Whose Side Are They On?
There's an interesting article in the NY Sun describing the conclusions reached by Iran's equivalent of the "Iraq Study Group". One key conclusion the Iranians reached was that in order to forestall Sunni attacks against Shi'a groups it was important to for Teheran to reach out to both sides of the sectarian divide. Equal opportunity terrorism. But maybe it went beyondthat.
One of the documents captured in the raids, according to two American officials and one Iraqi official, is an assessment of the Iraq civil war and new strategy from the Quds Force. According to the Iraqi source, that assessment is the equivalent of " Iran's Iraq Study Group," a reference to the bipartisan American commission that released war strategy recommendations after the November 7 elections. The document concludes, according to these sources, that Iraq's Sunni neighbors will step up their efforts to aid insurgent groups and that it is imperative for Iran to redouble efforts to retain influence with them, as well as with Shiite militias.
But Iran was careful to choose which Sunni insurgent groups it would deal with, aiming to split off some from the others. "The source was careful to stress that the Iranian plans do not extend to cooperation with Baathist groups fighting the government in Baghdad, and said the documents rather show how the Quds Force — the arm of Iran's revolutionary guard that supports Shiite Hezbollah, Sunni Hamas, and Shiite death squads — is working with individuals affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq and Ansar al-Sunna." The connection between Iran and al-Qaeda is intriguing. If true it should be a political bombshell, though probably it won't. The media is relatively uninterested in such things. But still:
The news that Iran's elite Quds Force would be in contact, and clandestinely cooperating, with Sunni Jihadists who attacked the Golden Mosque in Samarra (one of the holiest shrines in Shiism) on February 22, could shake the alliance Iraq's ruling Shiites have forged in recent years with Tehran. Many Iraq analysts believe the bombing vaulted Iraq into the current stage of its civil war.
However the secret Iranian policy may actually be old. US intelligence had long suspected that Iran was counterintuitively supporting the Sunni insurgents. Among the suspicions was that Iran helped supply the insurgents in Fallujah. But the information was kept within the intelligence community until the capture of Quds operatives in Iraq by US forces revealed documents which explicitly confirmed Iranian policy, which seemed to make no sense, at least from a Western point of view. Some US analysts still boggle at the thought that Iran might kill its own to advance their policy agenda.
A former State Department senior analyst on Iraq and Iran who left government service in 2005, Wayne White, said he did not think it was likely the Quds Force was supporting Sunni terrorists who were targeting Shiite political leaders and civilians, but stressed he did not know.
"I have no doubt whatsoever that al-Quds forces are on the ground and active in Iraq," he said. "That's about it. I saw evidence that Moqtada al Sadr was in contact with Sunni Arab insurgents in western Iraq, but I never saw evidence of Iran in that loop."
Mr. White added, "One problem that we all have is that people consistently conduct analysis assuming that the actor is going to act predictably or rationally based on their overall mindset or ideology. Sometimes people don't.
"One example of a mindset that may hinder analysis of Iranian involvement is the belief that Iran would never have any dealings with militant Sunni Arabs. But they allowed hundreds of Al Qaeda operatives to escape from Afghanistan across their territory in 2002," he said.
Interestingly enough, some conservative and leftist blogs have speculated that Admiral Fallon was appointed to CENTCOM because the focus is about to shift away from Iraq and on to Iran. Whether or not that turns out to be true (because it would imply a determination that has so far been conspicuously absent), the relatively muted effect of recently discovered but modern day equivalent of the Zimmerman Telegram is suggestive of how inert US public opinion has become to what in other times would have been cassus belli. But then the seizure of seizure of the US Embassy came at a similar moment in 1979, when America had been psychologically wearied by the national debate over the Vietnam War. Organizations like the World Can't Wait To Drive Out the Bush Regime probably wouldn't care if the Quds marched across the border in strength. And a to a nation still as physically secure as America, such provocations from Iran are not existenstial threats. Whether or not Iran has been attacking America in Iraq may be politically beside the point.
But if Iran has been secretly supporting al-Qaeda, despite the well known hostility between their religious points of view, then the documents reveal a remarkable tactical alliance between the Zarqawi and the Ayatollahs that subordinated their hatreds to the goal of driving America out of Iraq. And that can only be because both parties secretly agreed that America in Iraq represented an existential threat to their ambitions. It has often been argued that US presence in Iraq is strategically pointless, but the captured documents suggest the opposite. If the documents are true then Iran must have felt it an intolerable threat; one so large that it was willing to make common cause with its sectarian enemies to achieve. The enemy's fears are the best indication of his weakness. Or are they? In the world of disinformation there is always the possibility of double-bluff. Or the possibility that Iran was preparing for the period following American withdrawal, when it would use its secret links to the Sunnis to bend the Iraqi Shi'ites to their will.