Skip to comments.Iranian Alert -- July 19, 2004 [EST]-- IRAN LIVE THREAD -- "Americans for Regime Change in Iran"
Posted on 07/18/2004 9:03:50 PM PDT by DoctorZIn
The US media still largley ignores news regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran. As Tony Snow of the Fox News Network has put it, this is probably the most under-reported news story of the year. Most Americans are unaware that the Islamic Republic of Iran is NOT supported by the masses of Iranians today. Modern Iranians are among the most pro-American in the Middle East.
There is a popular revolt against the Iranian regime brewing in Iran today. I began these daily threads June 10th 2003. On that date Iranians once again began taking to the streets to express their desire for a regime change. Today in Iran, most want to replace the regime with a secular democracy.
The regime is working hard to keep the news about the protest movement in Iran from being reported. Unfortunately, the regime has successfully prohibited western news reporters from covering the demonstrations. The voices of discontent within Iran are sometime murdered, more often imprisoned. Still the people continue to take to the streets to demonstrate against the regime.
In support of this revolt, Iranians in America have been broadcasting news stories by satellite into Iran. This 21st century news link has greatly encouraged these protests. The regime has been attempting to jam the signals, and locate the satellite dishes. Still the people violate the law and listen to these broadcasts. Iranians also use the Internet and the regime attempts to block their access to news against the regime. In spite of this, many Iranians inside of Iran read these posts daily to keep informed of the events in their own country.
This daily thread contains nearly all of the English news reports on Iran. It is thorough. If you follow this thread you will witness, I believe, the transformation of a nation. This daily thread provides a central place where those interested in the events in Iran can find the best news and commentary. The news stories and commentary will from time to time include material from the regime itself. But if you read the post you will discover for yourself, the real story of what is occurring in Iran and its effects on the war on terror.
I am not of Iranian heritage. I am an American committed to supporting the efforts of those in Iran seeking to replace their government with a secular democracy. I am in contact with leaders of the Iranian community here in the United States and in Iran itself.
If you read the daily posts you will gain a better understanding of the US war on terrorism, the Middle East and why we need to support a change of regime in Iran. Feel free to ask your questions and post news stories you discover in the weeks to come.
If all goes well Iran will be free soon and I am convinced become a major ally in the war on terrorism. The regime will fall. Iran will be free. It is just a matter of time.
Washington DC Freepers!!!! Alert!!!
We need your help Tomorrow!!!
Meet at the "Washington Club"
located at 15 Dupont Circle, N.W. Washington DC 20036,
On July 19th from 08:30 till 11:30 AM.
More information below:
Denounce "Council on Foreign Relations" meeting in WDC
SMCCDI (Urgent Action)
Jul 16, 2004
Dear Freedom Lovers,
Once again, the pro-Islamic republic's lobby group in the US and few immoral former US officials, are organizing events in order to buy time for the bankrupt and collapsing theocratic regime with the desire to influence the US policy in reference to Iran. This money oriented group which is totally disregarding the Iranians' aspiration for a "Democratic Regime Change in Iran" and Americans' sacrifices in the "War Against Terror & Tyranny", is hoping to legitimize the barbaric Mullahcracy and is targeting resumption of US-Islamic republic ties in case of the election of Senator J. Kerry as a next US President.
Indeed, Dark forces that have been dreaming of George Bushs defeat are now poised to decide Iran's fate and negotiate Iranians destiny without their presence and consent. They are about to make the kinds of deals that have in the past resulted in tortures and deaths of thousands of Iranians who rose in the name of Freedom, Self Determination, and Independence of Iran.
In this line, a so-called "Iran Task Force" has been created and a launch meeting has been scheduled, in Washington DC, on Monday July 19, 2004, from 08:30 AM till 11:30 AM.
The official responsibles of this illegitimate entity and guest speakers at the meeting are "Zbignew Brzezinski", the National Security Advisor to Jimmy Carter, and "Robert M. Gates, the former CIA Director (1991-93) and current President of Texas A&M University. Maybe It's necessary to remind the lack of intelligence, lucidity and competence of these two individuals who were involved in the two last Democratic administrations of the US and the disastrous consequences of their ill-policies which lead to the rise of Islamism and increase of Terrorism.
IT'S A WELL KNOWN FACT THAT THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC REGIME IN IRAN IS JUST AS EVIL, REPRESSIVE, AND MURDEROUS AS THE TALEBAN AND THE BAATH REGIMES WERE
The plight of enslaved Iranians and oppressed Middle Easterners in general notwithstanding, how many more 9/11 types of tragedies would it take to fully realize and accept that far from deserving to be romanced, the terror masters' rule must end?
Would an "Allah u Akbar" chanting suicide bombers nuclear blast in middle of Manhattan be convincing enough?
HOW MANY MORE PEOPLE NEED TO DIE BEFORE THEIR CRIES FOR FREEDOM ARE HEARD BY THOSE WHO JUST WANT HEAR CLINKING OF GOLD COINS IN THEIR GROWING STASH AND JUBILANT NOISES OF OFFICIAL FANFARES??? HOW LONG SHOULD WE ALLOW SUCH MASQUERADES TO GO ON IN THE NAME AND DETRIMENT OF IRANIAN AND AMERICAN PEOPLES???
WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE????
Under these Circumstances,
More than ever, you are OBLIGATED to intervene and to denounce such actions at a time that Iranians are subject to the Islamic regime's persistent repressive measures; And that America's sons and daughters have become the daily targets of its militiamen sent to Iraq as "pilgrims".
There are several ways you can help in making the world hear the cry of freedom of millions of Iranians, who're calling for liberty and their legitimate and violated rights:
1) By demonstrating in order to protest against such meeting in front of the "Washington Club" located at 15 Dupont Circle, N.W. Washington DC 20036, On July 19th from 08:30 till 11:30 AM.
2) By contacting the "Council on Foreign Relations" which is organizing the meeting and protesting against such planning: firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 434-9716
3) By contacting the US policymakers and officials in order to protest against any support of the Islamic regime and resumption of ties with the Mullahs regime.
They MUST UNDERSTAND the Islamic republic regime is not representative of the Iranian Nation and that it's an Evil regime.
They MUST UNDERSTAND that the only way of establishing a relation between the US and Iran is to back its repressed people and to support them in their quest for SECULARITY and DEMOCRACY....
They MUST UNDERSTAND that supporting the Islamic regime's lobby groups is equal to supporting the "Mother of All Terrorists" and trying to make forget the memories of all those killed in terrorist attacks...
It is YOUR conscientious DUTY to ACT.
Acting TODAY is to help the creation of the Free Iran of Tomorrow and a safer World for all.
July 16, 2004
The "Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran" (SMCCDI)
Israel's 'First Strike' Plan Against Iran Ready
July 18, 2004
The Jerusalem Post
Israel has completed military rehearsals for a pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear power facility at Bushehr, Israeli officials told the London-based Sunday Times.
Such a strike is likely if Russia supplies Iran with fuel rods for enriching uranium. The rods, currently stored at a Russian port, are expected to be delivered late next year after a dispute over financial terms is resolved.
An Israeli defense source in Tel Aviv, who confirmed that the military rehearsals had taken place, told the paper: "Israel will on no account permit Iranian reactors - especially the one being built in Bushehr with Russian help - to go critical."
The source was also quoted as saying that any strike on the Gulf coast facility at Bushehr would probably be carried out by long-range F-15I jets, overflying Turkey, with simultaneous operations by commandos on the ground.
