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memri
April 9, 2004 No.
692

Iran's Role in the Recent Uprising in Iraq

Reports in the Arabic media reveal the role of Iran in the current disturbances in Iraq initiated by Moqtada Al-Sadr and his followers. The following are excerpts from articles in this week's Arab press:

Iran's Growing Presence in Iraq's Political, Security, Economic, & Religious Spheres

On April 6, the London Arabic daily Al-Hayat [1] discussed recent Iranian activity in Iraq: "In the last 2 days, there has been repeated talk in the Governing Council of Iraq about the major Iranian role in the events that took place in the Iraqi Shi'ite cities.

"The direct Iranian presence in the Shi'ite areas of Iraq in the political, security, and economic affairs can not be ignored anymore. This presence is accompanied by a vigorous Iranian effort to create bridges with different forces in Iraq; first, by material and logistic aid to parties other than the Shi'a, and secondly through the traditional Iranian influence in the religious seminaries [hawza] and in the Marja'iya [religious Shi'a authorities] institutions.

"A member of the Governing Council told Al-Hayat that the Iranians have recently managed to activate a known Marja' [a Shi'a cleric regarded as a religious authority], Kazem Al-Ha'iri,who lives in the city of Qum in Iran, and is known to be close to Al-Sadr's movement, and was regarded as an heir to Ayatollah Muhammad Sadeq Al-Sadr. [2]

"Iraqi security sources say that the escalation erupted after an American decision to oust Hassan Kazemi Qumi, the recently appointed chief Iranian agent in Iraq, who is an officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards… The sources connected the ousting of Qumi with Moqtada Al-Sadr's statements that his movement is an extension of the Lebanese Hizbullah and of Hamas… Sources said that the visit of an assistant of Moqtada Al-Sadr to Fallujah before the last uprising and Al-Sadr's statement that his movement is an extension of Hamas were both messages to his new allies among the Iraqi Sunnis.

"It may well be that the Iranians, who apparently have influence in more than one sphere in Iraq, have intervened to reconcile the inner Shi'ite struggle for power. They intervened when Moqtada Al-Sadr sought to take control of the Husseini circle in Karbala, an attempt that the followers of Ayatollah Al-Sistani objected to. The Iranians worked out an arrangement under which large sums of money were sent to institutions belonging to Al-Sadr's family, which placated Al-Sadr, and satisfied him with controlling the Al-Kufa mosque only."

Iranian Defector Claims Iran Spends $70 Million a Month on Activity in Iraq

The London Arabic-Language Daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat [3] quoted extensively the former Iranian intelligence official in charge of activities in Iraq, identified as Haj Sa'idi, who recently defected from Iran:

"Haj Sa'idi told Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that the Iranian presence in Iraq is not limited to the Shi'ite cities. Rather, it is spread throughout Iraq, from Zakho in the north to Umm Al-Qasr in the south, and the infiltration of Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Al-Quds Army into Iraq began long before the war, through hundreds of Iranian intelligence agents, amongst them Iraqi refugees who were expelled by Saddam Hussein in the 1970's and 1980's to Iran, allegedly because of their Iranian origin, and who infiltrated back into Iraq through the Kurdish areas that were out of the Iraqi Ba'th government control.

"After the war, the Iranian intelligence sent its agents through the uncontrolled Iraq-Iran border; some of them as students and clerics, and others as belonging to the Shi'ite militias.

"Haj Sa'idi said that the assassination last summer of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakim, who headed the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), was a successful operation carried out by the intelligence unit of the Iranian Al-Quds Army. He also revealed that there was a failed attempt on the life of the highest Shi'ite Marja, Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, at the Eid Al-Adha holiday last year, and that there was another plan to assassinate Ayatollah Ishaq Al-Fayadh.

"Haj Sa'idi claimed that some of the Iranian intelligence officers in Iraq are known to everybody, for example in Al-Suleimaniya and Derebendikhan in the north. However, he said, the real threat comes not from the officers that are known, but from those that are unknown. Amongst them are 18 Shi'ite charities in Kazimiya, in Al-Sadr city in Baghdad, in Karbala, Najaf, Kufa, Nasiriyah, Basra, and other cities with a large Shi'ite majority. In those offices, new agents are recruited every day, under the guise of financial aid, medicine, food, and clothing for the poor.

"Haj Sa'idi said that the Iranian plan to turn Iraq into another Iran is a wide-ranging plan, and it involves the recruitment of thousands of young Shi'ites for the next stage, which will take place with the [first] parliamentary elections in Iraq. Those recruited now are supposed to enlist their relatives to vote for candidates that will be endorsed by the Iranian intelligence apparatuses.

"Haj Sa'idi also mentioned that more than 300 reporters and technicians who are working now in Iraq for television and radio networks, newspapers, and other media agencies are in fact members of the Al-Quds Army and the Revolutionary Guards intelligence units.

"He also mentioned that the Iranian money allocations for activities in Iraq, both covert and overt, reached $70 million per month. He claimed that 2,700 apartments and rooms were rented in Karbala and Najaf, in order to serve agents of the Al-Quds Army and the Revolutionary Guards.

"Haj Sa'idi added that the attempt by the Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq to act against the Iranian activities there prompted a reaction by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to incite the Turkmeni Shi'ites in the region against the Kurds. He claimed that many Turkmen Shi'ite commanders traveled to Iran and got huge financial support, as well as guarantees that Iran will stand by them in case of clashes between them and the Kurds."

Iran Sets Up 3 Training Centers for the "Mehdi Army"

A source in the Quds Army of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard revealed to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat [4] information relating to the construction of three camps and training centers on the Iranian-Iraqi borders to train elements of the "Mehdi Army" founded by Muqtada Al-Sadr. The source estimated that about 800-1,200 young supporters of Al-Sadr have received military training including guerilla warfare, the production of bombs and explosives, the use of small arms, reconnoitering and espionage. The three camps were located in Qasr Shireen, ' Ilam, and Hamid, bordering southern Iraq which is inhabited largely by Shi'a Muslims.

The newspaper also reported that the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad has recently distributed 400 satellite phones to supporters of Al-Sadr and to clerics and students at the A'thamiyya district of Baghdad, Al-Sadr City, and the holy city of Najaf, all of which are inhabited predominantly by Shi'a Muslims.

The Iranian source, known in Iraq as "Abu Hayder" confirmed that the intelligence service of the Revolutionary Guard has introduced to the Shi'a cities radio and TV broadcasting facilities which are used by Al-Sadr and his supporters.

During his recent visit to Iran, Al-Sadr met with Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of the Expediency Council as well as the head of the revolutionary guard intelligence, Murtadha Radha'i, and the commander of the Al-Quds Army responsible for Iraqi affairs, Brig. General Qassim Suleimani and other government and religious leaders.

The source estimated the financial support to Al-Sadr in recent months have exceeded $80 million, in addition to the cost of training, equipment and clothing of his supporters.

The source indicated that elements of the Al-Quds Army and the Revolutionary Guard Intelligence lead many of the operations directed against the coalition forces. These elements are also leading a campaign against the senior Shi'a clerics such as the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, Hussein Al-Sadr [Muqtada's uncle], Ishaq Al-Fayadh and others because of their opposition to the concept of "the Rule of the Jurist" [Wilayat Al-Faqih] which is Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's style of government.


[1] Al-Hayat (London), April 6, 2004.

[2] He was assassinated by the Iraqi Ba'ath regime, and according to sources was executed by Saddam Hussein himself in 1980.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 3, 2004.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Aswat (London), April 9, 2004.