The United States has no intention to change Iran's regime and it has no plans to invade the nation neighbouring Iraq, where 140,000 US troops are stationed, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said in an interview to be broadcast Sunday.
"We are not getting ready to invade Iran," Powell told CNBC television when asked if having 140,000 troops in Iraq makes it easier to deal with Iran.
"We have no intention of regime change. That is our policy: no regime change," he said, although he added "we don't approve of this regime.
"It is up to the Iranian people to decide what they are going to do with respect to their future and how they are going to be led," Powell said.
Hawks within President George Bush's administration have advocated for regime change in Tehran, through covert operations or force if needed, Newsweek magazine reported in September.
The United States is focused on halting Iran's nuclear ambitions and its support to "terrorist organisations," Powell said.
"It seems to me that every civilized nation in Europe and the United Nations and everywhere else ought to be concerned that Iran is moving in the direction of acquiring nuclear weapons technology and does continue to support terrorist activity," Powell said.
He said Washington is working with the international community to resolve concerns over Iran's nuclear program.
Britain, France and Germany are trying to persuade Iran to suspend crucial nuclear fuel cycle activities, including the enrichment of uranium to ease international concern over what the United States alleges is a covert weapons drive.
The International Atomic Energy Agency will meet in Vienna November 25 to consider the Iranian nuclear issue.
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's negotiations with the European Union over a deal which would spare Tehran from possible U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program are in their final stages, Iran said Saturday.
``Negotiations with Europe were intense and important and... they are in their final stages,'' Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told state television. ``We have given them our final response and await their final decision and we hope to pass this stage smoothly.''
Iran and the European Union's big three powers -- Britain, Germany and France -- have been negotiating a deal for the past few weeks under which Tehran would agree to freeze sensitive nuclear work such as uranium enrichment.
In return, the EU would not support U.S. calls for Iran's case to be sent to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions and would sit down with Iran to work out a lasting solution to the nuclear dispute.
Iran insists its nuclear ambitions are limited to generating electricity from atomic power plants, not making bombs.
Tehran gave its response to the EU deal Thursday but there has been no announcement yet of a final agreement. EU diplomats say Iran has been trying to change some of the terms of the deal, including the scope of the enrichment suspension.
President Bush, who has labeled Iran an ``axis of evil'' member, Friday gave public backing to the EU initiative to try to resolve the dispute through talks.
``We don't want Iran to have a nuclear weapon and we're working toward that end,'' Bush said at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the White House.
``And the truth of the matter is the prime minister gets a lot of credit for working with France and Germany to convince the Iranians to get rid of the processes that would enable them to develop a nuclear weapon.''
IAEA REPORT DELAYED AGAIN
The IAEA has delayed release of its of eagerly-awaited report summarizing its two-year investigation of Iran to give the EU and Iran a chance to come to a final agreement.
``The stakes are very high on both sides,'' a Vienna-based Western diplomat who follows IAEA issues very closely told Reuters. The report was originally due Friday but will not likely reach Vienna diplomats until early next week.
The suspension of enrichment was demanded by the IAEA board of governors in September. Although the IAEA resolution called for an immediate freeze of all enrichment-related activities, Iran has continued producing centrifuge parts.
``They now have enough parts for 1100 to 1200 centrifuges,'' said one diplomat, adding that this was enough to make enough highly-enriched uranium for a weapon in two to three years.
Diplomats said IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei had told the Iranians that if the results of their negotiations with the EU were positive, he would be able to present a relatively upbeat report to the agency's 35-member board on Nov. 25.
Unlike previous reports, which were technical updates about the investigation, this report will cover the entire probe.
Diplomats said that ElBaradei plans to say that while he has found no evidence Tehran diverted resources or materials to a weapons program, Iran's nuclear fuel production capabilities are suspiciously far ahead of the rest of its atomic program.
Kharrazi said it was time for Iran's case to be closed.
``We have done all we could to cooperate with the agency. Most of the questions are addressed now. There is nothing more Iran can do... We think it is time to close Iran's case with the agency,'' he said.
Bush weighs changes to end 'bipolar' Mideast policy
WASHINGTON President George Bush is considering a major shakeup in his administration to ensure a unified U.S. policy on the Middle East.
Administration sources said Bush was examining recommendations to replace senior officials before the start of his second term in an effort to avoid the foreign policy split that characterized his administration since 2001. The dispute, which pitted the Defense Department against the State Department, was said to have extended to virtually every aspect of U.S. policy in the Middle East, particularly Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Secretary of State Colin Powell and other senior officials have asserted that the death of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat could mark the biggest foreign policy opportunity for the administration, Middle East Newsline reported. They said Washington must ensure that Arafat is succeeded by a pro-U.S. Palestinian leadership willing to implement democratic reforms.
"There has been a bipolar U.S. foreign policy in which the president has been receiving sharply differing assessments and advice from his most senior aides," an administration source said. "It has disturbed the president and I'm sure he wants this to end before his second term."
The sources identified the three dominant figures in U.S. foreign policy during Bush's second term as Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and White House chief of staff Andrew Card.
The sources said the three senior aides planned to establish a team to examine U.S. foreign policy options during Bush's second term. They said the key issues would largely focus on the Middle East, including the U.S. military presence in Iraq, Iran's nuclear weapons program and the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Bush was also expected to appoint an envoy to accelerate U.S. efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, the sources said. They said the envoy would focus on Israel's commitments to the United States for withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank as well as the dismantling of more than 100 unauthorized Jewish outposts in the West Bank.
The presidential envoy, the sources said, would help facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2006. They said the appointment of such an envoy has been urged by both Powell and senior Bush adviser Karl Rove. They said Bush has already pledged to Middle East and European leaders that he would become personally involved in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict and establishing a Palestinian state.
"The United States of America will be more than willing to help build the institutions necessary for a free society to emerge, so that the Palestinians can have their own state," Bush said on Wednesday. "The vision is two states, a Palestinian state and Israel, living side by side in peace. And I think we've got a chance to do that. And I look forward to being involved in that process."
The dispute within the administration has been most intense regarding Iraq and Iran. The sources said Vice President Richard Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld represented the group that called for U.S. military measures against Iraq, Iran and others deemed as terrorist sponsors. Powell and then-CIA director George Tenet opposed unilateral military action and urged the formation of an international coalition that would employ largely diplomatic and economic means.
Tenet has resigned from the CIA and Powell was expected to announce his departure over the next few weeks.
The Iran nuclear weapons project was expected to become the major strategic challenge for the United States. The sources said the administration has been divided between those who have urged the president to review military options to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities and others who advocate cooperation with the European Union, China and Russia for diplomatic and economic measures to stop Teheran.
