Iranians helping Sunni Insurgents?

Why not?

Do not assume that Iranian policy has to be any more straightforward than that of any other country.

Remember, at the time of the Iran-Iraq War and the Iran-Contra affair, we were playing both sides against the middle with the encouragement of our Israeli allies who were at the same time "running" Pollard against us and who they now want us to release because it wasn’t a serious matter that he was pilfering documents on the USSR out of Navy files for them to copy for whatever reason.

Life is not simple.  In the Middle East they are more honest than most of the rest of us.  They believe that all serious diplomatic and government policy business has to be hidden and takes place "under the table." (tahta tawila)  It is usually the case that Middle Eastern countries assume that embassies are for ceremonial and consular purposes.  Therefore if they have something serious to say, they send "secret" envoys to discuss the matter in the best tradition of mediation.  (wasta)  These envoys can be either oficials or, better yet, persons of influence (ayyan) who are thought of at home with great respect for their important role in affairs of state.  Everyone in the region wants to be such a "secret envoy," presumably because it is the key to being in the "inner circle,"  "in the loop," and maybe someday powerful and rich.  The plethora of "secret envoys," real and pretended (hopeful), is sometimes quite comic.  Ratio of "Real" to "Pretended" is probably something like 1:3.

Against this background the possibility that the Iranian government might at one and the same time be doing all of the following things simultaneously is quite plausible.

1-Everything in their power to make sure that a Shia dominated government emerges in Iraq to expand the circle of their influence and co-sectarians.

2-Providing weapons, money, training and a virtual army of advisors against the day when Shia action and Iranian "volunteers" might be needed to make sure that the authority of that friendly government "sticks."

3-Running weapons and new IED technologies to the Sunni insurgents to make them potent enough to keep us headed for the door eventually.

Hey!  Why Not!

If the Sunni insurgents get us out of the country after bleeding all over the place, then the Iranian logic may well be that a combination of Iraqi troops and Iranian "friends" will be in a good position to deal with them while the USG looks on benevolently from a distance at its protege government and a politically varied spectrum of fatheads say, "Well, that’s democracy…"

Hizballah?  What?  Hizballah is a specifically Lebanese creature of the Islamic Republic of Iran as represented by the "boys" of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps assigned to the Ministry of Intelligence.  Paraphrasing – "They don’t need no stinking Hizballah."

Pat Lang

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24 Responses to Iranians helping Sunni Insurgents?

  1. Susan says:

    Thanks to your geography lessons in your posts and replies to my questions the other day, I have a clearer picture of the map of Iraq. If the Iranians are smuggling in these armor-penetrating IEDs through the “porous” Iranian border to the east, how are the insurgents getting them clear across the country to the Anbar region on the west?
    Also: I don’t have a grasp of the reporting abilities of Eric Schmitt at the NYT, but there was some rumbling today among others who saw his story that it could have been promoted by the USG to advance its campaign to discredit/condemn Iran.
    Some of us have noted that the NYT certainly helped along the pre-war drumbeating via Judith Miller’s WMD and uranium tube stories.

  2. ismoot says:

    I didn’t say it was true. What I said is that it is not implausible that the Iranians would be this “shifty.”
    We can’t assume that everyone is Judy Miller or that everything out there is US Information Operations. Actually, the officials in Baghdad who briefed on this said they couldn’t account for it. One of the rules of propaganda is to build your baloney around half truths that are plausible. I know. No propagandist worth his pay would say out of “whole cloth” that the Iranians are backing the Sunni insurgents if there is not some truth to it. Why? For the reason you just gave, that it is so implausible that it will be hard to sell.
    The whole eastern half of the country is traversible. There is little in the way of sand desert except in the south. The west is full of lava fields which you can get over but very slowy. The terrain from the Iranian border to western Anbar along the Euphrates river is a lot easier. There are tracks over the hard pan, and water in the watershed from the mountains and the two rivers.
    If the Iranians are doing this, I would think that they are bringing in samples and a few instructors so that the Iraqis can build their own. Schmitt said that in his article. None of this stuff is really hard to build if you have the tools in an auto mechanics shop.
    If it develops that the Iranians are helping to bring relatively large numbers of Sunni Jihadis into Iraq, then we will have to re-examine the situation.

