There is a growing chorus of voices urging talks with Iran to stop interference in Iraq and the rush to the status of world nuclear power, and the U.S. has recently agreed to high level talks with Syria and Iran concerning the future of Iraq. When assessing these things, there is a real danger in framing the problem within the context of our own worldview — where the boundary conditions for our conclusions (incorrectly) become our own cultural, historical and religious heritage. This is a critical error in judgment, and as one means of avoiding it, there is utility in listening to the enemy.
In the Middle East Quarterly, Winter 2007, Volume XIV, Number 1, Ali Alfoneh has written an excellent assessment of the meteoric rise to prominence of the Doctrinal Analysis Center for Security without Borders (Markaz-e barresiha-ye doktrinyal-e amniyat bedun marz), an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps think tank that has been instrumental in promulgating the formation of suicide brigades in Iran.
Its director, Hassan Abbasi, has embraced the utility of suicide terrorism … He announced that approximately 40,000 Iranian estesh-hadiyun (martyrdom-seekers) were ready to carry out suicide operations against “twenty-nine identified Western targets” should the U.S. military strike Iranian nuclear installations.
Such threats are not new. According to an interview with Iran’s Fars News Agency released on Abbasi’s weblog, he has propagated haras-e moghaddas (sacred terror) at least since 2004. “The front of unbelief,” Abbasi wrote, “is the front of the enemies of God and Muslims. Any deed which might instigate terror and horror among them is sacred and honorable.” On June 5, 2004, he spoke of how suicide operations could overcome superior military force: “In ‘deo-centric’ thought, there is no need for military parity to face the enemy … Deo-centric man prepares himself for martyrdom while humanist man struggles to kill.”
Alfoneh continues by pointing to the formalization of these ideas within the context of the Iranian intelligence forces and using religion as the backdrop.
The organization’s prominence continued to grow throughout the year. On June 5, 2004, the reformist daily Shargh granted Mohammad-Ali Samadi, Headquarters’ spokesman, a front page interview. Samadi has a pedigree of hard-line revolutionary credentials. He is a member of the editorial boards of Shalamche and Bahar magazines, affiliated with the hard-line Ansar-e Hezbollah (Followers of the Party of God) vigilante group, as well as the newspaper Jomhouri-ye Eslami, considered the voice of the intelligence ministry. Samadi said he had registered 2,000 volunteers for suicide operations at a seminar the previous day. Copies of the registration forms show that the “martyrdom-seekers” could volunteer for suicide operations against three targets: operations against U.S. forces in the Shi‘ite holy cities in Iraq; against Israelis in Jerusalem; and against Rushdie. The registration forms also quote Khomeini’s declaration that “if the enemy assaults the lands of the Muslims and its frontiers, it is mandatory for all Muslims to defend it by all means possible [be it by] offering life or property,” and current supreme leader Ali Khamene’i’s remarks that “[m]artyrdom-seeking operations mark the highest point of the greatness of a nation and the peak of [its] epic. A man, a youth, a boy, and a girl who are prepared to sacrifice their lives for the sake of the interests of the nation and their religion is the [symbol of the] greatest pride, courage, and bravery.” According to press reports, a number of senior regime officials have attended the Headquarters’ seminars. The Iranian officials appeared true to their word. During a September 2004 speech in Bushehr, home of Iran’s declared nuclear reactor, Samadi announced the formation of a “martyrdom-seeking” unit from Bushehr while Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the official daily Keyhan, called the United States military “our hostage in Iraq,” and bragged that “martyrdom-operations constitute a tactical capability in the world of Islam.”
In The Covert War with Iran we briefly detailed some of the Iranian activities inside Iraq. In Intelligence Bulletin #1 we discussed the Quds Forces regarding the obvious equivocation of the U.S. intelligence community in assigning responsibility for their actions to Iran’s leaders. But regardless of the loosely coupled nodal power structure in Iran, the Mullahs are at the top of the organization chart. The evidence for al Quds activity continues to accumulate, most recently with the arrest of a Pasdaran commander inside Iraq. Giving us some of the more statistical and useful data, Strategy Page has a recent commentary on Quds, assigning them the role of special forces of Iran.