The proposed administration team could also recommend whether Bush should retain Rumsfeld for another term. The defense secretary, the oldest member of the administration, has borne the brunt of criticism for the U.S. failure to envision the insurgency war in Iraq as well as find Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
"He's [Bush] thinking about his administration for the future," Rumsfeld said on Nov. 8. "I've met with him two or three times on totally different subjects since the election, but that's not a subject that's come up."
The sources said the White House has not selected a candidate to serve as presidential envoy to the Middle East. But they said the appointee would not be a member of the current administration.
"We recognize that the Middle East peace process is one of the biggest overhangs on our foreign policy and the way in which we are perceived in the world, and we want to do more about that," Powell said in an interview to the Financial Times on Nov. 9. "But we need responsible partners on the Palestinian side."
VIENNA (AFP) - A team of experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have arrived in Iran to carry out routine inspections, a spokesman of the United Nations atomic agency said.
The IAEA has been conducting routine inspections in Iran since February last year.
But a diplomat in Vienna did not rule out the possibility that the team would also check on the suspension of uranium enrichment announced by the Iran government.
This question is a bone of contention in negotiations between Iran and the European Union, represented by Britain, France and Germany.
The IAEA postponed until Monday releasing a landmark report on Iran's nuclear programme as EU officials pursued talks to save a deal for the Islamic Republic to suspend uranium enrichment and avoid possible UN sanctions, diplomats said.
The IAEA on Saturday postponed for a second time in the week the release of the report to give Iran more time to hand over a letter officials hope will announce a halt in uranium enrichment, a key process that makes nuclear fuel but also the explosive core for atomic bombs, diplomats said.
The letter could then be included in the report for an IAEA meeting in Vienna on November 25 that will consider US charges that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.
The comprehensive report is to sum up the IAEA's investigation of Iran's nuclear programme since Febuary 2003 in order to allow the agency's 35-nation board of governors to decide whether Iran is violating international safeguards against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Britain, France and Germany are trying to strike a deal for Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment activities so that the IAEA will not, as Washington wants, send the dossier to the UN Security Council, which can impose punishing sanctions.
But the European trio has said they will back the US hard-line if Iran fails to tell the IAEA that it agrees to full suspension of uranium enrichment.
Iran has since October 2003 suspended the actual enrichment of uranium as a confidence-building measure but not support activities such as making the feed gas and manufacturing centrifuges.
A Vienna-based diplomat close to the talks said Iran was not only haggling over the extent of the enrichment suspension but seeking "assurances that are difficult to grant" such as a promise that the IAEA will drop its almost two-year-long special investigation of Iran's nuclear program.
"The European trio is not in a position to guarantee what the 35-nation board will do November 25," said the diplomat.
A Western diplomat said the EU may reject Tehran's response.
The European trio were "debating internally whether to send Iran a point-by-point refutation of their reply, or to tell Iran that it must sign the agreement as is without 'side understandings'," the Western diplomat told AFP, referring to a tentative accord worked out in Paris last week.
Iranian officials handed their reply late Thursday on the proposed deal to the three countries and to Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, the French foreign ministry said.
Iran insisted Saturday it had gone as far as it could.
"We did our utmost to cooperate with the agency and build the needed confidence. Iran can take no further measures," Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi said.
"The two sides were able to work out a joint proposal and the Iranian side has submitted its decision. Now it is the turn of the Europeans to submit theirs," Kharazi was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.
"The time is ripe to close Iran's case," Kharazi said.
The EU is seeking a suspension of all uranium enrichment-related activities until a long-term agreement is reached.
In return, Europe is offering Iran civilian nuclear technology, including a light-water reactor and access to nuclear fuel, increased trade and help with Tehran's regional security concerns.
Iran wants the incentives to be delivered before a long-term agreement is concluded and also for suspension to be limited to six months and for certain enrichment activities to still be allowed, diplomats said.
A diplomat said that while the Iranians were willing to suspend making the uranium hexafluoride (U6) gas that is the feedstock for enrichment, they wanted to continue making pre-products for the feedstock, namely U4 gas and yellowcake uranium ore.
The Iranian news agency IRNA said the latest team of four IAEA inspectors had arrived Saturday and were scheduled to remain until November 23.
11/13/2004 - 21:49 GMT - AFP
Sunday, November 14, 2004; Page A25
TEHRAN -- Iranians are deeply divided on politics, the economy, the role of religion in government and a dress code for women. But reformers and conservatives, urban and rural, old and young, rich and poor, and men and women generally agree on one thing: Iran needs nuclear energy, and despite its oil and gas riches, the world should not deprive it of the technology, even though it could also be used to develop weapons.
Iranians cite four reasons for their increasingly fierce determination to acquire nuclear technology: the economics of oil, a population boom that is consuming more energy, regional security and anger at what many perceive as a U.S. ultimatum that Iran end its nuclear program.
"Iranians are united not because of activities by the Iranian regime, but because of the U.S. position. Before U.S. intervention, many Iranians thought we didn't need nuclear technology, as it's expensive and dangerous. We remember Chernobyl, which is close to Iran," said Abbas Maleki, director of the Caspian Institute, a research organization based in Tehran, referring to the 1986 nuclear accident in Ukraine. "But now all Iranians believe we must promote our activities as a sign of independence."
Analysts say that public support for the program has given the government enormous leverage in negotiating an agreement with Britain, France and Germany over the country's plan to enrich uranium, which can be used in its new nuclear energy plant and in converting the technology for military use.
Iran and Europe are currently negotiating a deal to suspend enrichment, an action that would precede a permanent agreement to ensure that Iran fulfills its obligations as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and is unable to produce a bomb. If those negotiations succeed, the second stage of talks would be much tougher, Iranian officials and Western diplomats here say. But the government would enter the process with a strong public mandate.
Kamal Kharrazi, Iran's foreign minister, said Saturday that the country was in the "final stages" of negotiation with the Europeans. But European envoys told the Associated Press that an agreement remained a long way off.
Students demonstrated last week at Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, demanding that the country pursue access to nuclear technology. "Enrichment is our natural right," they chanted, according to local media reports. "Nuclear technology is our legitimate right."
Nasser Hadian, a political scientist at Tehran University, called the issue "a matter of prestige."
"There's a perception among the young, even those critical of the government, that this is the technology of the future. So we have to have access," Hadian said.
Some Iranians say they fear that the lack of an enrichment program would force Iran to rely on foreign sources of fuel, making it susceptible to political or economic blackmail.
"When you can make a thing in your own country, it's not rational to buy it from the outside," said Amir Mohebian, political editor of the newspaper Resalat.
