Iran and al Qaeda in Iraq

Qods Force logo. Click image to view.

Further evidence of Iran’s support of the Shia death squads and Sunni al Qaeda has emerged. At the end of December, two Iranian agents of the Qods force were arrested in a SCIRI compound in Baghdad. The Iraqi government was angry over the arrests, as the Iranians were part of a diplomatic delegation, and the agents were later released and deported.

But the Washington Post reported the two Iranian intelligence agents captured in Baghdad possessed “weapons lists, documents pertaining to shipments of weapons into Iraq, organizational charts, telephone records and maps, among other sensitive intelligence information… [and] information about importing modern, specially shaped explosive charges into Iraq.” One was “the third-highest-ranking official of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ al-Qods Brigade.”

The New York Sun described the documents as “the equivalent of Iran’s Iraq Study Group” which “show how the Qods Force – the arm of Iran’s revolutionary guard that supports Shiite Hezbollah, Sunni Hamas, and Shiite death squads – is working with individuals affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq and Ansar al-Sunna.” “We found plans for attacks, phone numbers affiliated with Sunni bad guys, a lot of things that filled in the blanks on what these guys are up to,” an intelligence official told the New York Sun.

Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Qods Force. Click image to view.

Iranian involvement with al Qaeda and other Sunni jihadis groups is nothing new, however the conventional wisdom in media and some intelligence circles is Shia Iran could never cooperate with Sunni al Qaeda due to ideological differences. This ignores a mountain of evidence to the contrary, such as Iran’s sheltering of over 100 al Qaeda leaders, including Said bin Laden, Osama’s son, and Saif al-Adel, al Qaeda’s strategic planner, or Iranian support of Somalia’s Sunni Islamic Courts by providing arms and training.

The 9-11 Commission Report was explicit about Iran’s connections with al Qaeda. “The relationship between al Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shia divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations.” Contacts between Iran, Hezbollah

and al Qaeda were established in Sudan in the early 1990s. “Al Qaeda members received advice and training from Hezbollah,” according the the 9-11 Commission report. Many of al Qaeda’s 9-11 hijackers transited through Iran. “After 9/11, Iran and Hezbollah wished to conceal any past evidence of cooperation with Sunni terrorists associated with al Qaeda.”

Iranian involvement in Iraq with the Sunni terrorists has been an open secret in military and intelligence circles since the Fallujah uprising in March of 2004. Iranian mines and weapons were funneled to Zarqawi’s terrorists in Fallujah and elsewhere throughout Sunni dominated Anbar province.

Imad Mugniyah, Iranian operative and leader of Hezbollah’s military. Click image to view.

Iran’s influence in Iraq must be countered for the U.S. and Iraqi governments to succeed in restoring order in Baghdad. For starters, the United States should seal the Iranian border and mount an information campaign exposing Iranian support for the murder of numerous fellow Shia, as well as for backing the group that is responsible for the destruction of the Golden Dome of the Al Askaria mosque, the holiest site in Shia Islam.

The United State has proven incapable of mounting a serious information campaign, let alone sustaining one, which is why Iran has operated with such success. The Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group, a grouping of State, Defense and Administration officials, is working to subvert Iran’s rise in the Persian Gulf and beyond, but at some point Iran must be countered outside of working groups.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Jim Rockford says:

    It doesn’t matter Bill.
    Dems have already made it clear: run away in 4-6 mos from Iraq (and let’s be honest, Afghanistan too) and “negotiate a surrender” to Al Qaeda and Iran.
    This is their policy, Pelosi and Reid’s letter makes it clear that the Sheehan wing of the Dem party (chasing Rahm Emmanuel out of his press conference and having him tow the line) … Dems have the purse strings and the will to use it.
    Bush can present the evidence and the Peace crowd will just chant “unjust war” or somesuch and make their “peace in our time” stick. For a while.

  • charlesc says:

    You mean the American people voted to get troops out of Iraq and a majority of the American people want it.

  • Tom Paine says:

    CharlesC @ 4:55 PM

    Of course, what you meant to say is that the American people voted the Republicans out of Congress for corruption, pork, and arrogance — and that people like you *wish* they had done it because of the war. 😉

  • Iran and al-Qaeda in Iraq

    Courtesy of The Fourth Rail:
    Further evidence of Iran’s support of the Shia death squads and Sunni al-Qaeda has emerged. At the end of December, two Iranian agents of the Quds force were arrested in a SCIRI compound in Baghdad. The Iraqi govern…

  • grognard says:

    This is interesting, I would have thought that Iran would be using access to weaponry to keep influence over various Iraqi Shiite groups, rewarding friends and punishing enemies. It looks like their over all goal is creating chaos, and therefore keeping US troops tied up with the insurgency. They know from the “Axis of Evil”