"If the worst comes to the worst and international efforts fail," the source was quoted as saying, "we are very confident we'll be able to demolish the ayatollahs' nuclear aspirations in one go."
The source noted that the strike could be accompanied by an attack on other targets, including a facility at Natanz, where the Iranians have attempted to enrich uranium, and a plant at Arak, which produces heavy water.
In addition, the paper quoted a senior United States official warning of a pre-emptive Israeli strike if Russia continues cooperating with the Iranians. The Israeli source said Washington was unlikely to block Israeli military action.
The paper also quoted from a classified document on the Iranian threat which was presented to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon earlier this year and which it claims to have seen.
The document, entitled "The Strategic Future of Israel," was reportedly written by four of Israel's senior defense experts and advocated military action against "countries which develop nuclear weapons."
It described Iran as a "suicide nation" and recommended "targeted killings" of members of the country's elite, including its leading nuclear scientists.
Under an Iranian deal with Moscow, waste produced at Bushehr containing plutonium that could be used in bomb-making would be shipped back to Russia for storage.
The procedure is to be supervised by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the nuclear watchdog.
But according to the paper, the material must first cool, providing the Iran with what Washington fears could be up to two years in which to extract the plutonium.
The paper quotes Israeli sources as saying that a quarter of a ton of plutonium could be produced each a year if Bushehr is fully functional, enough for 20 bombs.
Israeli sources acknowledged, added the Sunday Times, that a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities could provoke "a ferocious response," which could involve Lebanese-based rocket attacks on northern Israel or terrorist attacks against Jewish and Israeli targets abroad.
In a related development, London's Sunday Telegraph reported that America's bipartisan 9/11 Commission will this week report that Iran gave free passage to up to 10 of the September 11 hijackers just months before the 2001 attacks and offered to co-operate with al-Qaida against the US.
The commission, established by Congress in 2002, will also state that Iran, not Iraq, fostered relations with the al-Qaida network in the years leading up to the 2001 attacks on America.
The commission has established that between eight and 10 of the September 11 hijackers, who had been based in Afghanistan, traveled through Iran between October 2000 and February 2001. They are believed to have been the "muscle," whose mission was to storm the aircraft cockpits and overpower crew and passengers.
The commission will also report that Iranian officials were instructed not to harass al-Qaida personnel as they crossed the border and, in some cases, not to stamp their passports.
Testimony received by the commission - based on information from prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and about 100 electronic intercepts by the National Security Agency - indicates that an alliance was established between the Shia Muslim Iranian leadership and the Sunni terrorist al-Qaida organization in advance of the September 11 attacks.
9/11 Commission Finds Ties Between al-Qaeda and Iran
Senior U.S. officials have told TIME that the 9/11 Commission's report will cite evidence suggesting that the 9/11 hijackers had previously passed through Iran
By ADAM ZAGORIN AND JOE KLEIN
Friday, Jul. 16, 2004
Next week's much anticipated final report by a bipartisan commission on the origins of the 9/11 attacks will contain new evidence of contacts between al-Qaeda and Iranjust weeks after the Administration has come under fire for overstating its claims of contacts between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
A senior U.S. official told TIME that the Commission has uncovered evidence suggesting that between eight and ten of the 14 "muscle" hijackersthat is, those involved in gaining control of the four 9/11 aircraft and subduing the crew and passengerspassed through Iran in the period from October 2000 to February 2001. Sources also tell TIME that Commission investigators found that Iran had a history of allowing al-Qaeda members to enter and exit Iran across the Afghan border. This practice dated back to October 2000, with Iranian officials issuing specific instructions to their border guardsin some cases not to put stamps in the passports of al-Qaeda personneland otherwise not harass them and to facilitate their travel across the frontier. The report does not, however, offer evidence that Iran was aware of the plans for the 9/11 attacks.
The senior official also told TIME that the report will note that Iranian officials approached the al-Qaeda leadership after the bombing of the USS Cole and proposed a collaborative relationship in future attacks on the U.S., but the offer was turned down by bin Laden because he did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia.
The Iran-al Qaeda contacts were discovered and presented to the Commissioners near the end of the bipartisan panel's more than year-long investigation into the sources and origins of the 9/11 attacks. Much of the new information about Iran came from al-Qaeda detainees interrogated by the U.S. government, including captured Yemeni al-Qaeda operative Waleed Mohammed bin Attash, who organized the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, and from as many as 100 separate electronic intelligence intercepts culled by analysts at the NSA. The findings were sent to the White House for review only this week. But Commission members have been hinting for weeks that their report would have some Iran surprises. As the 9/11 Commission's chairman, Thomas Kean, said in June, "We believe....that there were a lot more active contacts, frankly, with Iran and with Pakistan than there were with Iraq."
These findings follow a Commission staff report, released in June, which suggested that al-Qaeda may have collaborated with Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers, a key American military barracks in Saudi Arabia. Previously, the attack had been attributed only to Hezbollah, with Iranian support. A U.S. indictment of bin Laden filed in 1998 for the bombing of U.S. embassies in Africa said al-Qaeda "forged alliances . . . with the government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezbollah for the purpose of working together against their perceived common enemies in the West, particularly the United States." But the Commission comes to no firm conclusion on al-Qaeda's involvement in the Khobar disaster.
Since 9/11 the U.S. has held direct talks with Iranand through intermediaries including Britain, Switzerland and Saudi Arabiaconcerning the fate of scores of al-Qaeda that Iran has acknowleded are in the country, including an unspecified number of senior leaders, whom one senior U.S. official called al-Qaeda's "management council". The U.S. as well as the Saudis have unsuccessfully sought the repatriation of this group, which is widely thought to include Saad bin Laden, the son of Osama bin Laden, as well of other key al-Qaeda figures.
CIA says 9/11 plotters passed through Iran
Sun 18 July, 2004 20:01
By Randall Mikkelsen
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - About eight of the September 11, 2001, hijackers passed through Iran before attacking the United States, but there is no sign of official Iranian complicity, the CIA's acting director says.
"We have no evidence that there is some sort of official sanction by the government of Iran for this activity. We have no evidence that there is some sort of official connection between Iran and 9/11," John McLaughlin, acting director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said on "Fox News Sunday".
The disclosure that the hijackers transited Iran raises the question of whether the Bush administration has been too focused on Iraq in seeking state connections to the attacks, a Democratic member of the Senate Intelligence Committee said.
"We focused so much energy on Iraq, when other countries may have been more directly linked to 9/11. That should give us pause," Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois said on CNN's "Late Edition."
Iran acknowledged some of the 19 September 11 attackers may have passed through illegally, but said it had since tightened border controls. It said any attempts to tie the country to al Qaeda, the militant network which carried out the attacks, were part of U.S. election-year "news propaganda."
U.S. government sources have said a bipartisan commission's report this week on the attacks will say that some hijackers had travelled through Iran on their way to the United States.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that the Iranian government had ordered its border guards not to stamp the passports of Saudi al Qaeda members moving through Iran after training in Afghanistan. An Iranian stamp could have made the al Qaeda members subject to additional scrutiny upon entering the United States.
Said McLaughlin, "We've known for some time ... I think the count is about eight of the hijackers that were able to pass through Iran at some point in their passage along their operational path."
However, he said, it was not surprising that the hijackers could transit Iran, given what he said was the country's history of supporting terrorism.
'AXIS OF EVIL'
Iran, like Iraq, has been branded by U.S. President George W. Bush as part of an "axis of evil" that threatens to fuel global terrorism.
