On April 28, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations joined a chorus of other top officials warning of Iran’s subversive campaign. Ambassador Khalilzad told the U.N. Security Council that the Qods Force, the elite unit of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, "continues to arm, train, and fund illegal armed groups in Iraq." He cautioned that “this lethal aid poses a significant threat to Iraqi and multinational forces and to the stability and sovereignty of Iraq.”
Late last week, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pointed to the Qods Force for its “increasingly lethal and malign influence” in Iraq. Adm. Mullen added that evidence would be publicized in the coming days that newly made Iranian armaments are being smuggled into Iraq at an increasing rate.
These reports echo the information I revealed in February about the Qods Force’s new military/political infrastructure, designed to expand its operations inside Iraq. Why now? Simply put, the ayatollahs and their primary mover and shaker in Iraq, the Qods Force, are going for broke before they lose their “Iraq opportunity.”
To this end, the Qods Force has created a new command headquarters in the western Iranian city of Kermanshah, from where it directs three operational axes — northern, central and southern. A Qods Force top officer named Haj Amiri is the new HQ’s commander and many former and current commanders of the Badr Corps, the militia formed by Iran, which is now closely aligned with the Maliki government, are under his command.
The Northern Axis is perhaps the most vital to the ayatollahs' new terror build-up, which is why the HQ's commander Amiri is also in charge of this axis. The Northern Axis’s operations in Baghdad are handled by Abu-Jafar Al-Boka, previously with the Badr Corps. To effectively train would-be Iraqi terrorists, the new command HQ in Kermanshah utilizes several fully equipped and staffed training bases. Two bases in Kermanshah's Kenesht valley, the Jalil-Abad Hizbollah Base in Varamin near Tehran, and the Isfahan Training Base in central Iran are presently the primary sites.
Even before this strategic expansion, Iran had acquired significant intelligence and political assets in Iraq. When Iraq’s previous regime fell, Tehran’s intentions were largely ignored or misunderstood. The mullahs took advantage and launched what is essentially a proxy war against the United States. The ayatollahs’ regime, through the Qods Force, now owns nearly 3000 houses, properties, apartments, businesses, and hotels throughout Iraq; has set up more than 20 groups and parties; has as many as 40,000 Iraqis (many within Maliki’s government) on its payroll; has set up 100 libraries and runs 380 Koran study centers as well as video clubs, 7 TV and 3 radio stations, 30 publications, and an extensive network of mosques.
Thankfully, the news is not all bad. The U.S. military surge strategy has had positive results, and there have been impressive successes by the Iraqi Awakening Councils (also known as the Sons of Iraq) in pushing back the Sunni and mainly Tehran-controlled Iraqi Shiite terrorist groups. As evidenced by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s failed trip to Iraq in March, Tehran has had almost no success in developing any strategic popular traction among ordinary Iraqis, particularly Shiites, despite five years of non-stop meddling.
And Tehran’s political anchor within the Iraqi government, the ruling Shiite block United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), is plagued with internal divisions mostly over the allegiance toward Tehran of its two main pillars, Nuri al-Maliki’s Al-Dawa Party and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim’s Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council. Externally, the UIA is under tremendous pressure from the block of independent non-sectarian Iraqi politicians, who are demanding it stop kowtowing to Tehran and begin solving Iraq’s political, security, and economic problems.
As the date for the provincial elections approaches (they are scheduled for fall), the UIA, and by extension Tehran, are sensing that the honey moon in Iraq could be coming to an end. The ayatollahs and their Iraqi surrogates are visibly worried about the rise of an Iraqi counterforce. At the core of this counter force are Iraq’s political and tribal leaders who have consistently challenged the Iranian gains in their country. These leaders are allied with the democratic Iranian opposition, the People’s Mojahedin of Iran (PMOI/MEK). They insist that the MEK’s deep democratic Islamic and anti-fundamentalist roots make it an indispensable catalyst for their success.
The ayatollahs’ and their Iraqi surrogates have recognized that they must push full court before all the gains they have made in Iraq are reversed forever. Iraq’s independent secular leaders and their strategic allies, the Mojahedin, know that they, too, must push back to rid Iraq of Tehran’s malicious meddling. The U.S. cannot stand idly on the sidelines and hope for the best. America needs to throw its weight behind the anti-extremists, actively work to cut off the Qods Force’s influence in Iraq, and reach out to those Iraqis and Iranians who are committed to the goals of democracy and secularism.
Alireza Jafarzadeh is the author of The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis (Palgrave: February 2008).
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.
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, and is on twitter @A_Jafarzadeh.