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A New Course In Iraq...For Iran

Quds Force Training Iraqis In Iran Safer Than Within Petraeus' Reach

By Steve Schippert | September 11, 2007

It is increasingly apparent to both coalition and Iraqi leaders that Iran,
through the use of this Quds Force, seeks to turn the Iraqi special groups into
[a] Hizballah-like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi
state and coalition forces in Iraq.
-- General David Petraeus, September 10, 2007

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Today, General Petraeus said in his statement to Congress that Iran has withdrawn from Iraq its Quds Force as well as its Lebanon-based Hizballah terror trainers and facilitators that were assisting them. Jim Geraghty noted and Hot Air blogger Allah Pundit pondered.

I don’t know why Iran would have suddenly pulled out unless they’re getting nervous about the escalation with the United States. But if that were true, they’d cut the supply of weapons and EFPs too, and that obviously ain’t happening. Just something to think about.

So let's think about it. He's on to something about Iran getting nervous about escalation. Several things on that.
  • Petraeus took command in Baghdad requiring and receiving a mandate to lean forward in Iraq. Not a large man, his lean (and freedom to) is nonetheless heavy. Iran acknowledges its lesser Quds Force roll call since his arrival.
  • Unlike the perception left by previous commanders, Petraeus fears not singling out Iran publicly nor feigns from engaging them in the streets. He appears to fear only the consequences of an unacknowledged and un-confronted enemy that kills his men. This, too, is noted by Iran.
  • High-ranking Iranian Quds Force, IRGC and Hizballah operatives have been persistently under pursuit and killed or captured since Petraeus' arrival. The networks established have come under direct fire and disruption. The heat is clearly on.
Acknowledging all of this and the surprising boldness of the new American commander, Iran looks to have likewise chosen a 'new course in Iraq.' This is not to say they have adopted a kinder, gentler approach at all. Allah Pundit is right to question the seemingly incongruous fact that weapons flows and EFP supplies have not abated even though General Petraeus says that "the [Iranian] Quds Force have been pulled out of the country, as well as Lebanese Hizballah trainers who were used in assistance." Several very recent events seem to indicate this change of course by Iran.
  • Increased reports of Iraqis being sent to Iranian terrorist training camps within Iran's borders.
  • The 'leaks' that the President is considering officially designating Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and/or Quds Force as a terrorist group(s).
  • The subsequent and sudden firing of the IRGC's long-time commander, General Safavi. Quds Force, however, remains under the capable command of Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani.
  • Muqtada al-Sadr's announcement of the halt of operations by his Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM) militia, or the Mahdi Army.
Why are these things important? It was speculated that Safavi's sudden firing as the commander of the IRGC was the direct result of the IRGC's potential inclusion on the American terrorist group list and the potentially massive economic consequences this would bring to the military branch that enjoys much international investment as the owner of many Iranian companies that enjoy no-bid contract holdings in Iran.

In March, Iranian dissident and MeK supporter Alireza Jafarzadeh, who provided the details that uncovered Iran's covert nuclear program, told UPI that Iran is training Iraqi death squads inside Iran. He was reported as providing details that Quds Force "has allocated several of its bases in the cities of Tehran, Karaj, Qom, Isfahan, as well as provinces close to Iraqi borders, such as Kermanshah, Ilam, Kurdistan and Khuzestan," and is using senior Quds Force commanders to train the Iraqis.

While there are murmurs that the President may indeed intend to designate Quds Force under an existing or perhaps entirely new Executive Order, no action has yet officially been taken. The possibility remains that the 'leak' of such intent may have been a strategy coordinated between Baghdad command and the Oval Office in order to pressure Iran to pull back somewhat from the Iraqi theater and to guage their reaction in the field rather than in the rhetoric exchanged in public statements. In this regard, such a strategy - if it was this - netted measurable results. The IRGC commander was fired in short order and General Petraeus now reports that Iranian Quds Force and Hizballah operatives have left the Iraqi theater.

One thing that General Petraeus did not say was that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been pulled out of Iraq. This is the larger elite Iranian military branch of which Quds Force is a part. This is not likely an unintended oversight by an intelligent field commander who possesses a Ph.D. from Princeton. This means that the general is expressly not saying that all Iranian operatives are out of Iraq.

As recently as mid-August, Major General Rick Lynch said that his forces and military intelligence were tracking about 50 members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps in his area of operations, which includes the southern edge of Baghdad and some of the provincial areas to its south, including Karbala. Of the IRGC operatives known to be active in his region, Major General Lynch said, "We've got about 50 of those. They go back and forth. There's a porous border."

And just across those porous borders lie myriad Iranian terrorist training camps, teaching, arming and paying Iraqis to fight their proxy war against America and the Iraqi state, seeking instability in Iraq in the immediate and increased Iranian infiltration, influence and control in the longer term. And the better they can achieve this, the fewer of its own valuable and highly trained Quds Force operatives and terror facilitators need be put at physical risk of being killed or captured in Iraq by a new American commander clearly seeks to engage without hesitation those within his Iraqi theater of operations who kill his men, Coalition forces and Iraqi civilians. Even the fearsome Iranians who never lack for threat and bluster.

So, while General Petraeus reported that Iran's Quds Force and their Lebanese Hizballah terrorist facilitators have vacated Iraqi territory, he did not say that the Iranian threat has abated as a result nor did he say that all Iranians have left the theater. He, in fact, said just the opposite: The Iranian threat continues to grow.

The Iranian strategic withdrawal of its Quds Force assets from the heat of a Petraeus-led forward-leaning surge - and no doubt at work training more Iraqis from the safe haven of their own Iranian camps - represents an Iranian change in course in Iraq.

It does not represent a change in goals or disposition. Just a change in location, safely beyond Washington's self-imposed military reach - for now.

1 Comment

I believe the apparent and somewhat transparent pull back of IRGC operatives has another explanation, which is the wait and see option. With elections in the US just a little over a year away, the Iranians might just want to see whether an “anti-war” president is elected and thus make the IRGC’s job a bit easier! What the Iranians don’t realize, since they’re not that well versed in bona fide election campaigns, is that it’s all rhetoric and no future president is going to pull out of Iraq precipitously.