Iran has its own Special Forces, the secretive al Quds Force, which belongs to the IRGC (the Iranian Republican Guard Corps.) Also known as the Pasdaran, the IRGC is a paramilitary force of about 100,000 full timers that insures (sic) that any anti-government activity is quickly eliminated. To assist the Pasdaran, there is a part-time, volunteer force, several hundred thousand Basej, which can provide additional manpower when street muscle is required. The Basej are usually young, Islamic conservative men, who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. If opponents to the government stage a large demonstration, it will often be broken up by Basej, in civilian clubs, using fists and clubs.
The Quds Force is a full time operation, of men trained to spread the Islamic revolution outside Iran. The Quds force has a major problem in that they are spreading a Shia Islamic revolution, while only 15 percent of Moslems are Shia. Most of the rest are Sunni, and many of those consider Shia heretics. In several countries, there is constant violence between Shia and Sunni conservatives. This has been going on long before the clerics took control of Iran in 1979 ( al Qaeda showed up in the 1990s).
The core operatives of the Quds force comprises only a few thousand people. But many of them are highly educated, most speak foreign languages, and all are Islamic radicals. They are on a mission from God to convert the world to Shia Islam, and the rule of Shia clergy. The Quds Force has been around since the 1980s, and their biggest success has been in Lebanon, where they helped local Shia (who comprise about a third of the population) form the Hizbollah organization.
The control that the Mullahs exhibit over Iran is firm and fixed, and international conversation has been a strategic tool used by the religious rulers for thirty years. The appearance of vacillation and irresolution has been used as tactical leverage as part of this international conversation, and this behavior should not be seen as an actual willingness to forego a nuclear weapons program or relinquish their aims of regional domination. Their ally, Moqtada al Sadr, is an analogous example of this tactic. In Just How Long is Haifa Street?, we pressed the question of al Sadr, asking if the Baghdad security plan went directly to the doorsteps of Sadr’s house? Al Sadr is currently believed to be in Iran, and the security crackdown in Baghdad is targeting rogue elements of the Mahdi army (the so-called death squads, although it should also be noted that the protracted period of time between the announcement of the crackdown and the implementation of it has reportedly allowed many members of the death squads to escape or melt away into the population).
Speculation on inside jobs and so-called house cleaning of insubordinate elements of the Mahdi army should not cause a loss of focus regarding the questions ‘who is al Sadr? and ‘what are his aims?’ Al Sadr has come out strongly against the Baghdad security plan, admonishing his followers to distance themselves from it, and saying that since it is being implemented by “occupying enemies” it is doomed to fail. Not allowing the opportunity to escape, al Sadr’s aid recently opined that poor Sadr was misunderstood, and didn’t really mean what he seemed to say.
Since Iran is actively spreading terror across the globe, their special forces should be and are capable of functioning not just as military or paramilitary fighters, but as terrorists. The New York Police Department has been concerned for several years about the possibility of Iranian terrorism within their city.
NYPD officials have worried about possible Iranian-sponsored attacks since a series of incidents involving officials of the Iranian Mission to the United Nations. In November 2003, Ahmad Safari and Alireaza Safi, described as Iranian Mission “security” personnel, were detained by transit cops when they were seen videotaping subway tracks from Queens to Manhattan at 1:10 in the morning. The men later left New York. “We’re concerned that Iranian agents were engaged in reconnaissance that might be used in an attack against New York City at some future date,” Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly told NEWSWEEK.
As we discussed before concerning negotiations with enemies, we are not opposed to talking about Iraq with other countries, even Syria or Iran. But the proper thought-framework must bound the discussions and expectations. Romantic notions of international behavior changes that will make the radical clerics willing to change their vision don’t account for the fundamental religious differences that divide Iran with the rest of the world. Expectations of dismantling the suicide and terror brigades don’t account for how deeply embedded the cult of death is in this radical thinking.
Conversely, Wes Clark’s approach, posing the question “cannot the world’s most powerful nation deign speak to the resentful and scheming regional power that is Iran?,” is to trifle with a dangerous movement, this movement being sponsored and promulgaged by a dangerous and powerful country. Neither romantic notions of friendship nor insulting trivialization is helpful.
Talk if we must, be remember that talk is precisely what the Iranians want. While many in the U.S. believe it to be the solution, Iran trusts in this and uses it as a strategic tool of their vision. In the end, the real question will not be whether war with Iran is inevitable. Rather, it will be how we engage the Iranians. They are already at war with us.