Iran Joins Other Arab Nations In Jumping On Iraq Attack Bandwagon

by DEBKAfile

30 September 2002

America’s failure to enlist UN Security Council members for a tough new ultimatum to Baghdad is misleading. On the quiet, Washington has made important strides in the bid to assemble an Arab-Muslim coalition for its war effort. Egypt and Saudi Arabia were the first to come on board, although they refrain from publicly admitting to having made their sea and air bases available for the American assault.

According to DEBKAfile ’s military sources, the big Egyptian military base at Cairo West has been turned over to the US war command as its foremost logistical launching pad, while US warships freely navigate the Suez Canal.

The Saudi Prince Sultan air base northeast of Riyadh is now an American forward base for air raids over southern Iraq. Sunday, September 29, US AWACs took off from Sultan to escort American bombers raiding Iraqi command posts and radar systems at the big international airport of Basra, Iraq’s port city on the Persian Gulf. This second American air assault against Basra inside a week had more than one effect; one was to disable Iraq’s potential for striking out at neighboring Iran and its Khozistan oilfields.

What has happened to place Iran, one of Washington’s fiercest critics, in Saddam’s gun-sights? And why are US warplanes protecting the Islamic Republic?

President George W. Bush and his aides must be patting themselves on the back this week over the remarkable feat of turning round an implacable foe for its line-up against Iraq: DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and Iranian sources report that months of laborious bargaining have produced a secret US-Iran military cooperation agreement for the operation to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime. Iran’s first quid pro quo was having its forces co-opted to the assault.
According to our military sources, a several hundred-strong Iranian vanguard apparently went into northern Iraq some ten days ago. It is believed to be made up of Iraqi and Afghan rebels fighting in the Badr force, an elite counter-terrorism contingent of the Revolutionary Guards. US and Turkish special forces officers escorted the Iranian unit to its deployment zone in the Kurdish Sulimaniyeh area.

This week, DEBKAfile adds, the military partnership went into political gear.

Iraqi foreign minister Naji Sabri, who flew to Tehran Sunday, September 29 to seek support against Washington, was coldly informed by President Mohamed Khatami that Iran wanted the entire Persian Gulf free of weapons of mass destruction. On his way out, the Iraqi minister almost bumped into Kuwait’s defense minister Sheikh Jaber Mubarak al-Hamad, who arrived on a diametrically opposed errand: a two-day conference with his Iranian opposite number, Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, on 'collective security'.

According to DEBKAfile’s sources in Tehran, the two defense ministers have been assigned by the US war command to line up their military front against Iraq.
Iran's still-secret about-face gives substantial ballast to the anti-Saddam Arab-Muslim alliance put together by the Bush team and offers a rebuttal for much of the criticism of an American military move against Baghdad coming from the Democrats in the US Congress, the Europeans led by France and Germany and the UN secretariat under Kofi Annan. Many critics claim to speak for the Arab Middle East and Persian Gulf. Now that the strongest Gulf power, Iran, has crossed the floor – and is not the first to do so - President George W. Bush can claim a regional coalition weightier than the one which confronted Iraq in 1991.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly ’s Iran experts recall that just before the Afghan War last October, Washington and Tehran secretly shook hands on a military pact to do battle against al Qaeda and the Taliban and in particular protect the Shiite population of W. Afghanistan, especially in the Herat province. That pact is in effect reaffirmed in a different context.

One key rationale for Tehran is its compulsion to hold onto its influence among Iraq’s Shiites, who make up some 60 percent of the 23 million strong population, and protect its interests in any future government rising in Baghdad. Ever practical, the ayatollahs calculated that the American military operation against Saddam is a foregone conclusion anyway; therefore it was more to their advantage to jump aboard the speeding American bandwagon than to snipe at the US war effort from the shrinking opposition.

The Iranians are now keen to pull Syria out of the opposition camp and over to the American side so as to ward off a potential American or Israeli strike against the Damascus-based Palestinian radical terror groups and Hizballah strongholds in South Lebanon.

Tehran was also influenced by the recent outbreak of stormy anti-government riots in Damascus, reported exclusively by DEBKAfile last Thursday, September 26. The Assad regime turns out to be a lot less stable than thought. Its fall would remove one of the Hizballah’s key props.

Iran’s crossover to the American side against Iraq does not detract an iota from its sponsorship of the Hizballah’s war against Israel or the Lebanese government’s plan for plugging an important source of Israel’s water supply with the Wazzani River diversion project.

This gives Tehran a chance to pull off a double: If the Lebanese get away with this project under Iranian protection, while at the same time the Iranian-American military collaboration in Iraq is successful, Iran’s standing in the Persian Gulf and Middle East will be much enhanced. At the same time Tehran will not be required to abandon its ingrained animosity to Israel.

To make sure Israel did not upset the gathering US Islamic-Arab alliance, Washington forced Israel into a military climb-down in Ramallah, giving Yasser Arafat his moment of triumph as he emerged from 11 days of Israeli blockade. Pale and trembling amid the rubble of his government headquarters, he brandished the V-sign for the tiny following that came out to cheer him.

Although Israeli siege forces have moved back, Arafat is still trapped. His presence in the only building left standing in his compound is the last shield protecting his terrorist masterminds from Israel’s grasp.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources find neither the Americans nor Iranians under any illusion that their old feud is resolved by their new military accord. But, as an ad hoc device, this collaboration has made it possible for the United States to tighten its noose around the necks of Saddam and his regime, while putting its longstanding war of words with Iran on hold for the duration."