Under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran retains the right to produce nuclear energy. The Bush administration insists, however, that Iran, as the world's fourth-largest oil producer and second-largest gas producer, does not need nuclear energy, even though the United States approved about 20 nuclear energy plants for Iran before the 1979 revolution.
But Iranians counter that they need nuclear energy, specifically seven 1,000-megawatt plants, to accommodate domestic demand that already absorbs 1.8 million of the 4 million barrels of oil that Iran produces daily. Iran's population of 69 million is expected to increase to 90 million in 16 years, the government says.
As a result, Iran could be forced to use all its oil just to meet domestic demands within 20 years. That would be devastating for an economy dependent on oil exports for most of its revenue, said Ali Salehi, Iran's former representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"This is the worst way of using our oil, especially since we won't have oil forever," Salehi said. "If we did that, we'd be like the United States, which is the third-largest producer of oil in the world but also the first importer of oil."
Although the cost of a nuclear reactor is much higher than a plant for fossil fuels, Iranian experts say the savings that would come from being able to export more of its oil as a result would pay for a nuclear facility in two to three years.
Iran is also wary of the cost of importing fuel, even if a permanent deal brokered by the Europeans includes lower rates. "We don't want to pay millions of dollars to Europe to buy the fuel," said Mohsen Rezaie, a former commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards who is seen as a potential presidential contender.
Iran has repeatedly denied that it intends to militarize its nuclear program. At Friday prayers last week, the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said: "We are not even thinking about nuclear weapons. Our nuclear weapon is our young and devoted youth and our believing nation." He earlier issued a religious fatwa, or edict, banning weapons of mass destruction.
But U.S. officials and other Western envoys say they believe that some Iranians would like to be able to independently develop weapons capability.
Iran is still smarting from its war with Iraq in the 1980s, when according to U.S. estimates, chemical weapons killed or injured thousands of Iranians. The outside world did little to stop Iraq or protect Iran. "Many Iranians feel they can't rely on the world to defend us" against the use of weapons of mass destruction, Hadian said. ...
The intelligence on Iraq's nuclear activities proved to be dead wrong after U.S.-led forces invaded last year, but in next-door Iran, there's no question that a vast and varied nuclear infrastructure is rising (or, in some cases, burrowing underground). The Iranians say they intend only to generate electricity and conduct peaceful research. But the same technology that can produce reactor fuel to light Iran's cities can be kept running to make the fissile material for atomic weapons--a goal that is widely suspected.
Even as public attention remains fixed on the deadly insurgency in Iraq, a standoff with neighboring Iran could mushroom into the first international crisis in George Bush's second term. The United States estimates that Iran could field its first nuclear weapon in three to seven years, a prospect Bush has branded "intolerable." Hoping to avert another Mideast war, the three leading European Union powers--Britain, France, and Germany--have been trying to pull off a deal with Iran to curtail its nuclear ambitions. They are facing a deadline of November 25, which is when the board of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency meets in Vienna to review Iran's defiance of earlier demands for full disclosure of its nuclear activities. The IAEA will decide whether to send the issue to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.
"No policy " The EU-3 are proposing that Iran forswear work to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium--the key processes in making atomic weapons--and cooperate fully with the IAEA, which has been probing Iran's secretive nuclear work with mixed success. In return, Iran would receive a light-water nuclear reactor (a type that reduces the risk of diversion to weapons use), as well as atomic fuel and future trade benefits. Spent reactor fuel would be removed from the country. Iran has been resisting the main EU demand to suspend all of its work on nuclear fuel for the duration of negotiations. The wrangling late last week jeopardized a potential deal.
A skeptical Bush administration has stayed away from the European effort, neither endorsing nor trying to block it. Administration hawks have quarreled with those favoring dialogue with Tehran: As a result, the administration has been unable even to issue a formal strategy on Iran. "They have no policy toward Iran," says Ray Takeyh, an Iran specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations. "They have subcontracted it to the Europeans, and the Europeans have subcontracted it to the IAEA." Yet across the administration's spectrum of views, there is apprehension. "Even the most dovish Middle East watcher in this government is pretty realistic about Iran's intentions," says one U.S. official. "Iran is not going to fulfill any agreement with the EU."
The Pentagon, U.S. News has learned from two officials, is revising contingency plans that originated with the Clinton administration for attacking Iran's nuclear plants. Officials describe the planning as routine for a global trouble spot and say that Bush continues to look for a diplomatic solution. Since late summer, they have also studied options in case Israel, as it has hinted, decides to hit Iran's nuclear sites in raids reminiscent of its 1981 attack on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor. The Bush administration recently agreed to sell Israel 500 bunker-busting smart bombs of a sort that could be used in such an operation. Secretary of State Colin Powell has urged Israel to give diplomacy time to work, and few officials doubt that strikes would be costly, inflaming anti-U.S. and anti-Israeli passions, spawning terrorist reprisals, and giving extremists a boost across the Islamic world.
Hit or miss. Opinion is divided on whether U.S. military action would justify the risks. "You can't have confidence you could get everything, but you sure could have confidence you could get a lot of it," a high-ranking official, who considers pre-emption an eventual possibility, said in an interview. "It's not the case militarily that you have to get everything to really set their program back." But other officials say U.S. intelligence has not located all of Iran's nuclear facilities--and they concede that strikes would do little to expunge Iran's nuclear know-how and could instead inspire the Islamic Republic to launch a crash program to develop nuclear weapons as quickly as possible. "It would be very difficult to delay them more than a year or two," says a skeptical senior adviser. "Can we do it again and again? The military option is poor. I just don't see the use of military power here."
Even so, the political dynamic in Washington is making a confrontation with Iran more likely. Sentiment in Congress has been building to pass an "Iran Liberation Act," making regime change in Tehran official U.S. policy. One reason: Iranian interference in Iraq. "As we get bogged down in Iraq, it increases the temptation to look for others to blame," says one official. "The Iranians do have a hand in it, no doubt. . . . You put all this on a scale, and it begins to tip the balance in the direction of pre-emptive military strikes."
That scenario--as well as the specter of Iranian nukes and long-range missiles--is what is driving the EU-3's diplomatic bid. The U.S. decision to shun the talks reflects the view of administration hawks that the EU is rewarding cheating by renegotiating a year-old deal that Iran has already broken.
