Almost a week after the U.S. Department of State branded the ayatollahs’ regime in Iran as the “most active state sponsor of terrorism,” there are reports from Baghdad that the Hezbollah of Lebanon has been training Iraqi terrorists at camps near Tehran. Tehran’s Terror Inc. certainly knows a thing or two about the art of outsourcing.
According to the New York Times, “the account of Hezbollah’s role was provided by four Shiite militia members who were captured in Iraq late last year” after they had returned from training in Iran., In a training program described, according to the Times, by the American officials as “training the trainers,” the captured terrorists were part of a “class of 16 militants who crossed into Iran from southern Iraq and were taken to a camp near Tehran.”
While these reports corroborate with the information I revealed in January and March of 2007, they are far from the whole story. Last year, I received a number of intelligence reports from my sources inside the Tehran government and affiliated with the underground network of Iran’s main opposition, the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK/PMOI), about an extensive, elaborate program to train large numbers of Iraqi terrorists in Iran.
The plan is led by the Qods Force, the elite terrorist wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC). IRGC Brigadier General Ahmad Forouzandeh, known by his nickname "Abu Shahab” in Iraq, is in charge of the training program. IRGC Brigadier General Mohammad Shahlaei, a veteran Qods commander, supervises the recruitment of Iraqi militias.
To minimize the risk of exposure and logistical bottlenecks, the Qods Force scatters these would-be terrorists in several of its bases near the cities of Tehran, Karaj, Qom, and Isfahan. Qods bases in provinces close to the Iraqi border, such as Kermanshah, Ilam, Kurdistan, and Khuzestan, are also utilized.
These camps offer a full menu of courses, from urban guerrilla warfare and sniper targeting, to launching mortars and installing explosive packs. Let’s not leave out the instructions on how to fire shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles. The duration of each course is 20 days. Much of the training is done by veteran commanders of the Lebanese Hezbollah who, like their students, speak Arabic and are more than eager to share their experiences with the latest unconventional warfare tactics.
The Qods Force’s Imam Ali Base in Tehran is at the center of the ayatollahs’ terrorist training program. Tucked away in a quiet area of northern Tehran close to Saad-abad Palace, it used to accommodate would-be terrorists from more than a dozen countries. Run by IRGC commander Hossein Lotfi, Imam Ali Base is now dedicated entirely to the training of Iraqi militia. One of the base’s main commanders, IRGC Brigadier General Orouj, was previously a senior commander of the Qods Force in Lebanon.
The trainees at Imam Ali are usually divided into small groups of eight or so for the sake of secrecy. Each group has two trainers: an Iranian and a member of Hezbollah. According to information from my sources in Iran, in October 2006, several groups of Iraqi Shiite militants from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI (currently known as the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council) and from Sadr City in Baghdad, were trained in this base.
The Hezbollah base in Varamin, south of Tehran, is another key destination for Iraqi students of terrorism. Before 2003, it was primarily used to train the Badr Corp — the military wing of SCIRI. With the outbreak of the Iraq war, the IRGC promptly dispatched the Badr Corp into Iraq, and the base was handed over to the Qods Force to handle the soon-expected Iraqi militias. The Hezbollah base is currently run by a veteran Qods Force commander named Haj Ayoub. Two of the non-Iranian trainers are Khalili and Vajih. On January 2, 2007, the training of a group of 50 Iraqi militants from Sadr City was completed at this base.
In addition to these bases near Tehran, the Qods Forces also extensively uses the Bahonar base in Karaj, 25 miles west of Tehran, the Kenesht Valley base in the border province of Kermanshah, and the Isfahan training base, to instruct would-be terrorists from neighboring Iraq.
The unrelenting escalation of Tehran’s terrorist meddling in Iraq has prompted American officials both in Washington and Baghdad to speak out. This welcome – albeit overdo – outspokenness by the United States must, however, be backed up by closer scrutiny of Iraq’s porous border with Iran. Closing the gaps will be difficult, in light of the many years of reckless neglect, particularly by the British forces in the south. But heightened vigilance will go a long way toward choking off Tehran’s means of providing funds, arms, and most importantly, trained terrorists and Qods Force personnel.
Media reports of U.S. plan to upgrade facilities at Camp Delta and the Al Kut Air Base in southern Iraq are welcome news. The facility intended as “a strategic overwatch base” is located just 35 miles from the Iranian border and could play a decisive role in blocking Tehran’s use of the border to further its terrorist agenda in Iraq.
An increasingly visible determination by the United States to counter Iran’s “destructive role in Iraq” which, if unchecked, poses “the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq,” has no doubt made an impression. Despite their strategic gains in Iraq, thanks to Washington’s “see no evil, hear no evil (from Tehran)” approach in the immediate post-war period, the ayatollahs know quite well that this trend is not irreversible. One encouraging sign is the rush — at least publicly — by Tehran’s surrogates in the Iraqi government to distance themselves from their paymasters in Tehran.
Those capitals still bent on “sweetening” the already generous package of incentives they have offered Tehran to stop its drive for nuclear weapons would do well to take note. They have sponsored three rounds of negotiations with Iran’s regime over Iraq’s security; they have offered all sorts of incentives before, during, and after the war to dissuade Tehran’s terrorists; they have even bombed the bases of Tehran’s democratic opposition, the non-belligerent PMOI/MEK. None of these deterred Tehran. Decisive counter-measures can, and will.
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.