  3. BadTux says:

    I think it is a mistake to speak of “the insurgents”. Some of the Iraqi bloggers (who have now ceased blogging because they were either arrested, killed, or threatened) have mentioned as many as six different Sunni insurgent groups, ranging from ex-Baathists to Communists to hardcore Wahabi to various tribal forces jockeying for power, and it is probable that there are equally varied sources of support. The Baathists undoubtedly spent quite some time sneaking Iraqi assets and supporters to various safe harbors outside of the country and are drawing on that as a source of support. It is more likely that the Iranians might be supporting the various tribal forces, since their goals are similar (forcing the Americans out). The Wahabis are probably being supported via the “jihad pipeline” that also financed the Chechen insurrection and the overthrow of the Communist government in Afghanistan.
    In any event, the fact that the insurrection remains powerful means it must have sources of external support because insurrections without such a source either degenerate into simple brigandry (e.g. the Maoists in the Phillipines, the Contras in Nicaraugua after Congress cut off support) or simply fizzle out, and in any event lose any large scale support amongst the public that they may previously have had for a number of reasons I won’t go into here. Much like the Provos in Northern Ireland were being supported by Americans of Irish descent and thus could keep their operations going for decades, someone is supporting the insurgents in Iraq — but it is unlikely to be a single “someone”, because there is not a single insurgency.
    I, too, harbor suspicions about the New York Times being used as a gullible dupe for neo-cons intent upon wider war in the Middle East. We know that this happened in the past (e.g. Judith Miller’s hysterical reporting about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction), there is no reason to suspect that it stopped just because Ms. Miller is in jail. Over-simplifying the situation in Iraq benefits no one — except perhaps neo-cons who think that, okay, perhaps they messed up in Iraq, but *next time* (Iran) they’ll get it right.

  4. wtofd says:

    So, Shi’a Iran is supporting Sunni insurgents to drive up the US death toll to hasten the US departure but not before the US has softened up the Sunni insurgency thus making it easier for Shi’a Iraq to take control or more permissable for Shi’a Iran to come to Iraq’s defense?
    I know you’re not saying this IS what is happening. But you’re offering it as a possibility?

  5. b says:

    Why would a Sunni insurgent need a Iranian Shia instructor to build a shaped charge?
    If there is internet access or phone access to someone with internet access it’s a simple mechanic problem to get the shape right. Any car mechanic should be able to to this.
    Of course Iran is in the mix, but I guess they are smart enough to keep out of the ground-hugger stuff and only go for influencing the big fish as they evidently do.
    I believe this much more an “open source” insurgent than an external influenced insurgent. The learning curve looks like a self reinforcing system, not an external triggered one.
    When we will see significant anti-air capability external influence can be assumed – but we have not seen that yet.
    There is a systematic propaganda campaign in the US and in Europe to go for Iran. Very shortsighted and incredibly dangerous. We better do not fall for that.

  6. ismoot says:

    Bad Tux
    None of the places you mentioned were saturated in weapons, ordnance and fighting men the way Iraq is. Nor were they the recipients of large scale reinforcements from an international religious terrorist movement like this one is.
    The Iranians are perfectly capable of doing this while congratulating themselves on how clever they are.
    I think the NYT has probably learned its lesson.
    Of course there are many insurgencies. Whoever thought there were not?
    I think it is a mistake to keep harping on “the Baathists.” Iraqi nationalism was a much more complex thing than that and to keep attributing nationalist resistance to a bunch of “old regime” soreheads is to deceive oneself about the scale of the resistance.

  7. Susan says:

    Sure. Skilled propagandists use a bit of truth to make their propaganda more plausible.
    And I don’t think it’s implausible the Iranians are helping with explosives. perhaps they are in one way or another Also, Juan Cole said the other day that the Sunni insurgents are learning, better, how to blow things up.
    What I’m worried about is the USG piling on the reasons to go after Iran, as it did re Iraq. Especially since we’re having such diffiulties in Iraq and an incredible drain in military personnel and astronomical costs. And, our military leadership, as you indicated the other day, is not what it should be .. or least it wasn’t the other day for those Marines.
    P.S. I’m not a left ideologue who sees spies wherever I look. I’ve voted for more Republicans than Democrats in my lifetime. But Bush is an ignorant, venal puppet and it terrifies me that we have no integrating “the buck stops here” leadership. That absence of rational, knowledgeable, inclusive authority allows his lieutenants far too much rein to get into all kinds of things, including saber-rattling re Iran.