That keeps European officials guessing about the U.S. reaction to a prospective deal. They have no doubt, however, about the views of one key administration hawk, John Bolton, the U.S. under secretary of state for arms control and international security. At an October 15 meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized nations at the State Department, says a European diplomat, Bolton was "arrogant and dismissive" of the EU-3's plan as doomed to fail, but he indicated that his boss, Powell, felt it was all right to try. Another diplomat recalled Bolton's reading from a U.S. policy paper in stiff, "Stalin-like" fashion. The Europeans nevertheless say they will persist. "We have been assured by more senior people in the U.S. government," says a key EU-3 diplomat, that disparaging the diplomatic push "is not their intention." He adds: "Any chance of squeezing a deal out of Iran is immensely preferable to the road of confrontation." Bolton declined to comment for this story.
"A sense of confidence." The diplomatic road, however, is also a bumpy one. At the IAEA, some countries fear providing Washington a pretext for military action. What's more, developing countries like Brazil and South Africa support Iran's right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium for peaceful energy and research activities, provided it does so under international safeguards. Even if the IAEA board agreed to refer the issue to the Security Council, China and Russia, which is helping Iran build a nuclear reactor at Bushehr, oppose slapping commercial sanctions on Iran. That obstacle has spawned European talk of an ad hoc coalition for punishing Iran if it opts to build weapons. The group might include the EU-3, Japan, the United States, and other countries. But with high oil prices and rising demand, there is little chance of instituting an embargo where it would really hurt: on Iranian oil.
For Iran, pursuing nukes would mean abandoning the nonproliferation treaty--as North Korea did--and losing needed European and probably Russian help with nuclear technology. It could also kick off an arms race as neighbors like Saudi Arabia and Egypt respond. And it could trigger dissent from moderates in Iran who want the country to make nuclear energy but not bombs.
Rather, many analysts believe Iran intends to hone its nuclear technologies and prepare the precursor materials required to make bombs quickly--if it decides to. Tehran may regard U.S. troubles in Iraq as blocking the Bush administration from taking on another foe in the neighborhood. Flush with petrodollars and backed by a public that sees joining the nuclear club as a point of national pride, Iranian officials have been preparing to face U.N. Security Council censure. Says Tehran University political scientist Hadi Semati, now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "They feel they can absorb the pressure. There's a sense of confidence."
At the same time, the presence of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has stoked Iran's fears of encirclement. Inside Iran, some analysts portray a nuclear capability as a deterrent to U.S. intervention--and a reflection of Iran's rightful great-power status in the region. "If you're sitting in Tehran and hearing the administration and the neoconservatives and the Congress on regime change," says Shaul Bakhash, an Iran expert at George Mason University, "it is a real fear."
IAEA examiners have not uncovered evidence that Iran obtained blueprints for a bomb from the nuclear supply network run by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan--or is working on its own design. But Iran's record of denial and concealment over 18 years, as described in six IAEA reports, has deepened suspicions about its aims. "We have no illusions," says a European envoy. And recent developments have intensified the worries. Iran announced that it would resume manufacturing and assembling centrifuges and that it had converted tons of "yellowcake" uranium into uranium hexafluoride gas--the feedstock for centrifuges, which spin the gas at high speeds to enrich it to yield fuel for nuclear reactors or bombs. Iran has also tried to hire away Iraqi nuclear scientists with unknown success, U.S. officials say.
Iran's black-market efforts to buy nuclear parts also continue. U.S. News has learned that Iranian-linked trading companies last year attempted to acquire specialized components for the "cascade" of connected centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Iranian representatives have said it was necessary to make clandestine purchases--albeit for peaceful nuclear technology--to evade foreign efforts to thwart them.
Further, says David Albright, a leading proliferation expert and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, Iran has so far refused requests by IAEA investigators to enter a munitions production and storage facility at Parchin, as well as other military sites, on the grounds that they are not nuclear facilities covered by the nonproliferation treaty. Some analysts consider Parchin a probable home for testing the high-explosive charges that can trigger a nuclear detonation. A knowledgeable western diplomat in Vienna tells U.S. News that the agency is conducting sensitive discussions with Iran to get access to Parchin and other sites. Few are confident that even a favorable response from Tehran to that--and other demands--would halt the slide toward crisis.
In the summer of last year, Iranian intelligence agents in Tehran began planning something quite spectacular for September 11, the two-year anniversary of al Qaeda's attack on the United States, according to a classified American intelligence report. Iranian agents disbursed $20,000 to a team of assassins, the report said, to kill Paul Bremer, then the top U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq. The information was specific: The team, said a well-placed source quoted in the intelligence document, would use a Toyota Corona taxi and a second car, driven by suicide bombers, to take out Bremer and destroy two hotels in downtown Baghdad. The source even named one of the planners, Himin Bani Shari, a high-ranking member of the Ansar al-Islam terrorist group and a known associate of Iranian intelligence agents.
The alleged plan was never carried out. But American officials regarded Iran's reported role, and its ability to make trouble in Iraq, as deadly serious. Iran, said a separate report, issued in November 2003 by American military analysts, "will use and support proxy groups" such as Ansar al-Islam "to conduct attacks in Iraq in an attempt to further destablize the country." An assessment by the U.S. Army's V Corps, which then directed all Army activity in Iraq, agreed: "Iranian intelligence continues to prod and facilitate the infiltration of Iraq with their subversive elements while providing them support once they are in country."
With the Pentagon's stepped-up efforts to break the back of the insurgency before Iraq's scheduled elections in late January, Iran's efforts to destabilize Iraq have received little public attention. But a review of thousands of pages of intelligence reports by U.S. News reveals the critical role Iran has played in aiding some elements of the anti-American insurgency after Baghdad fell--and raises important questions about whether Iran will continue to try to destabilize Iraq after elections are held. The classified intelligence reports, covering the period July 2003 through early 2004, were prepared by the CIA; the Defense Intelligence Agency; the Iraq Survey Group, the 1,400-person outfit President Bush sent to Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction; the Coalition Provisional Authority; and various military commands and units in the field, including the V Corps and the Pentagon's Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force. The reports are based on information gathered from Iraqis, Iranian dissidents, and other sources inside Iraq. U.S. News also reviewed British intelligence assessments of the postwar phase in Iraq.
$500 a soldier. Many of the reports are uncorroborated and are considered "raw" intelligence of the type seldom seen by those outside the national security community. But the picture that emerges from the sheer volume of the reports, and as a result of the multiplicity of sources from which they were generated, leaves little doubt about the depth of Iran's involvement in supporting elements of the insurgency and in positioning itself to move quickly in Iraq if it believes a change in circumstances there dictates such action. "Iran," wrote an analyst with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations on Dec. 5, 2003, "poses the greatest long-term threat to U.S. efforts in Iraq." An analyst at the V Corps summarized matters this way: "Iranian intelligence agents are conducting operations in every major city with a significant Shia population. The counterintelligence threat from Iran is assessed to be high, as locally employed people, former military officers, politicians, and young men are recruited, hired, and trained by Iranian intelligence to collect [intelligence] on coalition forces."