But Bush and members of his administration have focused more attention on disputed Iraqi ties to al Qaeda, and cited them in making their case for invading Iraq.
The Senate Intelligence Committee earlier this month harshly criticised the U.S. intelligence community for overstating the Iraqi threat of weapons of mass destruction before the war.
A September 11 commission staff report, which is expected to be endorsed in the final report, said there was no evidence that ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had a "collaborative relationship" with al Qaeda.
McLaughlin echoed that finding. "What we can't say is that there was some relationship of operational control or command between Saddam and al Qaeda," he said.
However, he said there is credible intelligence of contacts and training exchanges between Iraq and al Qaeda, and that Iraq had provided "some degree" of safe haven al Qaeda members.
Senate Intelligence Committee member Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, said on CNN that Bush "was right to do what we did with Iraq first," but the administration was now "paying a lot of attention to Iran."
McLaughlin also expressed reservations about reports that the September 11 commission would recommend a Cabinet-level agency be created to oversee all U.S. intelligence.
He said "it would be hard to do it without adding an additional layer of bureaucracy." The objective of a stronger intelligence overseer could be met through making "modest changes" to the CIA director's job, he said.
Following the departure of CIA director George Tenet, Bush is considering naming a permanent head of the agency soon, rather than wait until after the U.S. presidential election in November. McLaughlin said he was not "campaigning" for the permanent director's job.
Irans's hand in the Afghan Mess
Ayman al-Zawahiri was released in the summer of 1997. He joined Osama bin Laden in Jalalabad and re-established his links with the Iranians secretly. By this time the Iranians had started denouncing not only the Taliban but also Al Qaeda because Arab fighters played an important role in all the major battles in northern Afghanistan.
An old friend of bin Laden and Zawahiri was, however, still getting help from the Iranians. His name: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
This Pashtun leader and ex-prime minister of Afghanistan had deadly differences with both Ahmed Shah Masood and the Taliban. He was living in Tehran under official security. He advised the Iranians not to speak against bin Laden because the Saudi dissident was also speaking against America.
I met Osama bin Laden again in May 1998. By this time he was under a lot of restriction from the Taliban and he did not speak for an alliance between the Taliban and Iran.
Then, in April 2001, an international conference on the Palestinian dispute was arranged in Tehran by the government of Iran. Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah, Hamas leader Khalid Mashaal, and other militant leaders participated in that conference. I learnt during this conference that many Al Qaeda leaders of Arab origin were living in Tehran. I found it hard to believe because the Iranians were condemning the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the international press. But they were also secretly in contact with them.
In Tehran I found that the Iranian establishment was divided between the reformers and the hardliners. The reformers were led by President Mohammed Khatami while the hardliners were led by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The hardliners were in control of the military and intelligence agencies and secretly supported militant groups in different parts of the world. President Khatami said many times that Al Qaeda hates Iran as much as it hates the United States, but his claim was removed from reality.
After learning these facts I decided to meet Hekmatyar in Tehran. He spoke openly in support of Osama bin Laden. I asked him, "How can you support Al Qaeda without the approval of the Iranian government?" He just smiled and ignored the question. He also presented to me a copy of his book written in Persian and published in Iran. The book was full of criticism of America.
I had no doubt in April 2001 that the Iranians were playing a double game with the Northern Alliance. They were supporting them against the Taliban and Al Qaeda, but on the other hand they were also in contact with Al Qaeda and Hekmatyar.
WHY WERE the Iranians doing that?
Because Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Masood was in touch with both the Central Intelligence Agency and Iranian intelligence! The Iranians were probably playing a double game with a double agent.
But the Northern Alliance leadership was surprised in December 2001 after the great battle of Tora Bora. They arrested many Arab fighters who were trying to enter Iran from southern Afghanistan. February 15, 2002, was the turning point when two Palestinians and one Jordanian were arrested in Turkey. They revealed that they had been sent by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, one of the men in America's most wanted list now, to Tel Aviv.
According to a police spokesman in Ankara, the three had fought for the Taliban and were members of the Beyyet Al-Imam organisation, which is also known as Al Tawheed. The Turkish authorities said the three members were trained by Zarqawi at a camp near Herat in western Afghanistan. They possessed fake documents, had diagrams showing how to assemble bombs, and claimed that they intended to attack targets in Tel Aviv.
Zarqawi fled from Afghanistan to Iran in December 2001 after he was injured in the US bombing campaign. He was treated in Iran, where a leg was amputated and he was fitted with a prosthesis.
Zarqawi is a Jordanian citizen of Palestinian stock. He was born in the Zarqa refugee camp near the Jordanian capital Amman. US Secretary of State Colin Powell mentioned his name for the first time on February 2, 2004, in the UN Security Council meeting as a man who had spent time in Afghanistan and was now active in Iraq. Powell remained silent, however, on Zarqawi's connection with the Iranians.
MORE EVIDENCE of the Al Qaeda-Iran collaboration surfaced during a military operation in eastern Afghanistan in March 2002. More than 40 American soldiers were killed in the Shahi Kot mountains in that operation. Several documents and lots of ammunition was recovered from caves in the mountains.
US Army sources confirmed to me in April 2002 in Kabul that unused Air Iran tickets and some bills of a hotel in Mashad were also recovered from the caves. This proved that Al Qaeda not only had training camps in Iran, but was using Iran as a safe passage to the Middle East and other parts of the world.
The Iranians are employing Al Qaeda against the US-led coalition forces not only in Afghanistan, but also in Iraq. It is no secret that Zarqawi, who was running a training camp in Iran, is now operating in Iraq. He runs a separate outfit named Al Tawheed. He is not a member of Al Qaeda, but he is an ally.
An Arab named Shadi Abdullah was arrested in Germany some time ago. He is a former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden. He told a German court that he had attended a training camp in western Afghanistan run by Zarqawi. According to the court documents, Zarqawi's deputy is a man named Abu Haroon, an Iranian national. Shadi Abdullah told the court that Al Tawheed had a cell in Germany that sent as much as US $40,000 a month to Zarqawi in Iran.
Zarqawi was also blamed for the killing of an American citizen, Nick Berg, in Baghdad earlier this year. A video of Berg's beheading was released on May 11, and named Zarqawi as the man who beheaded the civilian contractor.
Some Arab Al Qaeda operatives told me in Kunar province of Afghanistan in September 2003 that Zarqawi has Iranian and Uzbek passports under different names. He travelled on fake documents from Iraq to Jordan in April 2004, met his wife and children in Amman, and returned to Iraq. The Jordanians learnt of his visit only several weeks later.
Zarqawi helped many Uzbek and Chechen fighters hiding in the Pakistani tribal area of South Waziristan to slip into Iran. Most of these Uzbeks and Chechens have now joined him in Iraq. Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf recently claimed that the Wana area of South Waziristan is like the headquarters of Al Qaeda because most of the militants hiding in the area are foreigners.
The Pakistani authorities arrested three Arabs with Iraqi documents in June 2004 in Islamabad. They were carrying a lot of ammunition. According to their documents, they had entered Pakistan from Iran. It is believed that Al Qaeda is now using Iran as a passage to reach Afghanistan and Pakistan from Iraq.
US officials believe that top Al Qaeda leaders are still hiding in Pakistan. They have made it clear to the Pakistani authorities that they want at least one of the top three 'high value targets' (Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Mullah Mohammad Omar) by July 25, 2004, before the Democratic national convention in Boston. US officials are sure that the arrest of any one of these three HVTs will help them unearth Al Qaeda's network spread from the Pakistani tribal areas to Iran and Iraq. Of course, it will also help George W Bush turn the tables on his challenger in this year's presidential election, Senator John Kerry.