  8. ismoot says:

    As I have said in various places, war is the best teacher. The Iraqis already knew a lot about war so it should surprise nobody that they are learning from the “lessons” we are giving them gratis.
    The adminstration hungers for war with Iran. It does not have the resources for the job except in an air campaign, the planning for which is underway, The ham-handed IO effort is also underway, but this sounds to me as though it may be true and I find in it further sugggestion that my old playmates in the Middle East are as devious and sophisticated as always. We make the mistake here of thinking that these people have some sort of “innocence” about them. Nothing could be farther from the truth. pl

  9. manowar says:

    I might buy the supposition that Iran and its cohorts in Iraq support Sunni insurrection to one, eventually to weaken it and two, to speed the American withdrawal, were it not for the tremendous number of Iraqi Shia casualties.
    (I can’t quantify the latter, but its my take from various media). But then maybe Iranian expansionism cares less for Shiites who are Arab.
    Also and if so, one would think Iran would be making a lot more use of Moqtada Al-Sadr, either in ever more vocal, “peaceful” demonstrations, or a higher burn opposition.
    As to being sucked into another war, the “Shaped Charge” story is about the third one this week describing Iranian “duplicity” in Iraq. Coupled with Iran’s rejection today of the EU offer, events are really starting to look ominous.

  10. hfiend says:

    I was just thinking about this today, and yes; Why Not?
    The Islamic leadership hates us, and (I believe) would at least support anyone in operations against us; kind of like a proxy war.
    This could explain the increased sophistication of the explosives used against us. The Revolutionary Guard is a formidable force; the strongest and most advanced in the region minus the coalition, no?

  11. hfiend says:

    It also sounds like a propagandish angle to sell the future war on Iran…

  12. ismoot says:

    you are right of course. Anyone can make a shaped charge. I was taught to make them using red wine bottles because of the cone in the bottom. Melt your explosives down in a double boiler and have a great time. it is all over the internet.
    The reason the Iranians might do this is that they may fear that IED counter-measures are growing more effective and they want us to remain disadvanteged. After all, it is us that have the great majority of armored vehicles. They may have some particular design that they want to impart to the Iraqis, something that can be built out of materials at hand but is more effective.
    There are several different games underway; the Sunni game; the Iraqi Shia game; the Jihadi game and the US game. Don’t assume that the Iranians are going to stay nicely on the sidelines. They like blood and gore. These are the people, the same people, who threw hundreds of thousands of their untrained and ill equipped countrymen at the Iraqi Army in the ’80s.
    Internal ot external? – Both.
    The Iraqi Sunnis fight us from a sense of deprivation of status and power. The Jihadis fight us from reasons that are only distantly related to Iraq.
    As for US propaganda against Iran – Doesn’t everyone know that? pl

  13. ismoot says:

    Sure pl

  14. ismoot says:

    Too simple. pl

  15. ismoot says:

    In re plausibility, yes. pl

  16. ismoot says:

    Think about an air campaign against the nuclear program.
    Yes. I don’t think the Iranians would hesitate to sacrifice Shia Arabs to attain their goals. They were quick enough to do it in the war against Iraq using their own countrymen.
    These mega-shaped charges are most effective against large, military vehicles. The ordinary ones work fine against civilian targets. pl

  17. BadTux says:

    My suspicion, based on open source research, is that there are multiple insurgencies, i.e. the ones blowing up Iraqi policemen are not the same people as the ones blowing up American Humvees and Bradleys. There is no reason to think that Iran is not aiding the latter, and every reason to think that they would, in as hard-to-detect a manner as possible.
    As for “ex-Baathists”, perhaps I was using too much of a shorthand. You might consider these to be ex-leaders of the Iraqi Army, who would love to put together another military dictatorship with them in charge, and who have access to a large core of expertise. You can bet that for the past decade these people saw that Saddam was on a downhill slide, and have been making preparations for the day. These are the most likely culprits in blowing up the Shiite government’s officials, destabilizing any Shiite government is decidedly in their best interest, the last thing they want is an effective Shiite government capable of hunting them down and exterminating them. Unlike the jihadis, these men operate in the shadows and try not to draw attention to themselves, but they are decidedly not Rumsfeld’s “dead enders”. They may have held positions in the old Baath government’s army, but they are “Baathist” only in that respect, rather than from any respect for the old Baath Party civilian leadership.
    A smart counterinsurgency would take advantage of the inevitable tensions between the secular insurgents (the tribal elements, the Baathists) and the religious insurgents (the jihadis). But then, “smart” and the U.S. counterinsurgency effort in Iraq have been a contradiction in terms. The insurgency obviously knows where our soldiers are at any given time, to the point where they can wipe out a sniper platoon and then take the time to stand around and pose around the looted bodies, secure in the knowledge that no U.S. detachments are near to harass them. Our own troops, on the other hand, appear to have little or no clue about where the insurgents are. Or, for that matter, a good handle on *who* they are. That intelligence gap is a deadly one, both in the short run, and in the long run. If you don’t know who your enemy is, how can you defeat him?