Even as Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority and the U.S.-led military were pressing last year to consolidate their grip on Iraq, the intelligence reports indicate, the seeds of the insurgency were growing, in some cases with funding and direction from Iranian government factions. "Iranian intelligence will not conduct attacks on CF [coalition forces] that can be directly linked to Iran," wrote a senior Army analyst, "but will provide lethal aid to subversive elements within Iraq . . . in the form of weapons, safe houses, or money." In an interview, David Kay, the former chief weapons inspector for the Iraq Survey Group, said he believes that factions within the Iranian government have been plotting with and funding some insurgency groups. "I think we are in an intelligence war with Iran," Kay said. "There are Iranian intelligence agents all over the country [Iraq]." Another former American official, Michael Rubin, who worked for the Pentagon and the Coalition Provisional Authority, agrees. "Iran feels it should be the predominant power in the region," Rubin said. "With the U.S. out of there, they [will] have no real competition."
The intelligence reports reviewed by U.S. News appear to support those assessments. Examples:
Iran set up a massive intelligence network in Iraq, flooding the country with agents in the months after the U.S.-led coalition toppled Saddam Hussein's regime. Sources told American intelligence analysts that Iranian agents were tasked with finding information on U.S. military plans and identifying Iraqis who would be willing to conduct attacks on U.S. forces that would not be linked to Iran.
Iranian intelligence agents were said to have planned attacks against the U.S.-led forces and supported terrorist groups with weapons. Iranian agents smuggled weapons and ammunition across the border into Iraq and distributed them "to individuals who wanted to attack coalition forces," according to one report, citing "a source with good access." Separately, an Iraq Survey Group report said that Iranian agents "placed a bounty" of $500 for each American soldier killed by insurgents and more for destruction of tanks and heavy weaponry.
Iran trained terrorists and provided them with safe havens and passage across the border into Iraq, several of the reports say. The Iranian-supported Ansar al-Islam began carrying out bombings and other attacks against coalition forces and Iraqi citizens in the summer of 2003. One report, describing an interview with a source, said: "There were approximately 320 Ansar al-Islam terrorists being trained in Iran . . . for various attack scenarios including suicide bombings, assassinations, and general subversion against U.S. forces in Iraq." The reports linked Ansar al-Islam to al Qaeda and to Abu Musab Zarqawi, the most wanted terrorist in Iraq. "Among the more capable terrorist groups operating in Iraq," an analyst wrote in another report, "are al Qaeda, the al Zarqawi network, as well as Ansar al-Islam."
Iran has been a principal supporter of Moqtada al-Sadr, a radical Shiite cleric whose black-clad Mahdi Army fighters have clashed often with U.S.-led forces. Months before the worst of the insurgency in southern Iraq began last April, U.S. intelligence officials tracked reported movements of Iranian money and arms to forces loyal to Sadr. According to a V Corps report written in September 2003, "There has been an increase of Iranian intelligence officers entering" Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Basra, and Amarah. Sadr's fighters later engaged in fierce battles with coalition forces in each of those cities.
"Double game." Iran's permanent mission to the United Nations in New York did not respond to repeated requests for comment from U.S. News . In a sermon given last April, Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a leading political figure in Iran, said that Americans were "a very effective target" but that Iran "does not wish to get involved in acts of adventurism." Separately, in New York last September, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi denied that his country had funded or armed Sadr's Mahdi Army.
U.S. government officials, questioned about the intelligence reports reviewed by U.S. News , say the evidence of Iran's destabilization efforts in Iraq is persuasive. "We certainly do have a lot of evidence of Iranian mischief making," a senior Pentagon official said in an interview, "and attempts [at] building subversive influence. I would never underestimate the Iranian problem. . . . Iran is a menace in a basic sense."
Looking at the overall problem in Iraq, however, the official identifies Sunni Muslim extremists as the "hard core" of the insurgency. They include former supporters of Saddam and some foreign fighters--most prominently Zarqawi, whose network has claimed responsibility for some of Iraq's bloodiest bombings and the beheading of American Nicholas Berg and other western captives. Some terrorists, the official noted pointedly, are also using Syria as an outpost and safe haven.
More than a year ago, the Defense Intelligence Agency reached similar conclusions in a secret analysis headlined "Iraq: Who Are We Fighting?" The analysis cited foreign jihadists as "potentially" the most "threatening." An analyst with the Iraq Survey Group concluded that "[a]s time passes and more and more terrorists and foreign fighters come into Iraq, the situation will become more dangerous because you will get a more experienced enemy, with more training, resources, and experience."
Iran has obvious interests in Iraq. In the 1980s, Iran and Iraq fought a brutal eight-year war that claimed more than a million casualties. Despite the hostilities, the Shiite communities of both countries have deep ties. Shiites compose the majority of the population in both Iran and Iraq, accounting for 60 percent of the latter's 25.4 million people. Iraq is home to some of Shiite Islam's most important holy sites, and thousands of Iranians have taken advantage of newly opened borders to visit them. During Saddam's three decades of repression, Iran provided support and refuge for many of Iraq's Shiite religious leaders. Patrick Clawson, a leading expert on Iraq and Iran at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says it is not surprising that Iran is heavily involved in Iraq. "It only makes sense that the government of Iran would want to have a network of contacts with the insurgents, develop friends, develop intelligence sources, provide them information about American assets and capabilities," he said in an interview. " . . . It is in their national interest." At the same time, Clawson says, Iran is playing "a double game"--stirring up trouble in Iraq while publicly professing support for Iraqi elections.
Understanding Iran's precise motives in Iraq is no simple matter. Ahmed Hashim, a professor of strategic studies at the U.S. Naval War College, says that the Islamic regime in Tehran does not always speak with one voice. "I think Iran has its hand in a lot of what's going on [in Iraq], but we shouldn't assume the government is unified," he says. "When you look at the Iranian system of government, if you say Iran, it could actually be the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the [charitable] foundations, or various agencies of the government. They act almost independently." Another Iran expert, Kenneth Pollack, who served in the Clinton White House as director of Persian Gulf affairs on the National Security Council staff, believes Iran does not want chaos in Iraq. "The Iranian leaders are terrified of chaos in Iraq," he says, "and the spillover" aspect. Iran, Pollack adds, wants a stable, "independent" government headed by Shiites.