THE NAME of the man organising Al Qaeda inside Iraq while sitting in Iran is Saif al-Adil. He is an Egyptian citizen. He was appointed Al Qaeda's new chief of military operations after the arrest of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. Many people told me in Baghdad that Al Qaeda fighters were coming to Iraq from Iran and Syria to fight the Americans. I was also told by Islamic fighters in Baghdad that Adil was organising big operations against the Americans in Saudi Arabia.
I met many young Arabs in Saddam Hussein's hometown Tikrit carrying pictures of Osama bin Laden in their pockets. I cannot forget one Arab lad who told me that Sunni Iraqis would resist the Americans in Fallujah, Al-Ramadi, and Tikrit with the help of Al Qaeda and Shi-ite Iraqis would do the same in Najaf and Karbala with the help of Hizbullah.
This lad told me that he had spent time in Kunar province of Afghanistan. His father was Yemeni and his mother, Afghan. He was born in Kunar in 1987 and fled to Iran after the fall of the Taliban. He entered Iraq from Iran in the second week of April 2003.
In the first five months of 2004, it was proved that somebody had definitely organised a secret collaboration between Al Qaeda and Hizbullah in Iraq. The Americans have faced several Al Qaeda/Hizbullah-style suicide truck and car attacks.
Tomorrow: Iran's dangerous double game
Hamid Mir, the well-known Pakistani journalist and rediff.com contributor, has interviewed Osama bin Laden, US Secretary of State Colin Powell and General Richard B Myers, then chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, after 9/11. He travelled through Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran recently. He currently works for Pakistan's Geo TV network and is writing bin Laden's biography.
Al Qaeda and the Iranian connection
A young man with a short beard stopped me from entering the shrine of Hazrat Imam Hussein. "You have a video camera," he said. "You need permission to shoot inside."
Who is authorised to grant permission, I asked. The young man ignored the question and said that if I wanted to go in, I would have to leave my camera at the reception.
I explained that as a journalist I could not operate without a camera. But that only infuriated him and he began shouting, "Go away! Go away!"
I was secretly terrified, but informed him politely that I was from Pakistan, that I had visited Iran and Afghanistan recently for my work, and that I could not go inside without my camera.
He calmed down a little and asked for identification. I presented all my documents. He went through them for more than five minutes, then looked up and asked, "Are you the same Hamid Mir who appears on Al Jazeera to tell the world what's going on in Afghanistan?" I said yes, I was indeed the same Hamid Mir. He then instructed another young man to guide me to a hotel behind the revered shrine in Karbala.
When I entered the hotel, two men searched me. It took me only a few moments to realise that this was no hotel, but a secret office of Hizbullah, a Shi'ite organisation that is resisting the coalition troops in Iraq.
I was produced before Abu Musa, local commander of the Hizbullah fighters. He was sitting on a revolving chair behind a big office table. A nicely framed picture of the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was hanging behind him.
Abu Musa questioned me about the objectives of my visit. He was particularly concerned about a special card issued to me by the Jordanian ministry of information. "They issue this card to those who are very close to them," he told me. I told him that I got the card simply because I was coming from Pakistan through Jordan, and that I was in Iraq to just report on the current situation and that I was not 'embedded' with the coalition troops.
Finally, Abu Musa was satisfied and gave me permission to enter the shrine with a camera. He also delivered a ten-minute lecture on the need for a Shia-Sunni alliance against the Americans. "Hizbullah-Al Qaeda brother brother," he proclaimed. He placed a green and white band on my head with the famous Hizbullah slogan 'Ya Allah, Ya Hussein.'
So I was entering the shrine of Hazrat Imam Hussein, grandson of the Holy Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him, with an impression that Shia guerrillas trained and financed by Iran control this place. Hizbullah boys escorted me inside the shrine, and when I connected my videophone with my office in Dubai to report live from Karbala, they forced me to speak on camera with their white and green band on my head.
I visited Iraq twice after the fall of Saddam Hussein and in April this year I was sure that pro-Iran Shia militants and Al Qaeda fighters were collaborating against the US in Iraq.
Al Qaeda is using Iraq as a new base for organising attacks against the US and its allies after September 11. US Secretary of State Colin Powell had repeatedly claimed in the UN Security Council that Baghdad had weapons of mass destruction, but one year after the invasion of Iraq it was disclosed that actually it was the Iranians who were making WMDs, including nuclear bombs and missiles, since the last 18 years, not Saddam Hussein.
The Americans have now started Saddam Hussein's trial, but, surprisingly, allegations about the possession of WMDs are missing from the charge sheet. Bush and Powell were embarrassed internationally because the Central Intelligence Agency was concentrating on Iraq instead of Iran.
Interestingly, the CIA was getting disinformation about Hussein's WMDs from Iranian intelligence through a double agent, Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress. Chalabi was an indirect contact of Iran with the US. The Iranians used the US indirectly against their old enemy Saddam Hussein and now they are using Al Qaeda against the US in Iraq. They are playing a classical double game, not only in Iraq but also in Afghanistan.
THREE years ago Ahmed Shah Masood, chief of the Northern Alliance, was working both for Iran and the US in Afghanistan. He was killed by Al Qaeda two days before September 11.
After Masood's death, Mohammad Qasim Fahim and Dr Abdullah Abdullah were the two main contacts of the US in the Northern Alliance. They were receiving open support from the US and covert support from Iran.
When the Taliban and Al Qaeda vacated Kabul in November 2001 and the Northern Alliance took control of the big cites like Kabul and Kandahar, the Iranians tried their best to instal the Persian-speaking Tajik leader Burhanuddin Rabbani as the new interim president of Afghanistan.
But the US preferred Pashtun loyalist Hamid Karzai. After the fall of the Taliban, the Iranians were supporting Fahim and Dr Abdullah in Kabul, Karim Khalili in Bamiyan, and Ismail Khan in Herat. They also gave refuge to hundreds of Al Qaeda fighters who fled Afghanistan.
Very few people know that Al Qaeda was actually in contact with the Iranians even before September 11. It was March 1997 that I first interviewed Osama bin Laden in eastern Afghanistan for Daily Pakistan. In that interview bin Laden proposed an alliance between the Taliban and Iran because of their anti-US stance.
That proposal was a surprise to me because the Taliban were against Iran at the time and that was the main reason for the US State Department's overt and Pakistan's covert support to them.
After the interview I talked to some other Al Qaeda operatives present in the hideout. One of them told me, "We want a broad-based alliance against the US and that's why we are in touch with the Iranians since many years."
Further investigation revealed that the main contact of Al Qaeda with Iran was Dr Ayman Al-Zawahiri. He and his comrades in the Jamaat Islamia had organised the assassination of Egypt's President Anwar Sadat in 1981 with the help of Iranian intelligence.
When Osama bin Laden moved to Sudan in 1994, al-Zawahiri re-established his old contacts with Iranian intelligence. Many Iranian officials and leaders of Hizbullah met the Al Qaeda leadership in Khartoum. Although the Hizbullah is a Shia outfit and Al Qaeda is a Sunni group, they decided to unite against the United States.
In coming years, Al Qaeda adopted Hizbullah's methods against US targets. Hizbullah organised the suicide bombing at the US embassy in Beirut with trucks (April 18, 1983), which killed 61 people. Al Qaeda repeated the same kind of suicide bombing at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, which killed more than 200 people.
