A sea change is beginning
to occur in Iraq: for the first time since the insurgency took off,
the terrorists are starting to run.
This is occurring not because the United States has successfully promoted political dialogue among Iraq’s torn communities, although a successful dialogue is certainly to be desired.
It is occurring not because the United States has given in to the recommendations of the Baker-Hamilton commission and others, who have suggested a policy of unilateral capitulation to the terror-masters pulling the strings of the insurgency in Damascus and Tehran.
Nor is it occurring because we have suddenly become better at winning “hearts and minds” in Iraq, although such an effort, as described by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, would appear to be sound counter-insurgent policy.
The terrorists are on the run for one reason only: they fear the United States.
“In Tehran, they are now referring to the United States as mar-rouye domesh vastadeh – the Cobra standing on his tail,” says Shahriar Ahy, an Iranian-born political analyst who helped build the post-war broadcasting network in Iraq.
The sea-change began on January 10, when President George W. Bush announced that the United States would no longer tolerate Iranian and Syrian intelligence officers using Iraq as a playground for their murderous games.
When he announced the troop surge in Iraq, Bush also put Iran and Syria on notice. “Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops,” he said. “We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”
Those weren’t idle words. That very night, U.S. forces raided an Iranian intelligence headquarters in the Kurdish town of Irbil, capturing six Iranians. The Iranian government screamed that they were diplomats, but apparently only one had any sort of diplomatic credentials. My sources tell me this was Hassan Abbassi, a well-known strategist who is close to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The other five turned out to be Revolutionary Guards officers. My sources identified three of them by name, and told me they were providing a treasure trove of intelligence to their U.S. interrogators (who appear to be receiving help from an intelligence expert from the opposition Mujahedin-e Khalq).
“They are key people in the Sepah Quds,” the overseas terrorist arm of the Revolutionary Guards, a former Iranian intelligence officer told me.
Iranian exiles and Kurdish sources identified another captive as Brig. Gen. Mohammad Djafari Sahraroudi, a Kurdish affairs expert who is wanted by Interpol for his involvement in the 1989 murder in Vienna of Iranian Kurdish dissident Abdulrahman Qassemlou.
Also among those detained was Mohammad Jaafari, an aid to National Security advisor Ali Larijani, the sources said.
The raid in Irbil was in fact the second U.S. backed raid that captured senior Iranian revolutionary guards officials recently. Shortly before Christmas, coalition forces raided the headquarters of Shiite political leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, just three weeks after he was in the Oval Office meeting with President Bush.
During that raid, they captured documents which American Enterprise Institute scholar Michael Ledeen called “a wiring diagram” of Iran’s terror networks in Iraq.
Iran is believed to be operating a number of intelligence offices in Iraq similar to the one in Irbil, to plan terrorist attacks against U.S. forces and supply money and equipment to insurgents.
“The mullah infiltration of Iraq is far more extensive than the U.S. has thought,” said Iranian exile Sardar Haddad. “They have infiltrated every single ministry, especially the defense and interior ministries, not just with one or two people, but massively.”
Referring to the Irbil incident, “It’s not five Iranian agents, but 5,000,” he added.
The U.S. is also investigating Iran’s alleged involvement in the kidnapping and murder of five U.S. soldiers near Karbala on January 20, and reportedly has detained two high-ranking Iraqi generals suspected of collaborating with the attackers.
I am told that those interrogations have turned up astonishing information, including documents sent by the Iranian regime to Prime Minister Nouri Al-Malaki, offering to “welcome” an extended visit to Iran by Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and top members of his Jaish-al Mahdi militia.
According to one source, the generals revealed the names of nearly a dozen top Iraqi politicians who were on the payroll of the Iranian government, including a Shiite member of parliament convicted and sentenced to death in Kuwait for his involvement in the 1983 bombings of the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait city.
Jamal Jafaar Mohammed is said to have fled to Iran in recent days, fearing U.S. forces would arrest him and send him to Kuwait. He was elected to parliament in 2005 as a member of Prime Minister al-Malaki’s Dawa party.
Yesterday, U.S. forces arrested deputy health minister Hakim Zamili, accused of helping Shiite militiamen to infiltrate his ministry. He was also accused of funelling money to Shiite death squads loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr.
The U.S. Cobra is finally standing on its tail. This strategy is clearly working.
In Tehran, shortly after the January 10 speech by President Bush, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei set up two commissions, terrified that the policies of President Ahmadinejad were taking his regime to defeat.
A domestic policy review board is examining Ahmadinejad’s dismal handling of the economy, which has led to increased unemployment and runaway inflation.
A national security and intelligence review board led by Khamenei’s son Mojtaba and his chief of staff, Akbar Hejazi, is looking at Iran’s nuclear face-off with the international community and its aggressive posture in Iraq.
According to Iranian exiles who have been following these events closely, a rift has developed between Ahmadinejad and senior Revolutionary Guards “professionals,” who believe the President’s overheated rhetoric and behavior is endangering the survival of the regime.
“It’s not that these professionals want to make peace with America and sing Kumbaya with the opposition,” said Shahriar Ahy. “Rather, they feel that Ahmadinejad has brought in undisciplined amateurs who are riding roughshod” over their agencies and “destroying all the work” the professionals have accomplished over the past twenty years.
Tehran’s reaction to the more forceful U.S. policy in Iraq gives the lie to the U.S. politicians and analysts who have been arguing that the United States must talk to Tehran.
In fact, it shows they were completely wrong.
Council on Foreign Relations Iran “expert” Ray Takeyh, Washington Post reporter Robin Wright, and pro-regime lobbyist Housang Amirahmadi have been saying for years that pressure on the regime in Tehran will be counterproductive, because it will unite the people behind the regime.
“They have even argued against using coercive diplomacy,” says Iran analyst Hassan Daioleslam.
But Daioleslam and others believe recent events have shown just the contrary. When the U.S. squeezes the Tehran regime, they retreat.
“Coercive measures work against Iran. They worked in 1988 at the end of the war with Iraq, and they worked again in 1996 when Europe and the United States took a hard stance against Iran. The hard-liners only got strong when the West was soft with them,” he says.
A strong faction has emerged in Congress arguing for the United States to “go soft” toward Iran once again. Among the best known advocates of this policy are Sen. Joe Biden, Sen. John Kerry, Sen. Hillary Clinton, and Sen. Chuck Hagel.
But Daioleslam says the “pro-Iranians are wrong because they base their policy on two false assumptions: first, that the people of Iran support the regime. Second, that the factions are united. Both assumptions are just plain wrong as any reader who opens an Iranian newspaper can see immediately.”
The Tehran regime understands the stakes in Iraq very well.
Former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, now a top advisor to the Supreme Leader, told the Iranian Student News Agency in August 2004: “What is happening in Iraq today will affect the whole region. If the Iraqi people resist and finally force the invaders to leave Iraq, that could become a model for the entire world because the Moslems will see that they could defeat the aggressors.”
Conversely, he argued, an American victory in Iraq could be fatal to the Islamic regime in Tehran.
As the insurgency deepened last year, Iranian Majles member Mojtaba Nia noted, “Every car exploded in Iraq will delay a month the American plot against us.”
Now we need to squeeze harder. It’s time for the U.S. Cobra to strike at the heart of the Iranian terror networks in Iraq, and shut down their supply lines once and for all.
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