Whatever its objectives in Iraq, Iran has a well-documented history of supporting terrorist groups. For years, the State Department has identified Iran as the world's pre-eminent state sponsor of terrorism. American officials say the regime has provided funding, safe havens, training, and weapons to several terrorist groups, including Lebanon-based Hezbollah. The commission investigating the 9/11 attacks said in its final report that al Qaeda has long-standing ties to Iran and Hezbollah. Iran favors spectacular attacks, officials say, citing its alleged role in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that claimed the lives of 19 U.S. servicemen. Six of the Hezbollah terrorists indicted in the attack "directly implicated" senior Iranian government officials "in the planning and execution of this attack," former FBI Director Louis Freeh wrote last year.
A wolf's claws. Freeh named two Iranian government agencies, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, or MOIS, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite fighting unit and enforcer for the clerical regime. As the insurgency developed in Iraq, both played central roles in planning and funding some of the attacks on coalition forces, according to the intelligence reports reviewed by U.S. News. Early on, MOIS and the revolutionary guard corps were tasked with the job of creating instability in Iraq, the reports say. In some cases, Iran's agents allegedly worked with former Saddam loyalists, an odd marriage but one that shared a common goal: to drive U.S. forces out of Iraq. The reports detail how Iranian agents sought to recruit former regime loyalists and how one former Iraqi Intelligence Service officer, who had close ties to Saddam's late son, Uday, reportedly set up a front company for Iranian intelligence operations in Baghdad.
Only weeks after Saddam was ousted, in April 2003, Iran publicly signaled support for violence against the coalition. In a sermon on May 2, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, secretary general of Iran's powerful Council of Guardians, called on Iraqis to stage suicide attacks to drive U.S.-led forces from Iran. The Iraqi people, he said, "have no other choice but to rise up and stage martyrdom operations. . . . The Iraqi people were released from the claws of one wolf and have been caught by another wolf." Two months later, U.S. News has learned, coalition forces uncovered a document describing a fatwa , or religious edict, that had reportedly been issued in Iran for its Shiite supporters in Iraq. The fatwa urged "holy fighters" in Iraq to get close to the enemy--the U.S.-led troops. These fighters, the fatwa said, should "maintain good relations with the coalition forces" but at the same time create "a secret group that would conduct attacks against American troops." U.S. analysts could not confirm that the ruling was issued by Iranian clerics, but they believe it was credible. Wrote one analyst: "It seems that they [the Iranians] want them [Iraqi Shiite supporters] to be close to the coalition forces and outwardly respect them so that they can gather intelligence that will assist them in their mission."
Before long, Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security stepped up its intelligence operations in Iraq, many of the intelligence reports suggest. Agents set up "significant" intelligence cells in key Iraqi cities, several reports said, including Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Kut, Basra, and Kirkuk. MOIS agents also set up a "listening post" in a city in southeastern Iraq to monitor the activities of U.S. forces. In southern Iraq, 10 Iranian agents reportedly began operating out of two rooms at a Shiite mosque. Iran, according to the reports, also sought to place spies within Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority, then running Iraq's affairs, and they followed and photographed coalition forces. Four Iranians, believed to be MOIS agents, were detained in late July 2003 for photographing a hydropower plant near the central city of Samarra. Power plants became a frequent target of insurgents. In one case, U.S. intelligence officials learned that a MOIS agent, a man named Muhammad Farhaadi, videotaped coalition operations in Karbala, a city south of Baghdad, then took the tape back to Iran.
During the summer and fall of 2003, U.S. analysts' reports describe how MOIS and its operatives sought to develop information from Shiites in the south and from Sunnis in the north on the activities of U.S.-led forces. In the fall of 2003, an analyst for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations wrote: "Iranian intelligence has infiltrated all areas of Iraq, posing both a tactical and strategic threat to U.S. interests."
Bribes and border crossings. MOIS also sought to cultivate former Iraqi intelligence officers who might help develop intelligence on the plans and activities of the Coalition Provisional Authority and U.S.-led forces, several reports said. "Former IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service] officers are highly sought-after targets by U.S. intelligence," said an October 2003 report issued by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, "not only for their current and former knowledge of Iraqi activities but also because many IIS officers will likely have a wealth of intelligence information on Iran. Iran knows this and will strive to recruit former IIS officers before the U.S. is able to do so. The environment is ripe for double-agent operations, and loyalties can never be certain."
The intelligence reports detail precisely what Iran was after. Its "collection priorities" included finding out what weapons U.S. troops were carrying and what kind of body armor they were wearing. Iranian agents also sought information on the location of U.S. Army and intelligence bases; on the routes traveled by U.S. convoys; on the operations of the Special Forces' elite Delta Force; and on the plans of the U.S. military and intelligence inside Iraq. A military report said a source had reported that the Iranians were pressing to find out whether the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, was active in Iraq. According to the report, MOIS directed its agents "to collect information on the Israeli intelligence presence in northern Iraq." Iran's "primary objective in Iraq," wrote another analyst, citing a good source, "is to create instability so coalition forces will focus on controlling the unstable situation rather than concentrating on reconstruction efforts."
MOIS agents carried cash, reports said, to bribe Iraqi border police in order to obtain safe passage into Iraq. In reality, however, all the Iranians had to do was walk across the border at any number of crossing points, where they could blend in amid Iranians coming to Iraq to visit relatives, do business, and worship at Shiite shrines, according to the intelligence reports and several senior Army officers interviewed by U.S. News. "The borders were wide open," says one senior officer. "It suggests that terrorists could come over pretty easily. My God, there were busloads of Iranians crossing the border without interference." Another U.S. Army officer was so concerned that Iranian spies and Islamic jihadists were crossing into Iraq that he visited a border site in a mountainous region northeast of Baghdad last January. "I saw over 1,200 people come over [to Iraq] in an hour, and there were no [coalition] troops there," the officer recalls. "I did not see them armed, but then a lot of them came across in carts and some in vehicles and donkeys, and you wouldn't know. If only 1 percent of them were combatants," he adds, "you can see the problem."
Iranian agents had plenty of help waiting inside Iraq. Numerous intelligence reports say that members of a Shiite militia group in Iraq known as the Badr Corps aided Iran in moving agents, weapons, and other materiel into southern Iraq--sometimes under the cover of humanitarian organizations. The Badr Corps has served as the armed wing of one of the most popular Shiite political parties in southern Iraq, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI. The leaders of both SCIRI and the Badr Corps, which now calls itself the Badr Organization, have maintained close ties to Iran for about two decades. Iraqis associated with SCIRI and Badr opposed Saddam's regime and fled to Iran in the early 1980s, where their organizations were established. They began returning to Iraq in droves after U.S.-led troops invaded Iraq in March 2003, prompting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to warn the Badr Corps not to interfere in Iraq. Badr leaders say they have no hostile intentions toward U.S. forces, but their loyalties remain much in doubt. Just last month, Iraq's national intelligence chief, Mohammed al Shahwani, accused the Badr Organization of killing 10 of his agents on orders from Iranian leaders. Badr, which denied the charges, was said to have disarmed this past summer, as part of an agreement with the new Iraqi government that would allow its members to serve in the new Iraqi Civil Defense Force.