  • Tom W. says:

    I never understood the conventional wisdom that the U.S. was terrible at information warfare. The last letter written by Musab al Zarqawi stated in plain language that the U.S. and Coalition information efforts were much more effective than al Qaeda’s.
    Someday I hope there’s a detailed study done on why it was impossible to get the straight story about the war in Iraq.
    As for us retreating…
    Bush just replaced Pace with Petraeus, the hardest of all hard-charging generals, and now an admiral is the head of CENTCOM, just as three naval battle groups gear up in the Persian Gulf. You don’t use aircraft carriers to eliminate Moqtada al Sadr. There’s only one possible target.
    We’re going to finish the job in a matter of months, and all the Dem politicians who cried that the war was lost are going to look like the clowns that they are. When Bush’s poll numbers go back up, because everyone loves a winner, all the smarmy defeatists who were chuckling gleefully just a few months ago are going to be weeping into their corn flakes.
    Too bad for them.
    Go Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Marines.

  • Chimera says:

    No one performing Intel in Iraq has ever doubted for a minute that Iran was the majority supplier of weapons.
    All you have to do is look at the EFP attacks. A typical ied has a kill ratio of like 1:1 but an efp is about 4:1. EFP’s aren’t made in Iraq, they are too technical. So, they have to be shipped in. And who uses EFP’s against us? Sunnis. hmmm…
    When 1 EFP goes off anywhere, we know there will be a string of them over the next week until the supply runs out. Then, it’s another few weeks for the Iranians to re-arm the groups and the vicious cycle repeats.
    The whole thing is ridiculous, no one in the govt. can claim this information hasn’t been available for the last 2 years, they just haven’t wanted to act on it.
    It’s a sad state of affairs when the people you elect to protect you would rather play politics, especially when they are so bad at that.

  • Luke Willen says:

    The job should be done and if it is done should be done right. If Iran has been interfering in other countries suh as Iraq, Lebanon and Somalia, which has been my suspicion for quite some time then they must be doing it for sound strategic reasons.
    These might be
    1 Gain control of access to the Persian Gulf
    2 Gain control of access to the Red Sea
    3 Gain control of Lebanon
    Once this is achieved Iran, in alliance with Syria and having established an Iranian backed puppet regieme in Baghdad (and has perhaps engineered coups in other Gulf States and in Jordan)would be in a position to challenge Isreal militarily. Iran would be in a perfect position to blackmail the West with the oil weapon and would be able to make any military response by the United States extremely difficult altough not perhaps impossible.
    However, in a future situation such as the one outlined above there would be a very real possibility that the regional conflict could escalate into a Third World War.
    In the event that the Democrats are able to force Bush to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan then there will be little or nothing to prevent Iran from becoming the dominant power in the Middle East amd under a leader who appears to be a candidate for a strait jacket (albeit a highly intelligent nutcase who would be quite capable of reckless gambles. I am sure that reminds you of someone)
    And the Democrats and anti war people will be the first to ask “Why didn’t you do something earlier?” The answer to that one is quite obvious. They would not let us.
    The current situation is in many ways similar to the mid to late 1930s. There were some people, like Winston Churchill who saw the threat posed by Hitler’s Germany as well as their Japanese and Italian bedfellows but the anti war lobby did much to hamstring any effective response to this threat, much as they are doing today. The result was a World War that lasted 6 years and cost at least 55 million dead, not to mention the financial cozts and destroyed infrastructure.
    To prevent this contingency from developing Iran needs to be hit hard and hit now unless it chooses to act like a reasonable member of the International Community. If they want clean nuclear power then they should accept the offers made to them of a modern light water reactor that would provide that for them but would not provide material for any nuclear weapons program. they should stop interfering in the affairs of other countries like Lebanon, Iraq and Somalia. They can establish friendly economic and cultural relations with any country they wish and their input would no doubt be valuable.
    At the present time however, Iranian Government policy is at the center of most of the problems in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa. Take them out of the equation and these issues would have a much better chance of being resolved.
    The lesson of histroy is that it is better to fight the smaller war now in order to avoid the bigger and far worse war later on. Of course, I doubt whether most in the anti war lobby, although they are no doubt well meaning, are actually that aware of the lessons history provides.
    Nobody can claim that we were not warned.

