When the American-led coalition invaded Iraq in 2003, Saddam’s reign of terror ended, and Iraqis were grateful and jubilant. But within months, Iraq fell into a bloody internal war so severe that the Coalition was powerless to stop it. For us, this brutal insurgency has been devastating: as of January 19, 2007, no fewer than 3,030 Americans have perished.
To the American public, the conflict in Iraq looks like the American Civil War, with the Sunni minority playing the role of the North, and the Shiite majority playing the role of the South. But, for the most part, what is happening in Iraq is not a civil war: it is the systematic destruction of a fragile, nascent democracy by its next-door neighbor: Iran. To continue with the Civil War analogy, it is as if Canada had secretly invaded the United States in 1861, killed a group of Northerners, killed a group of Southerners, funded both the Union and Confederate armies, and then scuttled every effort to make peace.
How is it possible for Iran to exert so much influence on events inside Iraq? The answer is simple and astonishing: Iran has no fewer than three proxy armies operating inside Iraq:
• The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC,) a uniformed branch of the Iranian government.
• The Mahdi Army, led by the young radical Shiite cleric, Muqtada al Sadr.
• Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which until recently was led by the man known publicly as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Proxy Army # 1: The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps
One of the oddities of fascist regimes is the multiplicity and redundancy of their armed forces. Iran has a regular army and navy; but it also has a separate military organization called the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC.) The IRGC was created by Ayatollah Khomeini during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Khomeini saw the new organization as an armed intelligence service. (Iranians speak a language called Farsi. The Farsi name for the IRGC is “Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Enqelab-e Islami.” Hence, the IRGC is also referred to as “the Pasdaran” or “Sepah.” There is also a kind of IRGC reserve called “the Basij.” The IRGC also has a special branch called “the Qods Force,” which conducts foreign terrorist activities.)
By far the most blatant manipulation of Iraq by the Iranian government has been accomplished through the direct intervention of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. IRGC officers of all ranks have simply infiltrated Iraq by the hundreds. Under their direction, there may be as many as 90,000 Iranians inside Iraq:
• In 2003, at least 52 IRGC officers were trained in Tehran to infiltrate Iraq and aid in the opposition of American forces.
• In April, 2003, a pro-Iranian cleric took over the mosque in the city of Kut — a city of 300,000 near the Iranian border — and proclaimed himself mayor. The IRGC provided him with a militia, weapons, money, and logistical support.
What is remarkable about these developments is that a regular, uniformed branch of the Iranian military is operating freely inside Iraq. How did they get there?
The answer is that we let them in: During the run-up to the Second Gulf War, IRGC officers approached the United States Army. They offered to infiltrate southern and central Iraq through its porous border with Iran. From these positions, the IRGC would then forward valuable intelligence to American forces. The Army agreed, and the IRGC moved in. Initially, the IRGC made good on its promise, and helped the Coalition defeat Saddam. Then, with the Iraqi military destroyed, the Iranians shut down the channel to the U.S. Army, and began to use their intelligence officers to strangle the newborn Iraqi democracy.
In 2003, the United States Army certainly knew that Iran has been hostile to the United States since 1979. Why, then, did the Army agree to accept the Iranian Trojan Horse? My guess is that, like the President, the Army did not fully realize the extent to which Iran had murdered Americans. Furthermore, the invasion of Iraq has been, for America, a war conducted on the cheap: it is now clear that we went into Iraq without sufficient men and resources. The Army probably jumped at the chance of saving money by employing the Iranians.
Proxy Army # 2: The Mahdi Army
On June 8, 2003, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former President of Iran, held a meeting with the young Iraqi Shiite cleric, Moghtada Sadre (known in the West as Muqtada al Sadr.) Sadr is the son of Ayatollah Seyed Mohammed Sadr, the onetime leader of all Iraqi Shiites, who was murdered by Saddam Hussein in 1999. On behalf of the government of Iran, Rafsanjani proposed to fund an Iraqi Shiite militia — the Mahdi Army — with Sadr as its leader. Rafsanjani specifically compared Hezbollah in Lebanon to the Mahdi Army in Iraq. Both, he said, were funded by Iran: Hezbollah was created to throw the Israelis out of Lebanon; the Mahdi Army was created to throw the Americans out of Iraq.
Sadr accepted, and Iran thereby created its second proxy army inside Iraq. By April, 2004, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had sent Sadr over $70 million to fund the Mahdi Army; it is likely that Iran has continued to support Sadr at this level of annual funding ever since.
Sadr did not disappoint his handlers in Tehran: In early 2004, Sadr almost succeeded in derailing the American turn-over of authority to the new interim government of Iraq. Coalition authorities had recently shut down Sadr's newspaper because it was inciting violence. (One article alleged that Americans were mounting suicide bombing attacks against Iraqis.) Sadr mobilized his Shi'a followers to demonstrate. On April 4, fighting broke out in Najaf, Basra, and a section of Baghdad called Sadr City. The Mahdi Army killed dozens of Coalition soldiers. Sadr’s actions also triggered violence by Sunni rebels in Baghdad, Samarra, Ramadi, and Fallujah. Thus, all of this killing was either financed or instigated by Iran.