It is also worth mentioning that Osama bin Laden came back to Afghanistan in May 1996. He landed in a special plane with some of his close comrades at Jalalabad airport and was received by Maulvi Younus Khalis, Haji Deen Muhammad, and some others. Another plane of the Ariana Air Lines also landed at Jalalabad airport the next day with his family and big cargo. Afghanistan's official airline was helping bin Laden on Burhanuddin Rabbani's orders. He was the prime minister in Kabul when bin Laden was allowed to enter Afghanistan as a special guest.
THE TALIBAN only controlled some provinces in southern Afghanistan in those days. Pakistan was supporting the Taliban because Rabbani was close to Iran and India; the Pakistani embassy in Kabul was attacked by a mob that was guided by Northern Alliance commanders.
When the Taliban invaded Jalalabad and Kabul in September 1996, bin Laden switched sides and assured the Taliban of his cooperation. American and Pakistani intelligence agencies were aware of bin Laden's presence in Jalalabad, but they never objected because they were hoping that the experienced Arab fighters of Al Qaeda would help the Taliban push the Northern Alliance into Iran.
Those were the days when bin Laden tried his best to bridge the gap between the Taliban and Iran, but the Taliban refused to heed his proposal. The Taliban depended on Pakistani help and the Pakistani establishment was helping them because their opponent, the Northern Alliance, was close to Iran. Then Pakistani interior minister Major General Naseerullah Khan Babar was responsible for providing logistics and monetary support to the Taliban. He admits that 'we were supporting the Taliban to save Afghanistan from Iranian interference because the Iranians were playing a double game with us. They were claiming that we are your Muslim brothers, but actually they were encouraging people who were involved in anti-Pakistan activities inside Afghanistan.'
When the Taliban refused to cooperate with Iran, Osama bin Laden decided to help them quietly because Dr al-Zawahiri was not with him. He had been detained in Dagestan by the Russian authorities. The Russians were unaware of his real identity because he had travelled to the area on a fake Sudanese passport. Zawahiri was Al Qaeda's main link with Iran, and the link was missing.
Here is an example of the most recent effort to appease the Mullahs of Iran by some amonng the Democrats...
Lack of Iran Contacts Said Harming U.S. Interests
July 19, 2004
WASHINGTON -- The lack of sustained engagement with Iran over the last 25 years is harming U.S. interests at a time when America is engaged to an unprecedented extent in the Middle East and Central Asia, according to a panel of experts and former U.S. officials.
In a report published on Monday by the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank, the panel warned that "overcoming the absence of any U.S.-Iranian contacts may be the only alternative to ... force" to assuage U.S. concerns about Iran's behavior.
It recommended that Washington change its approach to a "selective" engagement with Iran that includes incentives, like the prospect of U.S. commercial ties, as well as penalties, in an effort to resolve a growing nuclear problem and stabilize the Middle East,
The findings were released during a U.S. election campaign that is focused on President Bush's foreign policy leadership and amid rising American fears that Iran is galloping ahead in a quest to build a nuclear bomb.
Throughout its tenure, Bush's administration has been divided over whether to reach out to Iran after a quarter-century of hostility or to toughen its approach.
Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry has signaled an interest in greater engagement with Tehran.
The task force, chaired by former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and former CIA Director Robert Gates, concluded that "the current lack of sustained engagement with Iran harms U.S. interests in a critical region of the world and that direct dialogue with Tehran on specific areas of mutual concern should be pursued."
A U.S.-Iran political dialogue should not be deferred until differences over Iran's nuclear ambitions and its involvement in regional conflicts have been resolved, the report said.
"Rather, the process of selective political engagement itself represents a potentially effective path for addressing those differences" as was seen in U.S. engagement with China and the former Soviet Union.
Lying "at the heart of the arc of the crisis in the Middle East," Iran has such intricate ties to Iraq and Afghanistan -- sites of major U.S. military operations -- that it is a "critical actor" in both countries' postwar evolution, the report added.
The report called Iran's nuclear ambitions "one of the most urgent issues" facing the United States.
Task force members were divided on whether Tehran is fully committed to developing a nuclear weapon.
But they agreed that, even while cooperating with U.N. nuclear monitors, Iran will continue "attempting to conceal the scope of its nuclear program in order to keep its options open as long as possible."
Iran hid its nuclear activities for 18 years until they were exposed by an Iranian opposition group in 2002 and then inspected by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Tehran denies U.S. charges it is using a civilian nuclear program to conceal a covert bid for nuclear arms.
Some U.S. estimates say Iran could have a nuclear bomb by 2006 if no steps are taken to slow the program.
The panel rejected a "grand bargain" that would seek to settle comprehensively all U.S.-Iran conflicts, including U.S. allegations that Iran backs terrorism, undermines Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and stirs problems in Iraq.
The United States and Iran have not had diplomatic ties since the 1979 Islamic revolution when student fundamentalists held 52 American hostages for 444 days.
Iran Rejects US Claim of Al-Qaida Link
July 19, 2004
The Iranian government yesterday admitted for the first time that half a dozen of the al-Qaida terrorists behind the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington had passed through Iran.
But the government, anxious to avoid being the next US target after Afghanistan and Iraq, denied any official involvement with al-Qaida members.
The admission came five days before the US commission investigating the September 11 attacks was scheduled to publish its 600-page report, and amid growing speculation that it would endorse the view that there was no evidence linking the September 11 hijackers to Saddam's Iraqi regime - one of the Bush administration's key arguments for going to war.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that the commission would criticise the White House, Congress and other parts of the US government, for failing to detect or prevent the atrocities.
With the focus of suspicion recently turning to Iran, Hamid Reza Asefi, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, yesterday acknowledged that some of the hijackers had passed through the country from Afghanistan months before the attacks. "We have long borders and it is not possible to fully control them. It is normal that five or six people who cross the border illegally over a period of five or six months may evade our attention. The same happens on the border between Mexico and the United States."
John McLaughlin, the acting director of the CIA, yesterday told Fox News: "We have no evidence that there is some sort of official connection between Iran and 9/11." But he said it was not surprising that the hijackers were able to pass through Iran, given the country's "history of supporting terrorism". He said eight of the 19 hijackers had passed through the country.
The link being made between Iran and al-Qaida comes as pressure grows on Tehran over suspicions that it is planning a nuclear weapons capability. The US, which has no diplomatic ties with Tehran, wants a UN security council resolution imposing sanctions.
The Israeli government, which bombed an Iraqi nuclear plant in 1981, has been hinting that it will mount a military strike to prevent Iran fulfilling any nuclear weapons ambitions. Iran continues to insist that it is seeking to develop its nuclear programme for peaceful purposes.
The British government has meanwhile become increasingly disillusioned over Iran, the Foreign Office shifting to the view that Tehran is intent on nuclear weapons. Relations have also been strained by the failure of Tehran to return two British boats seized at the Iran-Iraq border.
Mr Asefi said that news reports from the US linking Iran and al-Qaida were part of a US government cover-up to deflect attention from Iraq. He added that Iran had tightened its border controls since the September 11 attacks. The passage of the al-Qaida members had happened before the attacks and "who knew that September 11 was going to happen?" Iran had demonstrated over the past few years that it was opposed to terrorism - and the US had failed to show appreciation of that.
Iran helps finance Hizbollah in south Lebanon but says it has had no involvement with al-Qaida. Tehran has arrested hundreds of al-Qaida suspects over the past few years, last week handing to Saudi Arabia a man dubbed a senior al-Qaida memberwho had surrendered.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that the US commission report on the September 11 attacks would recommend a restructuring of US intelligence to create a "cabinet" with an overview of the other agencies. However, Mr McLaughlin said it would be difficult to achieve that "without adding an additional layer of bureaucracy". He said the same objective could be brought by "modest changes" to the role of CIA director.