  • JD Johnson says:

    That Qods guy is actually George Clooney. Didn’t even think he had a day job.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    Is Iran fanning the fight by supporting all sides. To me that has been an open question all along. It looks that way, but I really don’t know to what degree that it is true. There has been quite a bit of evidence for it along the way, but how duplicitous is Iran. I am well aware of the usual support of multiple Shiite factions by the Iranians. Also, much of the funding for AQ has in the past come from the Sunni Gulf states. The situation has always been much more complicated than a Sunni vs. Shiite fight. The Alawite Syrian government now survives at the behest of Iran and is propped up by Iranian oil money. Syria has long been a primary conduit for international terrorist movements both Shiite and Sunni. This time is no different. AQ has a considerable presence in Syria just so they stay out of the general population and keep to the fight in Iraq. Iran likewise has a relationship with Al Quada that allows AQ restricted operation through Iran as long as both it is both sides interest.
    So is Iran also playing all sides against the middle. I would say it is very possible and serves Iran’s interest. Some say it wouldn’t be in their interest to help Al Quada. Don’t be so sure. First, I think some overestimate Iran’s influence over the Shiite factions. Many Shiite factions take a lot of money from Iran but are both nationalistic and wary of Iran. Sadr is very much of a loose cannon and gets the Lions share of Iranian money, but I’m gradually coming to the conclusion that Sadr actually believes this return of Mahdi stuff. That would make Sadr more of a nut that a cynical tool of Iran.
    The big question is would Iran cynically fund and supply Al Quada and Sunni factions as well. A bloodbath would work against US interests. The bigger the better. If Iran is successful in such a tactic it would leave all the factions dependant on them for a solution. Think of it. Two large active Islamist movements in Iraq could very well serve subversive purposes against the whole region. That is, if they can be kept from each other’s throats.
    In the end, so what if Iran can’t control a Sunni Islamist state in northern Iraq. The Iranians can slaughter some of them and send the rest of the Sunni population streaming into Jordan if they don’t play by Iran’s rules. Now that would do wonders for regional stability.
    You don’t win by being nice to people in the Middle East. That’s not the way they play the game. It’s a bit like the Maffia. You make it in their interest to support your side. Heads I win, tails you loose.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    “I have heard several times that Iran is not do-able.”

  • Lots of good comments about Iran’s collusion with both sides.
    From their point of view it makes a LOT more sense to try and discourage America from acting against them (which they may also see as inevitable) by tying them down elsewhere.
    I wholeheartedly agree with those who say the media/information campaign has been dreadful, particularly in explaining to the Iraqis the hidden Iranian hand in the violence in their country. Sadly, it’s such a steep uphill battle now of convincing the Iraqis (w/out looking like we are trying to convince the Iraqis) that Iran is aiding both Shiite and Sunni terrorists. It may be time for a much stronger info campaign of OPENLY explaining our intentions, what we are finding, why we are there, etc. in WEEKLY Arabic addresses to the Iraqi people, even paying them for the airtime.
    I don’t see it happening but it’s something I’d surely recommend but then again this administrations communication problems DOMESTICALLY would likely have been addressed first if they’d known how.

  • I stood on the Iran-Iraq border in February 2004. I doubt if border controls have changed much since. If we can’t seal the U.S. – Mexican border how can we seal the Iran – Iraq border?
    As for the Iraqis not knowing what Iran is up to – I doubt that. They are a lot smarter and wiser in the ways of the world than many of you imagine.
    No one, including the U.S. or Israel, is attacking Iran anytime soon, unless Iran takes actions over and above what they are already doing.

  • Kamin says:

    We are good at information warfare and we can and SHOULD attack Iran when it suits our interest.
    I believe in simple solutions. Launch a few missles into Iran with fliers stating that the next time Iran is implicated by our intelligence in interferring in Iraq affairs we will replace the fliers with weapons.
    Further, state that the next attack will be with smart weapons targeting military leadership targets. If Iran continues to interfere after that strike we will shift to big, bumb, cluster bombs in densely populated areas.
    I do not believe that the Iranian people support their governments policy toward the US and Iraq (see recent election results), but they have little incentive to change their govenment. We can provide that incentive in a very basic and effective way.
    I am not advocating that we occupy Iran, only that we make it clear that we too can kill from a distance.

  • Hoax Meister says:

    Mr. Roggio,
    Of course the Iranians are involved in Iraq, that is not even up for debate. What your post(and many others) fails to note is that Iran may have multiple motives, and multiple actors.

    For anyone to blindly label this action or that action as the overall intent of the Iranian government is missing the point. Just as factions in the US (Iran-Contra) armed various groups it felt were vital to its national security at the time–various Iranian factions are doing the same to their chaotic neighbor.

    The problem for the US is the Bush Administration is naively acting as if every word of Ahmadinejad is the word of the entire Iranian power structure. A wise foreign policy would recognize the possibility of factions and seek to divide them.