Proxy Army # 3: al-Qaeda in Iraq
We have already described Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s rise to power in Iraqi Kurdistan. By 2003, he had commandeered a militia called Ansar Al-Islam. However, as we have already seen, Zarqawi and his commanders were all members of al-Qaeda. Most of them were veterans of the Afghan insurgency against the Soviets. While most of Zarqawi’s 600 fighters were in northern Iraq, their officers were in Iran, and have remained there, more or less, ever since. (Zarqawi, himself, shuttled continually between Iraq, Iran, Syria, and his native Jordan.)
In this roundabout way, the government of Iran used al-Qaeda to create its third proxy army inside Iraq, while keeping its leadership mostly inside Iran. From this strong position, Iran proceeded to wreak havoc on American interests through Zarqawi:
• In March, 2003, the American-led coalition launched a massive offensive against Ansar Al-Islam. Zarqawi lost one-third of his men. Undeterred, Ansar Al-Islam simply slipped across the border into Iran, rebuilt its strength, and reentered Iraqi Kurdistan.
• On August 20, 2003, Zarqawi exploded a truck bomb at the Baghdad headquarters of the United Nations, killing the U.N.’s special representative and 16 others. This drove the U.N. out of Iraq.
• On April 9, 2004, 26-year-old Nicholas Berg, an American civilian, was kidnapped in Baghdad. On May 11, Zarqawi (or possibly one of his closest lieutenants) personally beheaded him, and then released a video tape of the execution. It was a coldly calculated act designed to seize the leadership of all Sunni extremist groups in Iraq. Within days, several of these militias announced their merger under Zarqawi’s new banner group, called Tawhid wal Jihad, or “Unity and Holy War.” The militias included the former Ansar Al-Islam, Ansar Al-Sunna, Jaysh Mohammed, Al-Jamaa Salafiya, Takfir wal Hijra, and Jund Al-Sham. Overnight, Zarqawi’s forces grew from 600 to as many as 1,500, and now included specialists in explosives, missiles, and chemical weapons.
• In July 2004, Zarqawi began calling on Iraqi Sunnis to kill Iraqi Shiites.
• In September 2004, Zarqawi kidnapped and executed two more American civilians: Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley.
• On October 23, 2004, Zarqawi murdered 50 Iraqi National Guard recruits as they left their training camp near Kirkuk. This was a major blow against the newly-elected Iraqi government, which was struggling to assert control of the country in order to reduce its dependence on America.
• By the end of October, Zarqawi had killed 675 Iraqis and 40 foreigners.
• On February 22, 2006, Zarqawi destroyed the Shiite Askariya Mosque in Samarra, igniting a new round of violence between Shiites and Sunnis.
All of this killing — including the assassinations of Nicholas Berg, Eugene Armstrong, and Jack Hensley — was financed and supported by Iran.
Zarqawi’s organization recently underwent one more name change: it is now known as al-Qaeda in Iraq. This is a calculated move designed to give the impression that Zarqawi’s militia has linked up with Osama bin Laden’s. But in reality, Zarqawi and his commanders were official members of al-Qaeda from the beginning.
With three separate armies — the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Mahdi Army, and al-Qaeda in Iraq — Iran is now firmly in control of the armed conflict in Iraq. This means that, ultimately, it is Iran who is killing our soldiers. The IRGC and al-Qaeda in Iraq are Sunni; the Mahdi Army is Shiite. Iran is playing both sides against each other, against the newly-elected government of Iraq, and against the armed forces of the United States and its allies.
Iran’s Proxy Army in Afghanistan
When the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, Iran initially opposed them. Then the American-led coalition ousted the Taliban. Protected by the Coalition, the Afghani people elected a democratic government headed by President Hamid Karzai. American forces remained to support the new government. This was not to Iran’s liking: from their viewpoint, the American military was beginning to encircle Iran; first in Afghanistan, and later in Iraq.
To counter the influence of the United States in the region, the clerics in Tehran made peace with the Taliban, and began to support and supply them. This, in effect, transformed the Taliban into an Iranian proxy army. Iran wasted no time deploying it:
• Beginning in December, 2003, a force of 20,000 former Afghan Taliban members trained by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps began infiltrating southern Afghanistan. Their goal was to topple the democratic government of President Hamid Karzai. During a six-month period in 2005, these insurgents killed 48 American soldiers.
• On February 18, 2004, a train exploded in Neyshabur, Iran. It was destined for Afghanistan and contained 17 wagons of TNT. (The Iranian railway system is owned by the State.)
• In June, 2004, Khamenei gave $10 million to anti-Karzai insurgents in Afghanistan.
