July 20, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 750

Iraqi Defense and Interior Ministers Accuse Iran of Terrorism Against Iraq, Threaten Retaliation within Iran

July 20, 2004
Iraq, Iran | Special Dispatch No. 750

In an interview published in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Al-Sha'lan warned Iran that Iraq is capable of responding to Iranian-supported terrorism in Iraq, within Iran itself. [1] To read previous MEMRI dispatches on Iran's subversive actions within post-war Iraq, see MEMRI's Inquiry & Analysis, "Iran's Stirrings in Iraq," released on May 5, 2004. [2]

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat also reported about statements made by Iraq's Interior Minister Falah Hassan Al-Naqib, following his meeting with Jordanian Interior Minister Samir Al-Habashnah. [3]

The following are excerpts from both reports:

Iraqi Defense Minister: 'The Country that Penetrates the Borders and Encroaches the Most on Iraq is Iran'

Question: "Contrary to statements by [Iraq's] prime minister and interior minister regarding quickly putting an end to the terrorist operations, these operations have recently become more serious. How do you explain this problem?"

Sha'lan: "On the contrary. Such operations have not increased. We had actually expected a stronger reaction by the terrorists to what we did to them prior to July 17, which is the anniversary of the 1968 Ba'thist coup. Seventy bombings had been planned [by the terrorists] for Baghdad alone. However, the operations by the National Guard, in cooperation with Iraqi Police, led to the capture of [two important] terrorist groups…"

Question: "What is your strategy for putting an end to terrorist operations?"

Sha'lan:"Our strategy is based on our abundant data [on terrorist threats] and we actually act according to priorities and to the gravity of each item of information, without overlooking any information that reaches us either from the intelligence apparatus or from the citizenry… There is information that came to us from citizens that led us to positive results in our hunt for terrorist cells."

Question: "What is the number of those terrorist cells in the whole of Iraq?"

Sha'lan:"It is in the hundreds, if not the thousands."

Question: "Do you receive information on these cells from the multinational force or from the intelligence services of some [foreign] countries?"

Sha'lan:"Never. We have received absolutely no information from any foreign party, or from the multinational force. We get our information, as I have stated, from our [own intelligence] apparatus, and from Iraqis with a sense of honor."

Question: "How strong is the Iraqi army today?"

Sha'lan: "At present, we have 40,000 fighting troops in the National Guard. They are not the regular army. We shall start building the regular Iraqi army as of the beginning of next month. The command echelons are already well prepared. We are also getting ready to build the other branches of the military, such as the air force, navy, and armored corps. We have prepared many of the officers of the dissolved Iraqi army for service so as to benefit from their experience. We cannot return [to service] all the officers [from Saddam's army] because the army we are building now will comprise six divisions, whereas Saddam drafted half the Iraqi people."

Question: "What about the other branches [of the military]?"

Sha'lan: "Iraq is going to have a strong, modern air force, navy, and armored corps, and they will all function according to highly advanced technology to defend Iraq. Presently, as a national guard, we have reconnaissance aircraft flying over our borders."

Question: "What problem is there with the borders of the neighboring countries?"

Sha'lan: "It is a big problem. We have set up advanced defensive border posts equipped with modern high-speed communications equipment."

Question: "Which neighboring country, in your view, presents a direct threat?"

Sha'lan:"The country that penetrates the borders the most and encroaches the most on Iraq is Iran."

'Iranian Penetration is Extensive and Unprecedented Since the Establishment of the Iraqi State'

Question: "How serious is Iranian penetration into Iraq?"

Sha'lan:" Iranian penetration is extensive and unprecedented since the establishment of the Iraqi state. The Iranians have entered the crucial junction points of the country as a whole and established many intelligence and military positions in Iraq. We have begun dealing with this matter in a way both subtle and exacting. The prime minister, the foreign minister, and I all make our voices clear against Iran's blatant intervention in Iraqi affairs, which is a dangerous precedent. They admit to having spies in Iraq, whose task is to undermine the social and political situation. The Iraqi people, however, are immune to this."

Question: "What is your view on proposals by the president of the [pro-Iranian] Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Hakim, that Iraq bear the blame for the Iran-Iraq war, with the implication that Iraq pay compensation to Iran?"

