the Congressional Research Service was skeptical. "Iran's proteges are in control in Iraq right now, yet these weapons are going to people fighting Iran's proteges," he said in "The New York Times." "That makes little sense to me."

Supporting The Sunnis?

It may seem counterintuitive that Iranian support would go to Sunnis. Yet the factionalized nature of the Iranian state provides ample opportunity for government agencies to engage in activities that run counter to official policy or logic. The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security traditionally deal with the clandestine aspects of foreign policy. Personnel from these agencies interact with Shi'a Iraqi groups like the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its Badr Corps, Al-Da'wah Al-Islamiyah, and the Islamic Action Organization, as well as Kurdish groups such as the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Yet the IRGC and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security also dealt with Kurdish Islamists, such as the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan, Ansar Al-Islam, and the Kurdistan Islamic Group.

The U.S. capture of explosives in northern Iraq -- rather than in the south where Iran has greater influence -- suggests that they could have been funneled through the Ansar Al-Sunnah or Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's group. This does not necessarily mean that Iranian agencies are trying to undermine or otherwise harm their Shi'a co-religionists. Their motivation may be to contribute to an insurgency that either forces the United States to leave Iraq, or at least, undermines U.S. claims to be contributing to regional peace and security.

Some American officials, as well as Iraqi ones, have gone on the record voicing unease about Iranian intentions.

In a 1 August speech in Baghdad, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad referred to Iran's mixed record on relations with Iraq, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. "Iran is working along two contradictory tracks," he said. "On the one hand, Tehran works with the new Iraq; on the other there is movement across its borders of people and material used in violent acts against Iraq." Khalilzad noted that Iran is pursuing diplomatic relations with all its neighbors, but stressed that activities that run counter to this principle must end.

Iran And Syria

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari struck a similar note in an interview that appeared in "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 1 August. He agreed that foreign gunmen are entering his country and added: "Terrorist elements are infiltrating from neighboring countries, particularly from Iran and Syria. We have asked these countries' authorities to control their borders and stop the infiltrations." He said Syria and Iran could stop the infiltrations but they are not doing so.

It could be a coincidence that Syria's President Bashar al-Assad arrived in Tehran on 7 August for a two-day visit. Al-Assad met with President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, as well as Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. The two presidents reportedly discussed cooperation on Iraq. Hashemi-Rafsanjani told the visitor that cooperation between Iran, Syria, and Lebanese Hizballah is necessary and would block, in the words of Iranian state television, "the violation of the rights of the Iraqi and Palestinian nations." Iran and Syria are the two main foreign supporters of Lebanese Hizballah, which the U.S. State Department has designated a terrorist organization.

Anonymous "Pentagon and intelligence officials" told the 6 August "New York Times" that Hizballah or Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps might have brought the recently discovered explosives into Iraq. The newspaper quoted "American commanders" who compared these explosives to those used by Hizballah against Israel.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in Los Angeles on 4 August: "There's no question but that Iran is a problem for Iraq as well in terms of their developing a reasonably representative system. The last thing the Iranians want is to see Iraq succeed as a democracy, as a representative system, as a moderate state. It's exactly in conflict with the situation in Iran, which has a small handful of clerics who run the country."

Tehran dismisses these allegations. Referring to Rumsfeld's remarks, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 7 August that Iran has no reason to interfere in Iraqi affairs, IRNA reported. Assefi said the United States is trying to justify what he described as its "failure" in Iraq by blaming an enemy of its own creation.

See also:

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