    Also, your suggestions about “sealing the Iranian border” and “information war” are just not realistic. First, the US cannot even secure the much smaller Syrian border or even neighborhoods in Baghdad let alone a 800+ mile border. Second, no one in the region trusts a single thing the US government says–so an information war would be quite an undertaking.

    Quite simply the first thing that needs to happen before any kind of resolution on this situation is the removal of the persons who started the war (Bush Administration) from the scene. Until Bush et al are gone, the US will unfortunately waffle from “surge” to “withdraw” to “stay the course” to whatever. The current administration has so soiled the waters over there, that only their removal (by either a new Rep or Dem president) will begin to solve the mess.

    No Iranian worth their salt is going to deal with a leader who called their country “evil.”

  • kamin says:

    Hoax Meister,
    President Bush soiled the waters? What is your frame of reference – one day, one month, a year, a decade? This region was screwed up before our country was even on a map.
    You are like so many others that take a rather shallow perspective on the rational and execution of the war. So let’s back up an reflect with a bit more perspective.
    Why did we go to war with Iraq? Yes, weapons of mass destruction was the key positioning to the public, but that is only part of the story. The reality is that the pending lifting of sanctions against Iraq, the lack of cooperation of “friendly” countries in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia) and Asia (Pakistan), and the volumes of intelligence (from all intel sources, not just the CIA) indicating a continued effort to develop/obtain WMDs by both states and non-states unfriendly to the US forced us to do something. We need to kick some ass to get the others in line and Iraq was the only politically viable target. We were successful in both the execution of the war and getting the “friendlies” to act in a more friendly manner.
    Now the transition from war to occupation and nation building has been challenging, but what did you expect? Are you so niave to believe that any strategy would have made a difference to this point? Why don’t you try some game theory to see if you can come up with a different outcome with all the players in the game (Russia, France, Iran, Germany, Syria, and all the non-state participants).
    So I would say President Buch, his staff, the Congress (until this election) and military have done a great job. Just as Iran is playing its hand very effectively. That is reality.
    To push the poker metaphor a bit more, we have a huge bank so we need to up the stakes and call some bluffs. There are others more knowledgeable that either you or I who can game this out and assess the options for moving forward. This could be more troops and more ass kicking of Sadr and his cohorts, lobbing a few cruise missles into Iran, or threatening to pull out and leaving a mess for the region to sort out for itself (thing Saudia Arabia or Egypt want that option??).

  • Hoax Meister says:

    Your parroting of the phrase “this region was screwed before we were here” shows just how little history you have read. This region is screwed up precisely because of Western interference and massive cultural misunderstanding.
    From the British Empire in the 1920s to today’s American Empire various western powers have sought to create stability in this region to secure the oil supply. This stability has meant the imposition of foreign rule or foreign-supported rule by one tribe over another. The Saud tribe currently runs Saudi Arabia (result of US/British support for that tribe), the Hussein tribe runs Jordan (result of same), and so on.
    You might say “that’s ancient history”–well one of the tribes from this area (Pushtun) has a saying “The Pushtuni waited a 100 years to get his revenge. It was a short wait.”
    “Successful in both the execution and getting the friendlies to act better?” I beg to differ.
    The execution of this war has been a total disaster as anyone with a sense of military tactics or history can see.
    First, regardless of whether it was a good idea to go in, the coalition did not have enough troops. Don’t take my word for it, Gen Shinseki has the opinion.
    Second, once there little was done to create a viable state. De-Baathification was the priority and finding Saddam and friends was took precedence.
    Third, total failure to understand the region’s differences. Surely someone thought that maybe the Shia and Sunni might go at it, with Saddam out of the picture?
    I could go on, but hopefully you got the idea.
    Finally, you cited several times about wanted to go “kick some ass in Iraq.” That is probably the biggest problem. Too many people like you were actually in power (and still are) during this mess and were hurt and scared by the 9-11 attacks, like many. However, you and other war supporters (60% of the US pop in 3/03) were so hurt and scared at the time that striking out at anyone seemed like a good idea. But in doing so you forgot to look at the facts and instead just pushed views that would attack someone somewhere for the fear you were feeling and probably the impotence at being unable to strike directly at terrorists.
    Until you come to grips with that and stop rationalizing this war as a part of 9-11 and the “war on terrorism” you’ll never see the writing on the wall, which used to read “yankee go home” but because of the Iraqi civil war now reads “but take us with you.”

  • Sectarian cooperation

    In the debates over Iraq, we often hear the canard that Sunni and Shia Muslims are irrevocable enemies who would never cooperate with each other. Yet the evidence that they have and still do is pretty solid, as Iraq freelance…


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