  18. Dave says:

    Re. point 3, I think you’re quite correct. I don’t get why folks would doubt that the Iranians might want to support a Sunni insurgency against the US. It’s one of the only things that seems to me to explain the movement of personnel that we saw documented in the press after the invasion of Afghanistan and prior to the invasion of Iraq – a goodly number of folks went across the border into Iran and from there to Iraq, Zarqawi among them if press accounts are to be believed (and I tend to believe them). I recall reading quite specifically of one little fish who had entered Iran, been passed to the Iraqi Mukhabarat and ended up with what sounded a lot like Ansar al-Islam (he didn’t actually say Ansar, but from the description and place names that had to have been the group).
    As to Bad Tux’s point that it’s primarily the ex-Ba’ath that are killing the Shi’a, respectfully, I’m not so sure. I’ve noted a real hardening of sentiment against the Shi’a on the part of militant Sunnis over the past 18 months or so. There’ve been mass killings as far afield as Pakistan, if I recall correctly. I rather suspect that a goodly number of the killings of Shi’a, particularly the civilians, even in addition to the suicide attacks, are attributable to Zarqawi and aligned groups. To be sure, such killings, particularly those of government officials, at least partially support the strategic goals of the ex-Ba’ath, but I wonder how many of the really high-ranking ex-Ba’ath core (narrowly defined) would like to distance themselves from those sorts of attacks right now, given that their best bet might be a negotiated power sharing arrangement.
    My personal view is that Zarqawi and his group are best viewed as a deniable Ba’ath proxy that’s now come to be only partially controlled, if they’re controlled at all. Similarly a big chunk of the nationalist resistance got started as a Ba’ath “windup toy” — I’ve seen a number of accounts of guys coming forward in early days with technical skills and knowledge of where munitions were and passing them on to nationalist Sunni groups willing to fight [statements to the effect of “so and so helped us, he used to be in the Mukhabarat”]. How much day to day control the former Ba’ath leadership still have, I sure dunno.
    On a technical note, why would they be going for shaped charges over other techniques that enhance penetration? Seems like it’s kind of chancy, given the vagaries of standoff distance…

  19. ismoot says:

    I dunno either about why they think shaped charges are so cool. You know as well as I do that the stand off thing is a problem in a road side bomb. It may end up all wrong plus the angle of strike of the energy core may be off and you lose a lot of the effect. It’s not like they are walking up and putting the things on top of the vehicles. Maybe they just aren’t up to anything better yet and are not in the mood to engage from up close with an RPG or recoiless. I presume they must have recoiless?
    My compliments on the analysis on the political-military front.
    First rate. pl

  20. BadTux says:

    Multiple insurgencies, multiple motivations, multiple funding sources. As for tightness of Iranian intelligence, we like to think of Islam as being this monolithic thing, but it is as filled with factions as Christianity. It is clear that for the Iranian-backed Shiite factions, at least, that there are multiple agendas at work, and various ayatollahs within Iran are directly supporting different Shiite factions within Iraq. It would be surprising, given the depth to which the ayatollahs influence and control the Iranian government, if those divisions did not extend into the Iranian government itself.
    They are, however, quite united in one thing: Their hostility to the United States. Having U.S. troops on both sides of of them in a potentially threatening posture tends to rather clarify a country’s mind about such things. It would not surprise me at all if the IED makers were being directly paid by agents of the Iranian government. They have every incentive to bleed the U.S. as much as possible, because the more the U.S. bleeds, the less likely it is that the U.S. will invade Iran directly (as vs. just launching a few cruise missiles at obvious targets). And in a country with 60% unemployment, there is no shortage of people willing to risk death from bullets in order to avoid death from starvation, especially now that the basic food ration has ceased (apparently because the new Iraqi government either a. embezzeled all the money for it, or b. is too incompetent to keep it going).

