Last week marked the welcome end to one of the establishment media’s most unfortunate oversights concerning Iraq: the role played by Iran in fueling the Iraq's terrorism. Mainstream outlets such as the NBC Nightly News and The New York Times have finally begun to highlight this unsettling development, exemplified recently by the U.S. military’s interdiction of a truck full of explosive “shaped charges” being smuggled in from Iran. These charges, which use military grade plastic explosives to propel molded steel plates through even the heaviest armored vehicles, are intended for one use and one use only – to kill American soldiers. The sophisticated weapons present a formidable tactical challenge, as they effectively negate the armored advantage our soldiers have enjoyed over terrorists, making the fevered rush to “up-armor” Humvees and similar vehicles virtually irrelevant.
Perhaps more disquieting than the direct danger now facing American troops from shaped charges is the broader implication of the truck’s capture – that Iran is now actively seeking to kill American soldiers using sophisticated weaponry. Iranian involvement in Iraqi terrorism has long been hinted at, but has always been difficult to conclusively establish. While several Shiite militias, such as the Badr Brigades in southern Iraq, are known to have been trained by members of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a connection between ultra-violent Sunni terrorists and Iran’s Shiite government is far murkier.
Part of the mystery stems from the widely held – and inaccurate – notion that religiously disparate terrorist groups are incapable of collaboration. The shaped charges delivery should forever bury this discredited belief, as international terrorism is quickly becoming the ideal physical personification of the axiom “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Iran in particular has shown a willingness to work with virtually anyone – including Al-Qaeda – who will forward their agenda, whatever faith they may supposedly adhere to.
To facilitate their relationships with Baathist and Jihadist groups who are actively targeting the American military, the Iranians have deployed some of their most professional terrorist training groups and paramilitary agents, such as the IRGC and operatives of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS). These men are well-versed in terrorist operations, having honed their skills in Lebanon against Israeli armored forces. Dozens of IRGC officers, including several high-ranking ones, have been dispatched to Iraq, under the guises of humanitarian aid officials or diplomats. The exact purpose of these deployments is unknown, but it can hardly be considered a positive development as far as the United States is concerned to have paramilitary officers loyal to Iran transiting the country.
Iran has also utilized Hezbollah in its construction of an effective network inside Iraq. As American military officials have pointed out, the specialized explosives they are now facing in Baghdad – used by Sunni militants – share an uncanny resemblance to those wielded by Hezbollah’s Shiite fighters. This similarity is not a coincidence. Hezbollah operatives, along with dozens of their supervisors from the IRGC and the MOIS, have become increasingly active inside Iraq. Military and intelligence officers have identified as many as 100 Hezbollah operatives – professionals trained by the group’s shadowy external security organization – who have infiltrated major urban areas for unknown purposes. With this sort of infrastructure in place, the Iranians could, and probably have, already established contacts with parties such as Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad group, with whom they have worked alongside in the past.
Iran has been caught red handed in Iraq. U.S. government analysts now have to answer the question of why Tehran would be moving these weapons into Iraq for use against the American military. One theory that will invariably be proposed is that Iran is actively seeking to construct a deterrent against future American action over the issue of nuclear weapon development. However, the truth behind Iran’s aid to Iraqi terrorism is less rooted in a strategy of real politik and more in the increasingly fanatical nature of the Iranian leadership.
This new religious zeal is embodied in the new administration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, himself a former member of the IRGC. His new government has rapidly elevated the position of the IRGC and various terrorist supporting units. Already, reforms are being considered that would give the IRGC total precedence over the conventional military, as well as priority access to all national resources. General Qassem Soleimani, who efficiently commanded Iran’s covert efforts in Iraq, is expected to be promoted to a cabinet level position. Other IRGC commanders, such as Admiral Ali-Akbar Ahmadian, have already been installed at crucial state agencies. Their presence among the ruling elite only serves to bolster the already powerful position of the Guardian Council, populated by fanatical theocrats who have never been adverse to the idea of killing Americans abroad through covert means. This new synthesis of Iran’s more extreme paramilitary elements with the government itself can only increase Iran’s overall willingness to support actions against American forces in Iraq.
Fueled additionally by a fear of strategic encirclement by the United States, it is no surprise that a leadership which has always been inclined towards violence and terrorism would be willing to begin large-scale shipments of shaped charges to some of the more effective Sunni groups in Iraq. Viewing the American presence in Iraq as detrimental to their long term goals, the Iranian security organization has – as evidenced by the weapons shipment and other developments – clearly settled on covert aid to insurgents as a way to grind down the American military, while degrading the American public’s willingness to energetically pursue the war on terror. The introduction of shaped charges will go a long way towards achieving both of these goals, forcing the military to alter its tactics while sending dozens of additional soldiers home in body bags.
What is to be done? Many in the U.S. government seem to be inclined to do little or nothing. After all, they point out, our military is overextended, our allies would never support such action, and Iran has numerous cards to play in order to counteract a hypothetical military response. Such equivocation will be of little comfort to the next American family who has to mourn a loved one killed by explosives straight from Tehran’s bomb factories. Unless the Bush administration faces up to its responsibilities to the American people and the armed forces, we can expect an increasingly emboldened – and well-armed – terrorist network that will look to Iran for additional support.
If Iran is indeed actively participating in the deaths of American soldiers, as seems to be the case, it is a clear act of war. It should be treated as such.