Iran's Ratlines into Iraq
Bill Roggio writes an extremely important article on how the Iranian covert campaign against Iraq is directed, including a schematic of its lines of infiltration. Read the whole thing.
The most interesting aspect of Bill's article is the implicit reference to a kind of arms control agreement reached with Iran.
On November 15, Major General James Simmons, the Deputy Commander for Multinational Forces Iraq said the reduction in Iranian-inspired attacks along with a lack of evidence that weapons were crossing the border indicate Iran has agreed to a pledge to reduce violence in Iraq. "We believe that this indicates the commitments Iran has made appear to be holding up," Simmons said.
Apparently, not everyone agrees. Bill Roggio's report says:
But three US commanders directly in the fight against the Special Groups in three of the most active theaters for the Ramazan Corps -- Baghdad, central provinces, and along the Iranian border -- disagree.
Colonel Don Farris, the commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division based in the heart of Sadr City in Baghdad, stated the Special Groups still pose a major threat. ... We have not seen any slowing down or any indicators that these special groups are going to curtail their activities or quit receiving this support that's coming from outside the country."
Major General Rick Lynch, the Commander of Multinational Division Central, whose area of operations includes Wasit, Karbala, Babil, and southern Baghdad provinces, is not certain Iran has reduced the flow of aid to the Shia terror groups. "I don't know what this Iranian pledge is, but the number of munitions has increased," Lynch said on November 11. "It could be that we are finding them more. But it is still troublesome. I have no idea when these EFP munitions came ... before or after the pledge. I don't know."
Colonel Mark Mueller, the commander of the border transition team in Wasit province, stated on November 20 that weapons are still moving across the border. "We do know that explosively formed penetrators are getting across the border, we do know that ... rockets are coming across the border, so of course it's a concern," Mueller said.
It would be fair to say that a) the infiltration ratlines exist; b) Iran has made a generous pledge to stop subverting a neighboring country; c) the evidence of compliance is ambiguous. That's the state of play.
The ratlines exist not only because the US sources say they do but because Iran necessarily needed a subject to its "commitments" to reduce violence. You can't shut something down if there's nothing to shut down.
But why should compliance be ambiguous? There are certain indicators (such as the availability of EFPs munitions for attacks) whose levels would fall only gradually because insurgent groups might still have stocks available from earlier insertions. However certain indicators should fall off instantaneously if the Iranians are acting in good faith. For example, captured documents from Special Groups should by now contain instructions to "cease and desist". If a ceasefire has been declared it's communication to enemy forces in the field ought to be detectable. What's been observed is a slowdown in militia activity. "Showing more restraint", like a cigarette smoker down to a pack a day instead of two is not the same as quitting.
Iraqi spokesman Ali al Dabbagh agreed. "Iran is showing more restraint in sending people and weapons to destabilize Iraq," said Dabbagh on November 18. "[Prime Minister Maliki] spoke very frankly with the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] in Mashad. He said Iran had to choose whether to support the [Iraqi] government or any other party. ... Everything gives the feeling that Iran is making good on its pledge. The freezing of the Mahdi Army is evidence of its good intentions. Iran played a role in this.”
Omar Fadhil writing at Pajamas Media has an excellent article on the current political situation in Iraq which provides an alternative explanation for the Mahdi Army's current passivity. It's not that they've changed their spots. They're just running scared.
Sadr [is] now ... less powerful ... because a) PM Maliki became less dependent on him after withdrew his followers from the cabinet and from the UIA as well and b) his political weight comes from his ability to create chaos and fear; this ability is not as great as it used to be ...
Now it’s Sadr’s and Dhari’s (the head of the association of Muslim scholars) turn. The two have been more or less defanged in many parts of the country as Dhari can’t find reliable bargaining power in al-Qaeda anymore and as Sadr is being squeezed with pressure from his former allies in the UIA and determined Iraqi military commanders in the south. ...
What stopped the US military from taking decisive action against Dhari or Sadr and his followers were the concerns that doing so might cause more harm than good. Now it seems that those two have lost the capacity to cause enough chaos. In other words they no longer can deter a decisive action by the US troops and Iraqi government. This is truer since the decisive action is coming in the form of legal processes and charges pushed by Iraqi officials supported by evidence, meaning the defendants are denied the use of the occupation /sectarian partiality cliché.
In other words, Sadr is lying low not from any sudden onset of virtue but out of a realization that the ground has shifted under his feet. Ronald Reagan famously said the way to regard any agreement with a potentially treacherous enemy was to "trust but verify", itself a translation from a Russian proverb. In dealing with the Ayatollahs, opposing Teheran's minions by force and negotiating with the Iranian leadership have been presented as binary alternatives. Stop the former and do the latter; or vice versa. In truth they are complementary. Iran's "restraint" is likely to increase in proportion to the lumps the special groups and agents it sends into Iraq receive on the head. There's nothing as restrained as an opponent who is out cold.