The Iranian Attack Model
It is time to review, for the last time, the Iranian Attack Model that was presented in postings 3 and 4. As we review each of its seven features, we will list examples of its application that have been documented in this and other postings:
1. The chief instrument of Iranian geopolitics is the IRGC, a uniformed branch of the Iranian military.
The IRGC was directly involved in the Marine barracks bombing; the Khobar Towers bombing; the assassination of Robert Dean Stethem; the attacks of September 11, 2001; and the insurgencies in Iraq. The IRGC is also responsible for deploying Iran's nuclear missiles. (We will learn more about this in the next few postings.)
2. Iranian acts of aggression are carefully planned and executed, from beginning to end, by Iranian citizens working for the Iranian government.
The Marine barracks bombing and the Khobar Towers bombing were both planned by Iranian diplomats in Damascus, Syria, and by members of Iran's MOIS. The hijacking that led to the assassination of Robert Dean Stethem was probably ordered by Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The attacks of September 11th were approved and ordered by all five of Iran's top political leaders, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the Iranian Head of State; the IRGC, MOIS, and the Office of the Supreme Leader all participated in the planning. The Iraqi insurgency led by Muqtada al Sadr and the Mahdi Army is being funded by the government of Iran through Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
3. The final phase of each attack, however, is carried out by proxies who may or may not be Iranian citizens.
The Marine barracks bomb was detonated by an Iranian. The Khobar towers bomb was built, deployed, and detonated by members of Saudi Hezbollah. The assassination of Robert Dean Stethem was done by a Hezbollah militiaman. The attacks of September 11th were carried out by al-Qaeda, which was acting, in part, as an Iranian proxy. In Iraq, suicide bombers, both Shia and Sunni, are being armed and funded by Iran. The takeover of the town of Kut was led by an Iraqi cleric supported by the IRGC.
4. The Iranians hide their culpability by attacking where non-Iranian radical groups can easily be blamed.
The Marine barracks bombing took place in war-torn Lebanon. The Khobar Towers bombing occurred in Saudi Arabia, in which several small armed groups are trying to topple the Monarchy. The assassination of Robert Dean Stethem occurred during an airline hijacking that, on the surface, looked like hijackings previously perpetrated by Palestinians and other Muslim extremists. The attacks of September 11th, except for their use of commercial jetliners as flying bombs, looked like many other hijackings done by several radical Muslim groups. The activities of the Mahdi Army, al-Qaeda, and the IRGC are hidden in the noise of other insurgencies in Iraq.
5. The Iranians' weapon of choice is a suicide truck or car bomb.
The Marine barracks was destroyed by a suicide truck bomb. The Khobar Towers facility was not a suicide because it was perpetrated by Sunnis; until recently, suicide has not been typical of Sunni extremists. The assassination of Robert Dean Stethem was not a suicide attack because Imad Fayez Mugniyeh is too narcissistic to kill himself. The attacks of September 11th simply substituted suicide plane bombs for suicide truck bombs. Car and truck bombs are now common in Iraq, and are routinely used by Iran's proxy armies.
6. Each attack advances the geopolitical ambitions of Iran.
The Marine barracks bombing succeeded in expelling American forces from Lebanon. The Khobar Towers bombing contributed to the reduction of American troops in Saudi Arabia. The assassination of Robert Dean Stethem humiliated the United States and obtained the release of 766 Lebanese Shiites from prison in Israel. The attacks of September 11th united radical Islam around Osama bin Laden, who is now, in effect, a minister in the government of Iran. The loss of 3,030 soldiers has caused many Americans to call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
7. Each attack is funded by Iranian petrodollars.
The IRGC is enormously expensive to maintain; it is no less than a complete duplicate of the regular Iranian Army. The Mahdi Army receives at least $70 million in funding per year from Iran; Hezbollah receives in excess of $100 million per year. In 2004, Khamenei gave $10 million to insurgents in Afghanistan, probably the Taliban.
War by Proxy
We can now see how Iran is succeeding in its drive to dominate world politics. Like their Pan-Arabist predecessors, the clerics in Tehran are calling for Muslims worldwide to unite behind them, and are using their oil wealth to destabilize their rivals. But unlike their predecessors, the clerics have an enormous advantage: Iran possesses no fewer than eight proxy armies:
1. In Iraq, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
2. In Iraq, the Mahdi Army.
3. In Iraq, al-Qaeda in Iraq.
4. In Afghanistan, the Taliban.
5. In Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, Hezbollah.
6. In Lebanon, Islamic Jihad.
7. In Lebanon and in the Palestinian Authority, Hamas.
8. Worldwide, al-Qaeda.
During the early Cold War, the Soviet Union supported armed insurgencies in China, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Yemen, Congo, Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique, and Cuba. When Iran added al-Qaeda to its roster of proxy armies, it automatically acquired an organized, armed presence in 60 countries. Not since the days of Joseph Stalin has one nation been in control of so many militias in so many countries. Iran has become an Islamic Comintern.
Joseph Stalin knew, however, that he could not sustain communist insurgencies worldwide unless he could counter the United States militarily. But America had the atom bomb. Stalin made it his highest priority to get it, too, and in 1949, he succeeded. This lesson was not lost on the Iranians.