Yet Badr's historical ties to Iran, as described in U.S. and British intelligence reports, offer little in the way of reassurance. While saying that SCIRI and Badr have "made some attempts to emphasize independence from Iran," a British Defence Intelligence Staff report on "Armed Groups in Iraq," dated Nov. 21, 2003, says that the Badr Organization retains "strong links" to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps." The IRGC, the report says, "has funded, trained, and armed" the militia group, whose membership it estimated at between 18,000 and 20,000. The report says that some Badr members were unhappy with their leader, Abul Aziz al-Hakim, who commands both SCIRI and Badr, and had returned to Iran. At the time, the report says, Badr was "well equipped" with "small arms, mortars and RPG s [rocket-propelled grenades]," T-55 series tanks and a "variety of artillery and antiair pieces." Other intelligence reports say that an Iranian government agency--probably the IRGC--had provided Badr with global positioning systems to better target U.S.-led forces.
Some of the most important information on Iran has been provided by an Iranian exile group, the Mujaheddin-e-Khalq. The MEK fled Iran after the 1979 revolution and later relocated with Saddam's support to Iraq, where it continued to advocate the overthrow of the Iranian clerical regime. U.S. forces now are guarding its 3,800 members at Camp Ashraf, the MEK's sprawling compound northeast of Baghdad. Designated a terrorist organization by the State Department, the MEK nevertheless has provided American officials with significant intelligence on Iran's nuclear weapons programs. The MEK, wrote one Army analyst, is "quite proficient at intelligence collection." Other analysts said that the MEK also had provided valuable on-the-ground intelligence to Army Special Forces after the invasion of Iraq. "The SF guys claim the [MEK] are a valuable intel asset," wrote an Army sergeant who had met frequently with the MEK, "and are generally reliable." At the same time, an Army team wrote that it was important to be mindful that, given that its stated goal is to topple the government in Tehran, the MEK's reports "were designed to inform as well as influence American policy toward . . . the Iranian regime."
A red truck. Relying on its own agents inside Iran and other sources, the MEK has given Army personnel detailed reports on what it says have been Iran's efforts to destabilize Iraq. In its reports, some of which were reviewed by U.S. News, the MEK reported on the intelligence-collection methods of Iran's MOIS, arms shipments from Iran to Iraq, and the involvement in these operations of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps's so-called Qods Force, or "Jerusalem Force."
In December last year, MEK intelligence officers provided the Army with a detailed report and maps on what it called "a widespread network for transferring and distributing arms from Iran to Iraq" through the Ilam region in western Iran. The MEK said its sworn enemy, the Badr Organization, was involved in the network. According to the MEK's operatives, both Badr and the Iranian command staff were based in Iran at the border town of Mehran. "In order to control and manage the intelligence and terrorist activities in Iraq," a MEK intelligence officer wrote, "the Qods Force has recently moved part of its command staff from Tehran to the border city of Mehran." His report also identifed the areas in western, northwestern, and southern Iran where Qods Force commanders operated, along with the identities of more than a dozen commanders.
The MEK's reports contain detailed information on arms shipments. On Dec. 4, 2003, the MEK reported, Iranian agents moved 1,000 rocket-propelled grenades and seven boxes of TNT from western Iran to Iraqi resistance groups. A week later, Iran's Qods Force moved "a number of Mirage submachine guns" into Iraq in a "truck loaded with cement bags under which the arms were hidden," according to another report. Later that month, the MEK said, an Iraqi working for Iran drove a red fruit truck--a "cover for a consignment of arms," including RPG s, mortars, and Kalashnikov rifles--across the border into Iraq.
The dissident Iranian group also provided American intelligence officers with information on how Hezbollah was aiding Iran in gathering intelligence in Iraq. Hezbollah, a bitter enemy of Israel with close ties to Iran and Syria, collected information on American and British troops, photographed them, then sent the information to Qods Force commanders in Iran, according to MEK intelligence reports.
Intelligence officers for the MEK also said they had learned that Hezbollah had some 800 operatives in Iraq as of last January, including assassination teams. "The teams assassinate their opponents," a MEK intelligence officer reported, "and carry out sabotage operations." The MEK claimed that Hezbollah had assassinated an Iraqi man who had provided information to coalition forces.
Other sources provided similar information, including Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. Mossad warned U.S. intelligence officials in October 2003 that Hezbollah planned to set up a resistance movement that would cause mass casualties, according to a report prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency's Joint Intelligence Task Force--Combating Terrorism. Iran, the report said, was calling the shots. "Should such mass casualty attacks be considered," the task force wrote, "they [Hezbollah] must first receive approval from Iran." The Iranians "do not want the U.S. and the coalition to focus attention on Iranian support for terrorist networks or other anti-coalition activities they're involved with," said a report by an analyst for a U.S. Central Command support team in Iraq. "Iran is also trying to ensure it has a great deal of influence in Iraq, and one way of doing that is to supply weapons to anti-coalition groups."
Iranian agencies put the intelligence they gathered to practical use, planning, funding, and training attackers, according to many of the intelligence reports reviewed by U.S. News. In November of last year, the Iraq Survey Group received information that Iran had formed small groups of fighters to conduct attacks in cities across Iraq. "Iran had reportedly placed a bounty on U.S. forces of U.S. $2,000 for each helicopter shot down, $1,000 for each tank destroyed, and $500 for each U.S. military personnel killed," the Iraq Survey Group reported. Iranian agents were also suspected in the assassination of at least two prominent Iraqis. In the fall of 2003, there were two reported plots against Bremer, the Coalition Provisional Authority administrator. The Iraq Survey Group, citing a source who "has provided reliable information in the past," said a senior Iranian cleric in Tehran set up a special 100-member army, known as al Saqar, which means eagle in Arabic, to assassinate Bremer and carry out other terrorist attacks. The Eagle Army, the Iraqi Survey Group was told, had trained for 30 days at an Iranian terrorist camp. This alleged plot and others reportedly planned against Bremer came to nothing. There were many reported plots against Bremer during his one-year tenure in Baghdad, and throughout his time there he was provided with blanket security. He declined to be interviewed for this story.
