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Reports in the Arabic media reveal the role of Iran in the current unrest in Iraq initiated by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr and his followers.

On Tuesday, the London Arabic daily Al-Hayat noted in the previous two days there had been “repeated talk in the Governing Council of Iraq about the major Iranian role in the events that took place in the Iraqi Shiite cities,” according to the Washington, D.C.-based Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI.

“The direct Iranian presence in the Shiite areas of Iraq in the political, security, and economic affairs can not be ignored anymore,” the paper said.

“This presence is accompanied by a vigorous Iranian effort to create bridges with different forces in Iraq; first, by material and logistic aid to parties other than the Shi’a, and secondly through the traditional Iranian influence in the religious seminaries [hawza] and in the Marja’iya [religious Shi'a authorities] institutions.”

As WorldNetDaily reported, last April, an Iranian cleric, Kadhem al-Husseini al-Haeri, issued a religious edict distributed to Shiite mullahs in Iraq, calling on them “to seize the first possible opportunity to fill the power vacuum in the administration of Iraqi cities.”

The edict, or fatwa, issued April 8, 2003, showed that Shiite clerics in Iraq are receiving significant direction from Iran. The edict said Shiite leaders have to “seize as many positions as possible to impose a fait accompli for any coming government.”

Also last April, WorldNetDaily reported Iran had armed and trained some 40,000 Shiite Iraqi fighters – most former prisoners of war captured during the Iran-Iraq war – and sent them to Iraq to foment an Islamic revolution.

The report from Al-Hayat this week quoted a member of the Governing Council saying the Iranians recently have managed to activate a known Marja’, a Shi’a cleric regarded as a religious authority, Kazem Al-Ha’iri.

The cleric lives in Iran’s holy city of Qum and is known to be close to Al-Sadr’s movement.

The London paper cited “Iraqi security sources as saying the recent escalation of violence erupted after an American decision to oust Hassan Kazemi Qumi, the recently appointed chief Iranian agent in Iraq, who is an officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

The sources connected the ousting of Qumi with Al-Sadr’s statements his movement is an extension of the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas.

“It may well be that the Iranians, who apparently have influence in more than one sphere in Iraq, have intervened to reconcile the inner Shiite struggle for power,” the paper said.

“They intervened when Moqtada Al-Sadr sought to take control of the Husseini circle in Karbala, an attempt that the followers of Ayatollah Al-Sistani objected to. The Iranians worked out an arrangement under which large sums of money were sent to institutions belonging to Al-Sadr’s family, which placated Al-Sadr, and satisfied him with controlling the Al-Kufa mosque only.”

$70 million per month from Iran

An Iranian defector claims Iran spends $70 million a month on activity in Iraq, according to the London Arabic-Language Daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.

The paper quoted extensively a former Iranian intelligence official in charge of activities in Iraq, identified as Haj Sa’idi, who recently fled from Iran.

He told the paper the Iranian presence in Iraq is not limited to the Shiite cities.

“Rather,” he said, “it is spread throughout Iraq, from Zakho in the north to Umm Al-Qasr in the south.”

The defector said “the infiltration of Iranian Revolutionary Guards and the Al-Quds Army into Iraq began long before the war, through hundreds of Iranian intelligence agents, amongst them Iraqi refugees who were expelled by Saddam Hussein in the 1970s and 1980s to Iran, allegedly because of their Iranian origin, and who infiltrated back into Iraq through the Kurdish areas that were out of the Iraqi Baath government control.”

After the war, he said, Iranian intelligence sent its agents through the uncontrolled Iraq-Iran border, some of them as students and clerics and others as belonging to the Shiite militias.

Haj Sa’idi said that the assassination last summer of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir Al-Hakim, who headed the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was a “successful operation carried out by the intelligence unit of the Iranian Al-Quds Army.”

He also revealed to the paper a failed attempt on the life of the highest Shiite Marja’, Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, at the Eid Al-Adha holiday last year, and that there was another plan to assassinate Ayatollah Ishaq Al-Fayadh.

Haj Sa’idi claimed some of the Iranian intelligence officers in Iraq are known to everybody, but the real threat comes from those that are unknown.

Among them are 18 Shiite charities in Kazimiya, in Al-Sadr city in Baghdad, in Karbala, Najaf, Kufa, Nasiriyah, Basra, and other cities with a large Shiite majority.

In those offices, new agents are recruited every day, under the guise of financial aid, medicine, food, and clothing for the poor, he said.

Haj Sa’idi said the Iranian plan to turn Iraq into another Iran is a wide-ranging plan, involving the recruitment of thousands of young Shiites for the next stage, which will take place with the [first] parliamentary elections in Iraq.

Those recruited now are supposed to enlist relatives to vote for candidates that will be endorsed by the Iranian intelligence apparatuses, according to the defector.

Haj Sa’idi also mentioned more than 300 reporters and technicians who are working now in Iraq for television and radio networks, newspapers, and other media agencies actually are members of the Al-Quds Army and the Revolutionary Guards intelligence units.

He also asserts Iranian money allocations for activities in Iraq, both covert and overt, reached $70 million per month.

Haj Sa’idi claimed 2,700 apartments and rooms were rented in Karbala and Najaf, in order to serve agents of the Al-Quds Army and the Revolutionary Guards.

The attempt by Kurdish authorities in northern Iraq to act against the Iranian activities there prompted a reaction by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to incite the Turkmeni Shiites in the region against the Kurds, he said.

Many Turkmen Shiite commanders traveled to Iran and received huge financial support, as well as guarantees Iran will back them in case of clashes with the Kurds.

Training centers for “Mahdi Army”

A source in the Quds Army of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard told Al-Sharq Al-Awsat three camps and training centers are being constructed on the Iranian-Iraqi borders to train elements of the “Mahdi Army” founded by Al-Sadr.

The source estimated about 800 to 1,200 young supporters of Al-Sadr have received military training, including guerilla warfare, the production of bombs and explosives, the use of small arms, reconnoitering and espionage.

The three camps are located in Qasr Shireen, ‘Ilam, and Hamid, bordering southern Iraq, which is inhabited largely by Shi’a Muslims.

The newspaper also reported the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad recently has distributed 400 satellite phones to supporters of Al-Sadr and to clerics and students at the A’thamiyya district of Baghdad, Al-Sadr City, and the holy city of Najaf, all of which are inhabited predominantly by Shi’a Muslims.

The Iranian source, known in Iraq as “Abu Hayder,” confirmed the intelligence service of the Revolutionary Guard has introduced to the Shi’a cities radio and TV broadcasting facilities which are used by Al-Sadr and his supporters.

During his recent visit to Iran, Al-Sadr met with Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of the Expediency Council as well as the head of the revolutionary guard intelligence, Murtadha Radha’i, and the commander of the Al-Quds Army responsible for Iraqi affairs, Brig. General Qassim Suleimani, and other government and religious leaders.

The source estimated the financial support to Al-Sadr in recent months has exceeded $80 million, in addition to the cost of training, equipment and clothing of his supporters.

Elements of the Al-Quds Army and the Revolutionary Guard Intelligence lead many of the operations directed against the coalition forces, the source said.

These elements also are leading a campaign against the senior Shi’a clerics such as the Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, Hussein Al-Sadr, Ishaq Al-Fayadh and others because of their opposition to the concept of “the Rule of the Jurist,” which is Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s style of government in Iran.

Related story:

Iranian-trained army in Iraq

Related column:

Iran declares war on U.S.

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