July 23, 2007
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari announced that a second round of negotiations between the American and Iranian ambassadors to Iraq will take place soon. This meeting is a follow-up to the talks held on May 28, an event that was widely billed as historic but produced no reduction in the violence in Iraq. After those meetings, American Ambassador Ryan Crocker said that further negotiations would depend on whether Iran acted to fulfill its stated commitments to Iraq's stability and security.
What has happened since the first talks? For starters, the U.S. military has announced on six separate occasions that Iran is increasing its support for militias and death squads in Iraq; these announcements support Gen. Petraeus' almost monthly pronouncements that “Iran is more involved in Iraq than we perceived one month ago.” Additionally, U.S. troops have conducted about a dozen different raids to capture Iranian agents in Iraq. On July 16, U.S. forces captured an agent using a charity as a front organization to smuggle Explosively Formed Projectiles (EFPs) into Iraq, the No. 1 killer of coalition troops. Another raid resulted in U.S. troops capturing 27 Iranians, whom officials believe are members of Iran's elite Qods Force. On July 19, the U.S. military said that it captured a terrorist with "close ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp-Qods Force" in a raid near Baqubah. The captured terrorist is suspected of facilitating the transport of weapons and personnel, including the "flow of deadly EFPs into Iraq from Iran to be used against Coalition Forces." On July 22, Coalition Forces detained two suspected terrorists that may be affiliated with the Qods Force in a raid near the Iranian border East of Baghdad. A number of weapons were confiscated during the raid.
At least four weapons caches have been discovered since May 28, some of which included Iranian 240 mm rockets, which U.S. officials say are the biggest and longest-range weapons available to Shiite extremists. One cache included 34 Iranian-made 107 mm rockets aimed at a U.S. military base. Even Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, no foe of Tehran, has urged Iran to reign in the Shiite militias driving up violence in Iraq. And, after months of equivocating, the U.S. military has finally stated that Iranian agents helped plan the January raid in Karbala that killed five U.S. soldiers.
The destruction that Iran has been able to level at Iraq in just the past two months reveals the depth of the Iranian regime's commitment in destabilizing its neighbor. According to my sources, Tehran is spending at least $70 million per month arming, training and funding Iraqi militias fomenting sectarian violence and attacking coalition troops.
This highlights the marked contradiction between Tehran's actions and its words. Iranian officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have expressed a desire to negotiate, yet their motivation for doing so is not to aid the United States but to buy time to speed up the violence in Iraq. Tehran has two overarching aims in Iraq: to establish a sister “Islamic Republic” and to extinguish the only organized opposition it faces, the Mujahedin-e Khalq or MEK. In addition to its widespread network in Iran, the MEK is also present in Iraq in Camp Ashraf. Achieving these goals will let it solidify its hold on the region and bolster the morale of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the state's main repressive organ. The latter is particularly important because the IRGC's repression of ordinary Iranians is what keeps the clerics in power; without the IRGC the regime could not instill fear in the population nor contain the ever-increasing number of anti-government demonstrations throughout the country. Major anti-government riots throughout Iran last June when gas rationing was announced, showed Ahmadinejad's vulnerability vis-à-vis its own population and the organized opposition.
Tehran is betting that if it can generate enough chaos in Iraq, the U.S. Congress will push for withdrawal, clearing the way for Tehran's ascendance in Iraq.
• Can the U.S. and Iran find any common ground in Iraq? Watch the video
Iran has no intention of cooperating with American requests to tone down the chaos in Iraq. However, in order to slow U.S. inclinations to comprehensively clamp down on Iran's agents (something the U.S. is reluctant to do because of the perceived potential for reprisal from Iran), Tehran is fabricating goodwill and requesting talks to buy more time and drive out American troops. Tehran continues to deploy the same tactic on the nuclear issue, keeping negotiations sputtering while it races toward its quest for a nuclear bomb.
Heeding Iran's call for further talks is a mistake. The plethora of EFPs, rockets and funds pouring across Iran's border into Iraq are evidence enough of its intentions, and a few more hours of diplomatic banter can do nothing to change that. To the contrary, it could further embolden Tehran to step up its violence in Iraq.
The international community can still win in Iraq, but it must act quickly and decisively to sever the Iranian regime's influence and bolster the moderate elements in Iraq who oppose Islamic fundamentalism. It can start by stepping up the arrest of the regime's agents in Iraq; cutting off smuggling routes for weapons, explosives and agents; disarming the Shiite militias; and purging the Iraqi government of Tehran's proxies — essentially dismantling Iran's network in Iraq. This must be coupled with empowering the moderate voices among the Sunnis and Shiites and the formation of a national unity government. Many moderate Iraqi politicians, including some key members of the Iraqi Parliament, believe that Iran's main opposition group based in Ashraf City, Iraq would be the catalyst for stability; it has played a crucial role as a balancing weight against the Iranian regime's influence in Iraq, and in helping out Iraq's moderate Shiites and Sunnis.
Asked about Iraq, one general stated that whoever wins there will be the new power broker in the Persian Gulf. America can prevent Iran from winning this role by stopping the real engine driving the violence in Iraq — the mullahs in Tehran.
Alireza Jafarzadeh is a FOX News Channel Foreign Affairs Analyst and the author of "The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
Jafarzadeh has revealed Iran's terrorist network in Iraq and its terror training camps since 2003. He first disclosed the existence of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility and the Arak heavy water facility in August 2002.
Prior to becoming a contributor for FOX, and until August 2003, Jafarzadeh acted for a dozen years as the chief congressional liaison and media spokesman for the U.S. representative office of Iran's parliament in exile, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, the deputy director of the Washington office of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, is credited with exposing Iranian nuclear sites in Natanz and Arak in 2002, triggering International Atomic Energy Agency inspections. He is the author of "The Iran Threat" (Palgrave MacMillan: 2008). His email is Jafarzadeh@ncrius.org.