Mastermind. Jihadists saw Iraq as an opportunity. In a report quoting a source who was not otherwise characterized, a U.S. Special Operations task force wrote that "the Lebanese Hizballah leadership believes that the struggle in Iraq is the new battleground in the fight against the U.S." In fact, other analysts wrote, Hezbollah and Ansar al-Islam were among the most active groups in Iraq, although al Qaeda operatives also were believed to be operating there soon after the invasion.
Ansar al-Islam is a small group of Arabs and Iraqi Kurds that is believed to have figured in some of the most violent attacks in Iraq. American and British intelligence, the reports show, concluded that Ansar al-Islam was working closely with Iran, and also al Qaeda, in its terrorist attacks against coalition forces. Military intelligence reports suggested that the group was believed to be linked to two horrific bombings in Baghdad last year--the attack on the Jordanian Embassy on August 7, in which 17 people were killed, and the August 19 bombing that devastated the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. That attack killed 22 people, including U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. Intelligence reporting indicated that the mastermind of the U.N. attack was Zarqawi, the terrorist who has continued to bedevil coalition forces, and that al Qaeda operatives also played a role. A "reliable source with good access" said that Zarqawi had coordinated his plans for attacks in Iraq with Ansar al-Islam's top leader, Abu Abdullah al-Shafii. The reports did not link Iran directly to either the U.N. attack or the Jordanian bombing. But one British defense report noted pointedly: "Some elements [of Ansar al-Islam] remain in Iran. Intelligence indicates that elements" of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps "are providing safe haven and basic training to Iran-based AI [Ansar al-Islam] cadres."
Funneling money. A separate report from the British Secret Intelligence Service, quoting a source who "has proved fairly reliable," said that Iranian government agencies were also secretly helping Ansar al-Islam members cross into Iraq from Iran, as part of a plan to mount sniper attacks against coalition forces. There were also multiple American intelligence reports identifying Iran as a chief supporter of Ansar al-Islam. U.S. intelligence received information that an Iranian was aiding Ansar al-Islam "on how to build and set up" improvised explosive devices, known as IED s. An analyst for the U.S. Central Command offered this assessment: "AI [Ansar al-Islam] is actively attempting to improve IED effectiveness and sophistication."
As might be expected, given the volume of the intelligence reports reviewed by U.S. News , some of the information was contradictory. In some cases, Hezbollah, for instance, was said to be planning direct attacks against coalition forces. In others, it was said to be working only behind the scenes in fomenting violence in Iraq.
Perhaps Iran's most significant involvement in Iraq has been its support for Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical, anti-U.S. cleric. His Mahdi Army militia engaged in a series of vicious battles with coalition forces in the holy southern Shiite cities of Najaf and Karbala, and in the teeming Baghdad slum known as Sadr City, between April and October this year. Like most of its operations in Iraq, the intelligence reports indicate that the Iranian regime has tried to mask its support of Sadr. He visited Tehran in June 2003 for a ceremony marking the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of the 1979 revolution, but it is not known whether he received any commitment from Iran at that time. U.S. intelligence reports say that Iran used Hezbollah to train and provide funds to Sadr's Mahdi Army and may also have used front companies to funnel money to him. For a time, the reports suggest, Sadr appeared to be getting funds from a senior Shiite religious leader living in Iran, the Grand Ayatollah Kazem al-Haeri, who advocates an Islamic state in Iraq. But by mid-October 2003, according to a special operations task force, Haeri withdrew his "financial support" from Sadr. The ayatollah later publicly cut his ties with Sadr.
There was no such break with Hezbollah. The first sign that the terrorist group planned to support Sadr is reflected in a July 29, 2003, U.S. intelligence report. Citing Israeli military intelligence, the report says Hezbollah "military activists" were attempting to establish contacts with Sadr and his Mahdi Army. The next month they did. By late August, according to a report prepared by a U.S. military analyst, Hezbollah had established "a team of30 to 40 operatives" in Najaf "in support of Moqtada Sadr's Shia paramiltary group." The report, based on a source "with direct access to the reported information," said that Hezbollah was recruiting and training members of Sadr's militia. A later report, citing "multiple sources," said that Hezbollah was "buying rocket-propelled grenades . . . antitank missiles" and other weapons for Sadr's militia.
Intelligence analysts also tied Sadr to Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah. "Reporting also confirms the relationship between . . . Sadr and Hassan Nasrallah," an Army report said. The report cited unconfirmed information indicating that a top adviser to Nasrallah, who is based in Lebanon, had delivered funds to Sadr in Najaf.
Other reporting indicated that the Mahdi Army may have received support from former Saddam supporters and other anticoalition groups. Intelligence analysts were aware, as early as the fall of 2003, that Sadr could become a serious problem. At that time, there had been no confirmed attacks on coalition forces, only Sadr's tough rhetoric, in which he denounced the United States and called the Iraqi Governing Council illegal. But, as a British defense intelligence report said, "stockpiling of heavier weapons, along with public anti-CF [Coalition Force] rhetoric, could indicate a willingness to take more direct action against CF."
"The honeymoon is over." Direct action was precisely what Sadr took, after Bremer ordered his Baghdad newspaper shut down, in March this year, accusing it of "inciting violence" against U.S.-led forces. Days later, after American soldiers arrested a Sadr aide, fierce fighting erupted between U.S. troops and Sadr's forces. In August, Sadr's Mahdi Army surrendered the Imam Ali Shrine in Najaf, and last month he reached a cease-fire with the United States and Iraq's interim government. Sadr's fighters began turning in their weapons, as part of an agreement to disband, and Sadr signaled his intention to get involved in the political process. He remains influential with many Shiites, and American officials know that, if the Iraqi venture is to succeed, they must do everything they can to keep the majority Shiites happy. "Beware if we lose the goodwill of the Shi'ites. The honeymoon is over," an Army captain wrote in October 2003, months before the battles with Sadr's forces began. "Arresting Sadr, the son of a martyr, will only fuel Shiite extremists' animosity, and strengthen their recruiting efforts."
Managing the Sadr situation, some government and intelligence officials say, is a microcosm of the far more difficult challenges America faces in responding to Iran's activities in Iraq. Iran clearly has the potential to stir up far more trouble than it has, particularly in the largely Shiite southern half of Iraq. But so far, as it continues its elaborate dance with the West over its ambitious nuclear program, the Islamic regime has yet to turn the heat up full blast in Iraq, evidently secure in the knowledge that it can do so when and if it sees the need to. "I would not put it past them to carry out spectacular attacks," says David Kay, the former chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, "to demonstrate the cost of a hostile policy. That is the policy issue--can we learn to live with Iranian nuclear capacity?"