Bremer Decries Iranian Actions in Iraq
US civil administrator Paul Bremer gave an interview with the Daily Telegraph in which he decried what he called Iranian meddling in Iran. He said Tehran “continues to meddle in various ways in Iraq’s internal affairs.” He said that Iranian activities included “support for various people, some of whom have taken violent action against both Iraqis and against the coalition.” The Telegraph inquired if Iran had been involved in bombings and shootings. Bremer replied, “There’s certainly some indication of that, yes.”
On another front, al-Sharq al-Awsat reports that the Interim Governing Council refused to accept the credentials of the proposed Iranian ambassador to Baghdad, Col. Reza Saif-ol-Ilahi, a hardliner close to Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei. It is alleged that President Khatami had been opposed to this appointment, as well.
I am suspicious of the drumbeat against Iran, because I fear the Washington hawks would very much like to attack Syria and Iran, and would like to use Iraq as a pretext for doing so. We have seen how they set up Iraq for an invasion with phony charges, so it is wise to be suspicious of what they say about Iran.
That said, Bremer is seeing intelligence to which the rest of us are not privy, and there have been similar reports in the Arabic press of Iranian radicals infiltrating into Iraq. It would be interesting to know, though, specifics. The Iranians are very unlikely to have hooked up with Saddam remnants in the Sunni Arab triangle. But there have been some suspicious incidents in the South in which one could imagine agents provocateurs playing a role. One was the demonstrations in Karbala, from which US Marines took fire, causing them to kill one demonstrator and wound nine. I had assumed that this was a Sadrist operation, but one could imagine the Quds Brigade or Revolutionary Guards setting up the US in this way. (The Marines probably had no idea that they were being cast in the role of Pontius Pilate in a religious morality play that appealed to powerful symbols of Shiite theology). Likewise there is some evidence that the riots in Basra against the British, while they expressed genuine discontents, may have been whipped up by radical preachers. Again, the likely suspects were Sadrists, but Iranian agents are a possibility. Another place you could imagine hostile Iranian activity is Baquba, a city in Diyala close to the Iranian border, where Marines have frequently been attacked. Baquba is mixed Sunni and Shiite, and some of the attacks have been from Sunni nationalists. But a local Shiite cleric there has been arrested twice by the Marines on unspecified charges (provoking Shiite demonstrations), and the Badr Corps, trained by the Revolutionary Guards, fired on the Marines there last May.
Still, I have to say that the Iranian factor in the Iraqi resistance seems to me likely relatively small so far. Most of the opposition is coming from Baathists and Sunni Arab nationalists, along with some Sunni Islamists. If Bremer has evidence of Iranian help to those forces, that would be alarming, but there is no evidence for such an allegation in open sources, and it is not very likely. The Iranians hate Saddam and aren’t likely to help radical Sunnis. They might do it to hurt the US, but it is counter-intuitive and I would need to see proof before accepting it.
Indeed, one counter-argument is precisely that much of the Shiite South is not hostile territory for the US. Saul Hudson of Reuters had a fine report on Kut on Friday, which shows a town almost self-governed, with the Ukrainian troops positioned outside, where things seem fine. Yet it is precisely in places like Kut, near Iran with a Shiite population, that Iranian infiltrators could have hoped to be most successful in stirring things up. See
The one possible connection is that the technique of roadside bombs that has proved so devastating for US troops was pioneered by the Shiite Hizbullah in Lebanon to get the Israelis back out of their country. Some security analysts see this modus operandi and suspect Hizbullah action in Iraq. I think it is easier to assume that smart Baathist intelligence officers watched southern Lebanon closely and learned by example. Anyway, Iranian and Lebanese accents are easy to spot, and if such infiltration is going on, the US should be able to produce prisoners that demonstrate it. They haven’t, so far, to my knowledge.
The bottom line is that the opposition to US presence is mainly from Sunni Arab nationalists and is home grown. That is not a pleasant message to bring back to an American public that had been assured that “the Iraqis” would “dance in the streets” on the US arrival. So, attempts keep being made to divert the attention of the US public, to al-Qaeda, or Iran, or some other actor that suits the Washington hawks better as a PR “hook.”
The danger is that, having detoured from the important work against al-Qaeda by going to war against Iraq, the US will now take further detours and end up with more orphaned failed states for which we are responsible, weakening us, bankrupting us, over-stretching our military, and setting us up for the coup de grace.