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Iraq-Iran Relations Challenging US Push

While the telegraphed ‘surge’ of US troops into Baghdad seemingly meets more questions of meeting planned Iraqi troop levels than those of America, the multi-faceted front with Iran remains active and fluid. The US raid on an Iranian office in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil last Thursday and the actions that have followed continue to mark the intentions of many Iraqi politicians to forge a relationship with Iran in spite of their proven fueling of both sides of Iraq’s ongoing sectarian violence.

The Irbil raid netted the capture of 5 Iranians along with documents and computers. Iran protested the raid on the grounds that the office was a consulate protected by diplomatic immunity. However, according to a military intelligence source who spoke with ThreatsWatch, while the Iranians told the Iraqi Kurds governing the city that it was a diplomatic consulate, Iran had never officially filed the location as such, leaving it unprotected by international law. This led to the initial confusion at the airport between Kurdish and American forces. The governing Kurds did not want to be party to an illegal raid in violation of international law.

It was reported early that among the individuals captured was Hassan Abbasi, thought of as Iran’s principle strategic thinker and a leader in the IRGC’s Qods Force. (Also see MEMRI audio/video Part I and Part II, with transcripts here and here.) However, the detained Hassan Abbasi was not the Qods Force leader in question, but indeed an Iranian by that name.

The US State Department said that the captured Iranians may have helped insurgents attack American troops in Iraq. Given that the sole function of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force is to export the Iranian revolution by funding, arming and training foreign (to Iran) terrorist groups, this is likely a foregone conclusion.

Even still, some in the elected Iraqi government are protesting the detention of the Iranians, just as was protested the detention of Iranians in a late December Baghdad raid that yielded the #3 general in Iran’s Qods Force – later released - as well as a ‘wiring diagram’ of the Iranian support network for both Shi’a and Sunni sectarian factions in Iraq.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari explained the geo-political reality that “We have to live in this part of the world,” unlike the United States. “We have to live with Iran. We have to live with Syria and Turkey and other countries.” Even when confronted with proof that the Iranians are pouring in weapons, including milled copper IEDs and fanning both sides of the sectarian violence seeking an unstable Iraq, the Kurdish Zabari said that Iraq plans to soon negotiate even more border entry points with Iran.

This approach to Iran is frustrating US officials who are not only openly confronting an instigating Iran that it had long ignored, but are also facing fresh doubts whether Iraq will meet its troop obligations agreed to in President Bush’s plan to secure Baghdad.

But with the highly-publicized plan to mass US and Iraqi forces to clear Baghdad of Sunni insurgents and Shi’a militias, it can be expected that far fewer combatants will have remained there for a confrontation considered a no-win scenario, just as was the case in Fallujah.