Saturday, August 14, 2004

Iran Fighting Proxy War Against U.S. Through Iraqi Shiites, Hizballah -- 08/13/2004

Iran Fighting Proxy War Against U.S. Through Iraqi Shiites, Hizballah -- 08/13/2004: "Iran Fighting Proxy War Against U.S. Through Iraqi Shiites, Hizballah
By Julie Stahl
CNSNews.com Jerusalem Bureau Chief
August 13, 2004

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Iran is using the Hizballah and Iraqi Shiites linked to Muqtada al-Sadr to fight a proxy war against the U.S. in order to strike back against American efforts to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

Iraqi Shiite militia under the command of Iranian-backed militant al-Sadr launched a major rebellion in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf nine days ago.

On Friday, the city, which contains important Shiite Muslim sites, was reported quieter after American forces suspended a massive air and ground offensive announced a day earlier against al-Sadr's followers as Iraqi officials and the Shiite cleric's aides negotiated to put an end to the fighting in Najaf, amidst conflicting reports that al-Sadr himself had been wounded.

Iraqi officials have been blaming Iran for stirring up trouble in Najaf. Several Iranians were detained or arrested recently in Iraq including a diplomat who was accused of "stirring up sectarian strife," Arabic media reports said according to a translation by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

The governor of Najaf, Adnan Al-Zarafi, also said earlier this week that Iraqi Security forces had confiscated a grenade launcher marked 'Made in Iran' from supporters of al-Sadr and that Najaf residents were reporting that mortar shells falling on civilian homes also had an Iranian label, according to MEMRI.

Iran denounced the U.S.-led offensive in Najaf on Thursday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asafi said that Iran was angered by what he called "American violations of Islamic shrines in Iraq and the escalation of aggression against the residents of Najaf and nearby Kut."

Iran also announced that it had conducted a successful test of a new version of its Shihab-3 missile on Wednesday. With a range of about 775 miles, the Shihab-3 is capable of hitting U.S. troops in the Middle East as well as Israel.

Iran's connection to the Shiite community in Iraq goes back decades, although not all Iraqi Shiites are pro-Iranian, said Dr. Ely Karmon, senior researcher of the International Policy Institute on Counter-Terrorism near Tel Aviv.

"The Shia Islamic revolutionary council was trained and supported by Iran for 20 years," said Karmon.

After the fall of the regime of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the Shiite leaders returned to Iraq to "try to implement the dream of an Islamic regime." Al-Sadr's spiritual leader is also an Iranian, Ayatollah Khairi, Karmon said.

But the Iranian backing of the rebels goes beyond its promotion of Islamic aspirations.

The Iranian government is "very concerned" that the U.S. will attack Iran, said Iman Foroutan, from S.O.S. Iran, an American-based group that supports the Iranian people for removal of the Islamic regime in Tehran and the establishment of a democratic government in its place.

"The IRI [Islamic Republic of Iran] is very afraid of being next, after Afghanistan and Iraq," said Foroutan in an email response to a query.

President Bush lumped Iran together with Iraq and North Korea as three states that formed what he called the "axis of evil" because of their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and particularly nuclear arms.

Iran and other regional players, such as the Iranian-backed Hizballah in southern Lebanon decided that the only way to fight America was to let it enter Iraq, believing that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein would fight the Americans, which did not happen, said Karmon.

Now Iran is fighting the Americans in Iraq because of "American pressure on Iran to renounce its nuclear dream," which they are clearly not willing to do, Karmon said.

Iran recently defied an agreement with Britain, France and Germany and began assembling centrifuges, which could be used to enrich uranium needed for nuclear weapons.

Washington is pressing the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, due to meet next month, to send the matter to the U.N. Security Council, where sanctions could be slapped on Tehran for failing to forego its nuclear aims.

Tehran insists that a nuclear reactor, which Moscow is helping it to complete, will be used for purely civilian purposes. But the U.S. believes that it is a cover operation for the development of a nuclear weapons program.

Iran has also declared that it is raising up an army of suicide bombers to attack Americans in Iraq.

Hizballah Connection

The Iranian-backed Hizballah, on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, is the second prong of the Iranian attack against the Americans in Iraq, said Karmon.

According to American sources, there are some 90 Hizballah operatives in Iran, he said. Al-Sadr admires Hizballah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah and most of al-Sadr's television appearances are also on Hizballah's Al-Manar television station, he added.

Nasrallah has organized several marches on behalf of the Iraqi militants. At one of those rallies, Nasrallah said that Hizballah was standing with its Iraqi brothers and standing on the side of Iran, Karmon said.

"As much our capability allows us [we are in] constant readiness and willingness for martyrdom," Nasrallah said. Karmon pointed out that "martyrdom" refers to suicide attacks.

More than 250 U.S. Marines were killed in Hizballah suicide bombings in Beirut in the early 1980s.

Although Iran and Hizballah are very cautious and are clandestine about their activities, Karmon said, he believes that the Americans made a conscious decision to attack al-Sadr.

"The Iranians passed a red line [in their eagerness] to counter the American presence in Iraq," he said. A year ago al-Sadr was given a "free hand" in Iraq and only lately in the spring of this year was he attacked, he added."

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