Sha'lan: "I believe that the demand that Iran be compensated for the war losses is an unpatriotic proposal, because everyone knows that the Iraqis were [at that time] the prisoners of Saddam's regime… No Iraqi should propose such a thing…"

Question: "How competent is the multinational force in maintaining security operations?"

Sha'lan: "The final decision [for each operation] belongs to the Iraqi side, and comes from the prime minister. This has been agreed upon. There is one command center under the leadership of the prime minister, and its members include the multinational force and the Ministries of Defense and Interior Minister. This is the headquarters that issues orders to carry out operations and respond to emergencies."

Question: "Have you obtained important intelligence from interrogating some of the terrorists you have apprehended?"

Sha'lan: "Yes. In their confessions they pointed to important leaders inside Iraq, who were [subsequently] captured. They also confessed to funding from countries that are steeped in terrorism."

'Whatever Comes from the Neighboring Countries has First Passed through the Security Services of Those Countries'

Question: "Do they get funding from governments, or from organizations within those countries?"

Sha'lan:"They are called organizations, but they come from this given country or that given country, and we know that whatever comes from the neighboring countries has first passed through the security services of those countries."

Question: "Haven't you spoken with these countries on this matter?"

Sha'lan:"Yes, we have spoken with them, and we confronted them with the facts and the evidence, but they have not taken any measures to stop their support of the terrorists and their operations on Iraqi soil. When we reached a dead end, we started to issue statements and we said, and I reiterate it here, that we have the capability to move [the response] to assaults on Iraqi dignity and rights into those countries. We have the capability to move the assault into their countries."

Question: "Do the [Iraqi] Ba'thists play a significant part in the terrorist operations?"

Sha'lan: "Absolutely not. They started contacting us and cooperating with us particularly in the area erroneously called 'the Sunni triangle.' We have neither a Sunni nor a Shiite triangle."

Iraqi Interior Minister: 'Iran Plays an Important Part, Whether Official or Popular, in the Terrorist and Sabotage Operations being Carried Out in Iraq'

"The Iraqi Interior Minister Falah Hassan Al-Naqib attacked Iran and accused it of being behind the terrorist actions to which Iraq is subjected. Following discussions yesterday with his Jordanian counterpart Samir Al-Habashna, Al-Naqib told reporters, 'It must be acknowledged that Iran plays an important part, whether official or popular, in the terrorist and sabotage operations being carried out in Iraq.' He emphasized that Iraq is now being targeted.

"Al-Naqib added, 'The sabotage and criminal operations now going on in Iraq, regardless of their political or religious garb – it is the same element that plans it, the same mind that organizes it, and it is using one and the same strategy for targeting Iraq and Iraqi unity.'

"The Iraqi minister wondered aloud who these elements could be, who aim to kill innocent children, women, and the elderly, as well as the Iraqi justice minister … and members of the police force who enforce the law to protect public order.' He emphasized that Iraq 'understands well these conspiracies woven against it and against the Arab countries.'

"As for the fate of the former Ba'thists who are now in other Arab countries including Jordan, Al-Naqib said: 'There are former Ba'thists living in Iraq normally like other citizens, provided they were not involved in security, criminal, or other legal matters during the previous regime.' He focused on the Ba'thists' strong-arm style, as opposed to the style of the new regime, based as it is on rule of law.

"Jordanian Interior Minister Samir Al-Habashna told reporters, in the presence of his Iraqi counterpart, 'Jordan is willing to meet any Iraqi request for support and assistance in all security matters.' He added, 'Jordan has played an important role in supporting Iraq in all difficult and trying times.'

"The two ministers refused to reveal the topics they had discussed, emphasizing that these included matters of security, borders, police training, and problems Iraqi nationals face in Jordan.

"[Iraqi Prime Minister] Allawi concluded his visit to Jordan yesterday, following his meeting with Arab ambassadors in Amman, and left for Syria and then Egypt."

[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 20, 2004.

[2] MEMRI Iran's Stirrings in Iraq, 'Iran's Stirrings in Iraq,' May 5, 2004.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 20, 2004.

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