September 28th, 2006 15:48 EST
Defense Department Outlines Links Between Iraq, Iran
Washington—The deputy chief of staff of intelligence for multinational forces in Iraq says the coalition continues its effort to block foreign influence—including that of neighboring Iran.
Army Major General Richard Zahner told reporters at the Combined Press Information Center in Baghdad, Iraq, September 27 that, as part of the coalition’s strategy for success in Iraq, “we’re having to block Shiite extremists from linking with Iran.”
Zahner also outlined his understanding of Iran’s strategy regarding Iraq. He said Iran is promoting a stable Iraq, but one in which Iran is a dominant force and there is no western counterbalance to Tehran’s influence.
Zahner said this is why Iran is so keen to hire, rent or control surrogates—such as the Shiite Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) militia and its affiliates. The Jaish al-Mahdi members started out as loyalists to religious cleric Muqtada as-Sadr but, as he has placed restraints on their actions, many have broken off and are operating as freelance militants.
“And, thus,” Zahner said of Iran, “you see them enabling all comers, not just rogue JAM; they’ll take anybody.”
Iran is tactically smart, the official said, because it would not send Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps across the border to carry out military operations, but those forces will work with any number of useful surrogates.
Iran has sought to create links to well-established groups and those with less clear lines of authority, Zahner said, because Iran knows—as the dominant regional power—it only has a small window of opportunity to exert influence in Iraq.
He pointed to the southern Iraqi city of Basra as an example of a place where some of the violence “has been basically enhanced by Iran.” But even while Iran is exerting its influence, Zahner said, the Iranians do not want violence to spiral out of control, “because it’s not in their best interest to have a destabilized Iraq” since an Arab challenge to Iran from the south and a Kurdish challenge from the north “pose significant challenges to Iranian internal stability.”
IRAN HAS SENT MILLIONS OF DOLLARS AND WEAPONS TO IRAQ IN 2006
Since the Iranians are not sure which ethnic or sectarian faction will emerge as the most powerful political force in Iraq, Zahner said, “basically they fund everybody.” Asked to estimate how much money Iran has given to JAM in 2006, he said it ranges “in the millions of dollars.”
JAM has picked up small arms and shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles from Iran, the intelligence officer said. He also said Iran has been providing some military-grade explosives to its surrogates, including explosively formed penetrators (EPFs) that are uniquely identified as Iranian because they have been produced with “the fingerprint of copper plate being formed in a machine shop” and have identifiable factory marking numbers. EPFs are explosives designed to penetrate thick armor, such as tanks.
Zahner went on to say that military-grade explosives in Iran are “controlled through the state apparatus,” and therefore the distribution of such weaponry in Iraq represents “a deliberate decision on the part of elements associated with the Iranian government.”
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)