- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 15, 2004

JERUSALEM — Iran is training and committing funds to Shi’ite radicals in Iraq even as it helps the United States to tamp down the latest anti-American insurgency, according to Arabic-language news reports.

A delegation headed by senior Iranian Foreign Ministry official Hussein Sedeqi arrived yesterday in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf to try to negotiate an end to resistance from the radical Shi’ite militia headed by Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr.

But Iran, meanwhile, has maintained three “military camps and training centers” on the Iran-Iraq border used by members of Sheik al-Sadr’s Mahdi’s Army, according to the daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat (the Middle East).

The London newspaper, which last year was given an exclusive interview with President Bush, reported recently that 800 to 1,200 trainees have been taught guerrilla tactics at the camps as well as bomb-making, use of small arms and espionage.

Another London-based Arabic daily, Al Hayat, reported that Iran has engaged in “a vigorous effort to build bridges to various forces in Iraq,” according to the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which translates Arabic news articles into English.

These efforts include “material and logistical aid to parties other than the Shi’ites” as well as “the traditional Iranian influence in Iraq’s Shi’ite religious seminaries and in its Marja’iya [religious] institutions,” according to the article.

It quoted Iraqi security sources as saying the recent Shi’ite offensive began after a U.S. decision to oust Hassan Kazemi Qumi, the charge d’affairs at the Iran Embassy in Baghdad.

The Washington Times last week described Sheik al-Sadr, who sent his 3,000-strong force to capture several towns and cities across southern Iraq, as an Iranian surrogate.

That assessment was endorsed unequivocally by authoritative Israeli analysts in interviews this week.

Menashe Amir, the head of the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Persian language service, said Tehran’s purpose was to “convince the Americans that their objectives will not be achieved unless they turn to Iran for help.”

Yigal Carmon, who served as a counterterror adviser to former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, said the Iranians “are worried that the date set for Iraqi independence, June 30, is drawing near.”

Mr. Carmon, now director of MEMRI’s Jerusalem office, said he believes Iran wants the future Iraq to be a dependent neighbor rather than a self-reliant American-backed democracy.

Above all, the consensus in Israel is that the Iranians shudder at the prospect of Iraq having U.S. military bases on its soil for a long time to come.

Mr. Amir, who came to Israel from Iran shortly before the Iranian revolution of 1978-79, said Sheik al-Sadr visited Tehran eight months ago “and returned to Iraq with a suitcase full of money.”

He attributed this information to the sources he retains inside the land of his birth.

Al-Sharq al-Awsat similarly quoted a former Iranian intelligence officer saying Iran has been spending $70 million a month to finance its activities in Iraq.

The newspaper said it had learned from the former officer, identified only as Haj Sa’idi, that Iranian agents are deployed throughout Iraq and that elements of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were in the country before the war started a year ago.

Included among them are former Iraqi refugees who were expelled to Iran by Saddam Hussein in the 1970s and 1980s, the newspaper said. They were believed to have infiltrated through Kurdish areas beyond the control of the pre-war Ba’athist regime.

Mr. Sa’idi contended that Iran seeks to recruit thousands of young Shi’ites committed to making Iraq a clerical state, like Iran.

The next phase of this effort will occur when Iraq’s parliamentary elections are held next January, he said, adding that recruits are supposed to enlist their relatives to vote for candidates who will have the covert endorsement of Iranian intelligence.

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