RSF Disgusted by Sham Trial in Kazemi Murder Case
July 18, 2004
Reporters Without Borders
"We are appalled at this denial of justice," the international press freedom organisation said. "The Iranian judiciary has displayed intolerable cynicism and hypocrisy in a case which the world sees as a test of intent by the Iranian regime, which has been unanimously condemned by international human rights organisations.
"By turning the trial into a mockery, the authorities have once more totally discredited themselves and deserve to have sanctions imposed on them," it said.
Reporters Without Borders welcomed the reaction of Canada which, for the third time in connection with the case, announced after the trial curtailment the recall of its ambassador (Philip MacKinnon) in protest. It urged Canada to keep up strong pressure on Iran.
The organisation also renewed its call to the European Union to impose tough economic and political sanctions on the regime, whose repeated human rights violations it said were incompatible with the official EU-Iranian dialogue begun in 2001.
Kazemi was arrested on 23 June 2003 as she was taking pictures of prisoners' families outside Evin prison, north of Teheran. She was ill-treated in detention and died of her injuries on 10 July. After trying to cover up the cause of death, the authorities admitted on 16 July that she had been "beaten."
Her body was hastily buried on 22 July in the southern town of Shiraz, against the wishes of her Canadian son Stephan. Her mother, who lives in Iran, admitted being pressured to allow burial in Iran. Requests for the body to be exhumed and returned to Canada have been refused.
Argentines Criticize Investigation of '94 Attack
July 19, 2004
The New York Times
BUENOS AIRES -- With President Néstor Kirchner looking on, Argentine Jewish leaders on Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of a deadly anti-Semitic attack here by delivering blistering attacks on his predecessors and European institutions they say have blocked efforts to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The bombing killed 85 people and wounded about 300 at a Jewish recreation and education center, commonly known as AMIA, its Spanish initials. Though a group of police officers are on trial for having procured the vehicle in which the bomb was placed, Argentina has been thwarted in efforts to prosecute Iranian government officials it says organized the attack.
In a sharp speech, Abraham Kaul, the president of the community group, criticized Britain's refusal to allow the extradition of a former Iranian ambassador to Argentina who was indicted here last year, and also complained about a lack of cooperation in Switzerland in determining how the attack was financed. "They have betrayed us," Mr. Kaul said.
But the harshest criticisms were reserved for Carlos Saúl Menem, who was president of Argentina at the time of the bombing and has been accused by a defector from Iranian intelligence of having deliberately undermined the official inquiry into the attack. Mr. Menem is now living in self-imposed exile in neighboring Chile rather than submitting to questioning in relation to corruption charges pending against him here.
"Carlos Menem is the culprit and is a criminal fugitive," said Marina Degtiar, who spoke on behalf of relatives of the victims. Because of Mr. Menem's efforts to cover up the case, she said, "so many facts still lie with impunity beneath the ruins."
There has long been resentment here over the botched investigation, but the anger has grown in recent months as a result of the train bombings that killed 190 people in Madrid in March. Although the Spanish government initially blamed the attack on Basque separatists, its ability to identify and apprehend fairly quickly the people suspected of being Islamic militant organizers has been repeatedly contrasted here with the Argentine government's ineptitude or unwillingness to act.
In recent months, there has also been talk here of seeking "a Lockerbie solution," in which Argentina would relinquish some of its legal claims so that the accused Iranians could stand trial in a third country. But Iran, which threatened to "adopt appropriate measures" if Argentina did not revoke the indictments, has offered no indication it is interested in such a deal.
With the recent release of government documents, ordered by Mr. Kirchner, Jewish community groups are also pushing for a belated investigation into a Syrian link to the attack. Among the questions they have raised is why Mr. Menem, himself of Syrian descent, allowed various Syrian citizens who were then under surveillance to leave Argentina in the wake of the bombing, including one who is said to be a cousin of Hafez al-Assad, who was then the president of Syria.
Mr. Kirchner, who took office 14 months ago, is the first Argentine president to attend the annual AMIA ceremonies. In April, he described the unsolved case as such "a national disgrace" that it required him to "find the historical truth," and on Sunday he was hugged, kissed and greeted with cries of "keep on pushing, Mr. President," by relatives of many of the victims.
But his wife, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, generated criticism last week when in an interview with a local Jewish publication she suggested that some Jewish leaders aided in the cover-up. Mrs. Kirchner, a prominent senator and member of a legislative commission that also investigated the bombing, was understood to be referring to an ally of Mr. Menem who controlled a financially troubled bank that received questionable government support.
Mr. Kirchner is scheduled to meet Monday with members of a delegation representing the American Jewish Committee. In an interview, David A. Harris, executive director of the group, said resolving the AMIA case will "require extraordinary political will and courage" and urged Mr. Kirchner "to translate good intentions into concrete results."
"That is going to be a mountain of a challenge," Mr. Harris said. "It's late in the day."
Iranian Reformists Seek Détente with US
July 18, 2004
The Financial Times
Iran's reformists have attempted to ease rising tensions with the US over Tehran's role in Iraq, its nuclear programme and its alleged links to al-Qaeda.
Over the weekend Mohammed Ali Abtahi, one of Iran's vice-presidents, called for détente with Washington, while Ali Yunesi, the reformist intelligence minister, told state television that Iran had dismantled all al-Qaeda branches in the country.
Their remarks were made after media reports in the US suggested that the commission investigating the September 11 attacks would conclude that some of the hijackers passed through Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.
Some administration officials have also been briefing journalists that President George W. Bush would adopt a tougher line towards Iran if he were re-elected for a second term.
Mr Abtahi, a close ally of President Mohammed Khatami, distanced Iran from al-Qaeda, pointing out that the group's recent propaganda had targeted "two big enemies, the Shia [the majority population in Iran] and the US".
In an interview with the FT, Mr Abtahi reasserted the reformists' credo in spite of their losing control of parliament following February's elections and the recent hardline drift in Iranian politics.
"Speaking in general", he stressed Iran should "continue a policy of détente and keep away from things that can become a big political crisis".
But Mr Abtahi said he could not explain the "specifics" of last month's incident when Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) arrested eight British sailors on the Arvand Rud, or Shatt al-Arab, waterway separating Iran from Iraq.
Mr Abtahi acknowledged powerful domestic restraints on the reformists who are set to continue in government at least until next June's presidential election, when Mr Khatami must stand down.
"In cases like relations with the US, it is not solely the [Iranian] government that can make decisions," he said. "There are other organisations, and particularly the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamanei], who have their own ideas and opinions. And the main point of the supreme leader is 'mistrust the US'."
Mr Abtahi said that the lack of trust between the US and Iran had produced the "problems" over Iran's civil nuclear programme, which Washington says masks an intention to develop a nuclear bomb.
A critical report from the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) last month sharpened tension with Britain, Germany and France, with whom Tehran last year reached an agreement to suspend uranium enrichment. Newly elected conservative parliamentarians in turn argue that Iran should end all co-operation with the IAEA.
The judiciary - which, like the IRGC, answers to the supreme leader - is also becoming more assertive.
On Sunday the court trying an intelligence agent for the "semi-intentional murder" of Zara Kazemi, a 54-year-old Iranian-Canadian photographer who died last year under arrest, excluded diplomats from Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and France, who had been admitted as observers just the day before when the case resumed.
