A day after reports came out about the discovery of another secret Interior Ministry's detention center in Iraq, run by the operatives of Iran-linked Badr Brigade, the leader of the main pro-Tehran Iraqi Shiite party said the Brigade is ready to provide "security" for the December 15 Parliamentary elections.
Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), told a gathering on Tuesday that "I declare that the Badr Organization is ready to mobilize 200,000 of its men in all parts of Iraq so that they can play a role in defending Iraq and Iraqis." Translation: We, as allies and agents of Tehran, are making sure the elections go "our way."
Quoting U.S. and Iraqi officials, Knight Ridder news agency reported from Baghdad yesterday that, "The Iranian-backed militia, the Badr Organization has taken over many of the Iraqi Interior Ministry's intelligence activities and infiltrated its elite commando units."
"The Interior Ministry had become what amounted to an Iranian fifth column inside the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, running death squads and operating a network of secret prisons," the report said. The commander of the Brigade admitted to Knight Ridder it was funded by Iran Tehran's heavy hand in Iraq may be the reason behind a rising disenchantment among the Iraqi Shi'ite community for the ruling United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) of Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, according to reports from Iraq. The Alliance is mainly formed by the pro-Iran SCIRI and Jaafari's group, the Dawa party.
Both SCIRI and Dawa have umbilical ties to Iran's IRGC and MOIS dating back to the early 1980s. A recent report by the US Congressional Research Services acknowledged as much. "Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iran has showcased its growing political and economic influence over and mentorship of the Iraqi government," the report said. It added: "the thrust of Iran's strategy in Iraq has been to engineer and perpetuate domination of Iraq's government by pro-Iranian Shiite Islamist movements that would, in Iran's view, likely align Iraq's foreign policy with that of Iran."
And given the strategic implications of Thursday elections for the ruling regime in Iran, Tehran's public and covert campaign in Iraq has been focused on ensuring victory for its proxy Shi'ite parties and robbing the Iraqi people of a free and fair election.
Similar to its highly controversial covert nuclear weapons program, Tehran's plot to hijack the Iraqi election is spearheaded by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). The IRGC-engineered presidency of the Supreme Leader's hand-picked candidate, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has indeed intensified Iran's extensive meddling in Iraq.
From Tehran's point of view, victory of the pro-Iran Shi'ite block is a must. In the absence of such a "win," Iranian official's internal discourse warns that the inroads they have made in Iraq since 2003 would be undone. The ascension of Pro-Iranian Iraqis is an important, if not the most important goal toward Iran achieving its ambitious goal of regional dominance.
An editorial in Iran's authoritative state-run daily Sharq last week acknowledged that; "For Iran, only if the current Iraqi government headed by Ibrahim Jaafari" and the UIA comes out ahead in the elections, "the victory has been achieved."
Unlike the Iraqi elections in January of this year, this pro-Tehran Shiite alliance has so far failed to gain the official endorsement of the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani and three other grand ayatollahs. Deprived of such crucial backing in the midst of growing disenchantment of many Shiites, the alliance was prompted to distribute false literature, claiming that Ayatollah Sistani had called on Iraqis to only vote for religious candidates. A few days ago, the Grand Ayatollah's office categorically denied ever issuing such an edict.
Under such circumstances, the clerical regime has intensified its efforts to tamper with the vote by putting into effect an elaborate multi-layered scheme. Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. general in Iraq acknowledged to Knight Ridder that, "They're [Iran] putting millions of dollars into the south to influence the elections ... it's funded primarily through their charity organizations and also Badr and some of these political parties. A lot of their guys (Badr) are going into the police and military."
An Iraqi news website reported last Wednesday that Iran was implementing a three-phased plan to rig the elections and had mobilized its "agents" in Iraq accordingly. Emboldened by their success in rigging the Presidential election in Iran last June, the mullahs are trying to duplicate the scheme in Iraq.
According to Iran Focus, the online news website which first published the translation of this report, the first stage of the plan calls for voting multiple times with forged ballots. During the second stage, Tehran's agents will attempt to tamper with the records of all the ballot boxes at the end of the polls, the report said. The third stage of tampering is supposed to occur when the final voting slips are delivered to the provincial capitals for transfer to the United Nations' tally center in Baghdad.
In addition, recent news indicate that in an operation run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and with assistance of the Dawa Party, Tehran had dispatched hundreds of its agents under the guise of pilgrims to the southern Iraqi provinces of al-Amara and al-Kut in a bid to coerce the non-suspecting Shiite Iraqis to vote for pro-Tehran candidates. It was further reported that the convoys carried large amount of cash and campaign posters of Iranian-backed candidates.
The strategic cost of inaction or downplaying Iran's threat to an independent, democratic and unified Iraq, surpasses any perceived short-term benefit stemming from the na´ve belief that diplo-talk will deter Iran from further meddling in Iraqi affairs. This type of naivetÚ is nothing short of a strategic blunder with long-term and wide-ranging implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Iran's meddling and increased influence in Iraq, similar to its tactics to stall and subvert meaningful nuclear negotiations, is mainly due to the deliberate inaction of the West on this issue. Prolonged inaction translates into nothing more than a willful policy of appeasement. Every indicator suggests Tehran will continue to proceed aggressively in its efforts in Iraq regardless of how generous Western capitols are with their concessions.
And that's where the core problem with the tyrants of Tehran lies. Their history of disingenuous negotiations makes it crystal clear that they cannot be a party to any meaningful talks intended to promote regional peace and stability. Inviting Iranian officials to the negotiating table, thus far has only served to embolden the leadership in Tehran, who has earned their infamy as the "most active state sponsor of terrorism," and that of a "major nuclear proliferator" and among the world's worst violator of human rights.
An effective counter-measure against Iran's meddling in Iraq may be to facilitate the formation of a natural pro-democracy alliance between organized, anti-fundamentalist Iraqis and anti-fundamentalist Iranians residing in Iraq. Such a counter campaign has the clear potential to neutralize the mullahs' destabilizing interference in Iraq.
David Johnson currently serves as the Director of Operations of the U.S. Alliance for Democratic Iran. He has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Front Page Magazine, Intellectual Conservative and American Daily. Our organization is based in Washington DC and can be found online at www.USADIran.org.