While recognising the right's growing influence in Iran, Mr Abtahi said that US was partly responsible for tension in the region.
"The problem of American officials is that they don't understand our region," he said. "They don't know Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein was very good news, but US misbehaviour has turned it into a catastrophic increase of racialism in the area."
U.S. Faces a Crossroads on Iran Policy [Excerpt]
July 19, 2004
The Washington Post
The Bush administration is under mounting pressure to take action to deal with Iran -- and end the drift that has characterized U.S. policy for more than three years.
The final report of the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, due Thursday, may further intensify the policy debate, as it says Iran let eight of the 19 hijackers transit through Iran from neighboring Afghanistan -- a claim Tehran does not deny. The issue is whether it happened with Iran's compliance or because of porous borders.
Acting CIA Director John E. McLaughlin said yesterday that the United States has known for "some time" about the al Qaeda passage through Iran, although he said there is "no evidence" of a connection between Iran and the Sept. 11 attacks.
In response, Iran's Foreign Ministry said yesterday that preventing illegal passage was difficult because of the long frontier, adding that it has since tried to tighten control. "Even more people may [illegally] cross the border between Mexico and the United States," spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters in Tehran.
The dispute -- and uncertainty -- over al Qaeda's use of Iran comes as the White House is being pulled in distinctly different directions on Tehran.
Since May, Congress has been moving -- with little notice -- toward a joint resolution calling for punitive action against Iran if it does not fully reveal details of its nuclear arms program. In language similar to the prewar resolution on Iraq, a recent House resolution authorized the use of "all appropriate means" to deter, dissuade and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weaponry -- terminology often used to approve preemptive military force. Reflecting the growing anxiety on Capitol Hill about Iran, it passed 376 to 3.
In contrast, two of the most prominent foreign policy groups in Washington are calling for the United States to end a quarter-century of hostile relations and begin new diplomatic overtures to Iran, despite disagreements on a vast range of issues. Because the "solidly entrenched" government provides the only "authoritative" interlocutors, Washington should "deal with the current regime rather than wait for it to fall," says a Council on Foreign Relations report released today.
The disparate range of proposals underscores the near void in U.S. policy toward Iran -- in stark contrast to the two other countries in what President Bush calls the "axis of evil." The administration launched a war to oust Saddam Hussein in Iraq and is now engaged in delicate talks over nuclear issues with North Korea. But six months before its first term ends, the administration has still not formally signed off on a strategy for Iran since a review of U.S. policy was begun in 2001, U.S. officials say.
Pressed to define U.S. policy on Iran, one frustrated senior U.S. official cracked, "Oh, do we have one?"
Bush administration policy has generally been piecemeal and reactive to broader or tangential issues, rather than to Iran itself, U.S. officials say. "What we have is a summation of various pieces -- one piece on nuclear weapons, one on human rights, another on terrorism, other pieces on drugs, Iraq and Afghanistan," a senior State Department official said.
White House officials point to a three-paragraph presidential statement two years ago this month as the core policy. It notes local and national elections when voters supported reformers; it then calls on Tehran to "listen to their hopes."
"As Iran's people move towards a future defined by greater freedom, greater tolerance, they will have no better friend than the United States," the statement reads. But it offers no policy specifics or prescriptions. It instead reached out beyond Tehran in hopes that Iranians would be able to change their government or its positions.
Since then, the Bush administration has warned Tehran about meddling in Iraq and lashed out at the Islamic republic for not fulfilling its promise to provide all information to the U.N. watchdog agency on its nuclear energy program, which Washington suspects is being diverted to build a nuclear weapon.
"The Iranians need to feel the pressure from the world that any nuclear weapons program will be uniformly condemned," Bush told newspaper editors in April. "The development of a nuclear weapon in Iran is intolerable."
But in a split reminiscent of the deep prewar divisions over Iraq, the administration has been at odds over how to accomplish its goals -- engagement, containment or confrontation. Once again, the State Department has been willing to explore areas of potential cooperation -- notably narcotics interdiction, Afghanistan and Iraq -- to see whether discussions under international auspices might lead to wider discussions.
Iran's Expanding Influence in Russia's Backyard [Excerpt]
July 19, 2004
The Wall Street Journal
Ilan Berman and Christopher Kelley
With the Bush administration preoccupied with the war on terror and Iraq, Iran has quietly opened up a new front against the United States in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Its aim is to win hearts and minds in the fledgling post-Soviet republics. And, through a mixture of savvy diplomacy and military muscle, Tehran is now doing just that.
Iran's involvement in the Russian near abroad is hardly new. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, it has been keen to influence the political direction of the fragile post-Soviet states. But an unspoken power-sharing arrangement with Moscow prevented Tehran from interfering too deeply in regional politics throughout much of the past decade.
All of that appears to have changed, however. Policy makers in Moscow, worried over the entrenchment of a lasting American military presence in their backyard as part of the war on terrorism, have relaxed their opposition to Iran's maneuvers. And in response, Tehran has launched an unprecedented diplomatic and strategic offensive in the post-Soviet space.
Iran's motivations are clear. The growing U.S. military footprint in places like Khanabad, Uzbekistan and Manas, Kyrgyzstan -- not to mention Washington's expanding ties to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan -- have sparked fears in Tehran of strategic rollback on its northern front. When coupled with American advances in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Iranian regime now faces the very real threat of encirclement by the United States and its "Coalition of the Willing." Substantial progress on pro-Western energy routes -- such as the long-awaited pipeline to carry Caspian crude from Baku, Azerbaijan to Ceyhan, Turkey -- have meanwhile presented Iran's rulers with the possibility of a dramatic decline in regional energy clout.
In response, Iran has upped the diplomatic ante with energy-rich Kazakhstan, pushing for deeper energy integration between Astana and Tehran. Kazakhstan currently exports oil to Iran as part of an "oil swap" agreement hammered out with the Islamic Republic in the year 2000, under which Kazakh oil is shipped to Iranian Caspian ports for Iranian consumption while oil from southern Iran is sold on the world market. But the Islamic Republic is now working actively to expand this arrangement, and has upgraded and increased the capacity of its Caspian ports in hopes of "doubling" the volume of Kazakh oil swaps.
Iran's oil companies, meanwhile, have themselves become a growing player in Kazakhstan's energy calculus, participating in tenders to develop its sector of the Caspian. Iranian officials have even begun quietly lobbying for a southern pipeline route to carry Kazakh crude to the Persian Gulf via the Islamic Republic. In late May, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbeyev publicly endorsed Tehran's plans when he announced his government's desire to build a pipeline across Kazakhstan and Iran.
By contrast, Iran has taken a harsher tone with neighboring Azerbaijan. In mid-October, the Islamic Republic commenced large-scale military maneuvers in its northwest district, near Azerbaijan. The exercises, reportedly the largest conducted by Iran in recent memory, massed troops along the Iran-Azerbaijan border in a show of force intended to persuade Baku to tone down its growing strategic cooperation with Washington.
Subsequent reports suggest Tehran is now employing a more subtle tack, and has begun to foment separatist sentiment among the non-Azeri, non-Turkic population on the country's Caspian coast in an effort to arrest Azerbaijan's pro-Western tilt. In response, Azeri officials have apparently acquiesced to a religious accord with the Islamic Republic. The deal, due to be signed in the near future, would give Tehran vastly increased input into the Caucasus state's religious affairs, and correspondingly greater influence over overwhelmingly-Muslim Azerbaijan's political orientation.
Simultaneously, Iran has ratcheted up contacts with its traditional Caucasus ally, Armenia. In recent weeks, the two nations have divulged plans to construct a pipeline linking natural gas fields in Iran and Turkmenistan to Ukraine and from there to Europe by way of Armenia. Such a move would of course be a strategic coup for Tehran, providing it with an energy conduit that undercuts both Russia and United States while simultaneously squeezing Azerbaijan.
The Discovery of Iran
July 19, 2004
National Review Online
Are you sitting down? Iran is a terrorist state.
The organizers of the Council on Foreign Relations special task force to promote the appeasement of Iran must be cursing their uncommonly bad luck. They scheduled a meeting in Washington today to call for increasing normalization of relations between the United States and Iran. With a fine eye for dark comedy, the Council persuaded two relics of the catastrophic Carter years to appear: Zbigniew Brzezinski and Robert Gates. The principal advocate of the policy, however, is undoubtedly the president of the Council, Richard Haas, who has long seen rapprochement with the mullahs as an "historic opportunity" for the United States. Haas was the head of Colin Powell's Policy Planning Staff.
Whatever chances they had of successfully advancing appeasement were shattered over the weekend, as some talkative source at the 9/11 Commission told the old media (notably Time and Newsweek) that there was new evidence documenting the longstanding relationship between al Qaeda and Iran, including the fact that ten of the 9/11 terrorists had crossed Iran from Saudi Arabia the year before the attacks in this country, and the Iranians were careful not to stamp their passports, so that the Iranian connection could not be documented.
To be sure, the Commission leaker was careful to say there was no proof that the Iranians were witting of the 9/11 conspiracy, but that is hardly a surprise. Given the track record of CIA's "intelligence" on the role of the mullahs in the terror network, it would have been astounding if we had had any such evidence.
News stories on Sunday reminded readers that Richard Clarke had written that there was considerable evidence of collusion between Osama and the mullahs, and Asharq al-Awsat reported on the 15th that "more than 384 members of al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations are present in Iran, including 18 senior leaders of Osama bin Laden's network." These terrorists were not, as the Iranians were quick to pretend, under arrest. Nor, as Iranian officials put it the day after, had the al Qaeda groups been destroyed. Many were living in villas near Chalous on the Caspian Sea, while others were in Lavizan, either in or near a big military base.
As luck would have it (and for this information I am indebted to the redoubtable Dan Darling), Chalous is the locus of a major underground nuclear facility that has been heavily reinforced of late, while Lavizan houses the Shiyan Technical Research Facility within one of the largest Revolutionary Guards bases in the Central Province.
What a surprise! Terrorists at Iranian military bases! Who ever would have imagined such a thing? Well, aside from NRO, which has long proclaimed Iran to be the safest of havens for Osama & co., the Iraqis not only imagined it, they knew it. Listen to the fine Iraq blogger at Iraq the Model early in July: "An Iraqi military check point...was subjected to Iranian fire on Friday.... Colonel Dhafir Savah Al Timemi mentioned that this was the 4th time the Iranians have opened fire on Shehan check point during the last week in addition to several other aggressions...Colonel Timemi said also that Iraqi border guards have captured 83 Iranians who were trying to cross Iraqi-Iranian borders illegally...."
And of course there is the ongoing slapstick routine at the United Nations Atomic Energy Agency, which constantly finds Iran cheating on its promises to tell all and show all about its atomic project, but never does anything to impose its will, bringing to mind Groucho's classic words, "I've got principles. And if you don't like them, I've got other principles."
This is all very inconvenient for Haas, Brzezinski, and the others who keep deluding themselves into believing that we can make a reasonable deal with the mullahcracy in Tehran. This is a very dangerous delusion, akin to Neville Chamberlain's conceit that he had achieved peace with Hitler, when, as Churchill put it, given the choice between war and dishonor, Chamberlain chose dishonor and got war. The Council is making the same humiliating choice.
Meanwhile, the mullahs and the other terror masters in the region quite sensibly continue to wage war against us. At the recent meetings in Tehran between a Syrian delegation led by President Bashar Assad and the Iranians, including Supreme Leader Khamenei and top deputies including strongman Rafsanjani, the head of intelligence Yunesi, several leading officials of the Revolutionary Guards, and Foreign Minister Kharazi, the two sides agreed on five key points:
A common strategy involving Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah to thwart American plans for the democratization of the Middle East;
Coordination of joint operations against the Coalition and the interim government in Iraq;
Coordination of political strategy to influence groups and countries that oppose the American presence in Iraq;
Planning for revenge should Israel attack Iranian nuclear, chemical or missile sites, or Syria's chemical and missile sites, or Hezbollah bases;
Full cooperation to prevent the reelection of President Bush, including all possible measures (such as sabotage of oil pipelines and terminals) to drive up the price of oil.
Advocates of rapprochement with Iran should be running from their announced principles as fast as they can.
Those of you who have followed along these little therapy sessions of mine know of my despair regarding this administration's fecklessness concerning the mullahs. It has pained me enormously, especially because I still believe that this president has a solid understanding of the evil of the Islamic Republic, despite the efforts of the State Department even after the departure of Haas to convince him that a really good deal is just minutes away. I have been reduced to begging "faster, please," but I have long since recognized that nothing would happen until after the elections (a potentially suicidal policy). Now the London Times has found a nameless someone in the Bush administration who promises that a second term for W. would bring vigorous support of democratic revolution in Iran, and decisive action against the atomic project. It is beyond me why anyone would take seriously such claims, given the fact that after four years in office this administration still has no Iran policy, and the deputy secretary of State, Richard Armitage, has never backed off his claim that Iran is a democracy, nor has he been gainsaid by any other top official. I certainly hope the Times is right, but I have my doubts. I'm afraid we're not going to get serious about Iran without another 9/11.
In the 20th century we were often saved from our own isolationism and self-delusion by our enemies, who attacked us and thereby resolved our foreign policy debates in favor of honorable self defense. Check this one out with the Germans regarding World War I, with the Japanese regarding World War II, with Stalin regarding the Cold War, and with Saddam concerning two Gulf wars. Osama bin Laden made a terrible mistake on 9/11, sealing the doom of the Taliban and a goodly number of his own killers, and depriving the remnant of vital support. If the Iranians approved yet another attack on Americans or on American soil, they might, let's say it as delicately as possible, no longer benefit from the benevolent shelter offered by the Middle Eastniks in the CIA and State, supported by the likes of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Maybe that would finally produce an Iran policy worthy of the name: support for democratic revolution against the mullahs. But Khamenei's and Rafsanjani's experience with the United States leaves them pretty sanguine about that risk, because every time we come up with some devastating bit of information on Iran, we immediately follow it with "but that doesn't mean that the leaders knew about it, or that it was the actual policy of the regime." You find half of bin Laden's family and top assistants in Tehran? Not to worry, maybe the mullahs didn't know. You discover that that 9/11 band crossed Iran and were assisted by the border guards and customs officials? Not to worry, that wasn't necessarily the actual policy this from the lips of the acting director of Central Intelligence on Fox News yesterday. Scores of Iranian intelligence agents are found in Iraq, some in the act of preparing bombs? Some bright bulb in the intelligence community puts out the line that Iran is actually helpful to us, and has actually restrained Hezbollah. We find Iranian involvement in the bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia? The evidence is quashed by the Saudis, with the complicity of State and large sectors of the intelligence community.
So why should the men in the blood-soaked turbans fret over the consequences of aiding and abetting yet another murderous assault against Americans? I'm unfortunately betting on the second half of October, based on their happy experience with the Spanish elections last March.
-Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. Ledeen is Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute
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