  21. ismoot says:

    Bad Tux
    The Iranian Ministry of Intelligence is a highly disciplined organ of the Iranian state which has functioned with great effectiveness since the creation of the Islamic Republic in a wide variety of missions.
    It in no way reflects the varied and fractious nature of Islamic society. pl

  22. Mr.Murder says:

    Ali Akbar Dareini is a neocon asset putting out AP bylines, supposedly from Tehran, helping fan the flames of nuclear tension and at times issuing contradictory threat topics.
    Meanwhile with Iraq- shaped charges for use in petroleum industry continue their use?
    Why has nobody audited Halliburton there?
    How many false flags initiated reaction by targeting mosques? You really think Islamic people will bomb holy shrines up when white infidels are upon their land?
    Negroponte’s handiwork set the table well for fracturing ethnic and religious tensions.
    Ohhh, we cannot- the Iraqi loans Bush helped insure (instead of grants) is something that goes unmentioned for the most part.
    Nobody is checking the Saudi border or mentions it. Seems the capacity to aquire/developed shaped charges from there would be more certain.
    They have triangulated on other OPEC lands previously, and profit greatly off such. Look there to see who is trying to remove Syria’s influence.
    What isn’t said is mostly likely to be what is. Iran is getting the mushroom cloud terra supporter treatment all over.
    The Saud wahhabbi and cointelpro people such as Mr.John Israel from Abu Gharib are going unmentioned.
    Too much is going on to judge any one event on its own now. So many entanglements and parallel objectives.
    Nephew was in guard tour, said the biggest hot zone kills they got were Iranians. Did not get to verify his knowledge of them. He would rather not be ther because people everywhere cussed them and threw stones. As a result he insulated self from any critical identification of their culture, people, so one would suspect their origins conclusion would be suspect.
    But he did train/work aside Russian sailors on both sides of Iraq’s waterway, the gulf and their sea that shares waters with Iran.
    Exactly how much logisitcal support from Yuoks goes into this and can they supply shaped charges for petroleum as well?
    The best way to develop counterinsurgents within loyal ranks is to introduce new source networks. There’s damned good odds that Bush is getting played by people whose souls he’s looked into,and this on a regular basis.

  23. Dave says:

    (Apologies for the delay in following up, I was on holiday.)
    Though I am firmly of the conviction that Iran is a player in the current situation, I am wondering whether the reporting on these specific charges hasn’t somehow gotten ahead of or distanced from the facts. Michael Yon made a post on his very good blog a while ago that contained pictures of what I assume (and that’s admittedly a big assumption) are examples of these shaped charges, which were recovered from a very large arms dump in Mosul (link at: pics are approx three-quarters of the way down). Maybe I’m suffering from “the enemy is ten feet tall” syndrome, but from what I can see, these things don’t look as sophisticated as I would expect from the guys that brought us Hezbullah.
    Contrary to some of the media accounts that I’ve read, these don’t look to me like they are designed to produce a self-forging projectile (I will hasten to add that I’ve only known such devices from technical drawings, but the examples of self-forging warhead design that I can clearly recall showed a lightly concave explosive face with a metallic plate covering it, rather than the deep conical face seen in the examples in the link above), but are instead a pretty conventional focussed blast design. I could well be wrong, but I don’t even see any signs of gilding metal [I’m sure that’s not the proper term] on the inner face of the cavity (I think the colour on the interior face of a few of the charges is in large part due to the fact that the photo was probably taken in very early morning light). Though I’d give a penny or two to know what the fusing for these things looks like, from the business end they look somewhat crude – what I assume is simple cast explosive with variations in the dimensions of the cone that might imply a pretty homespun origin.
    Interpretationally thin, I know, and if there’s other evidence that sources them to Iran, then fair enough (I did see statements to the effect that a shipment was snagged in proximity to Iran, but it wasn’t as concrete a data point as I’d like).

  24. ismoot says:

    Very interesting but I’m not an ordnance officer and really not qualified to make that kind of judgment.
    The rough finish and relative crudeness would not surprise me.
    Maybe someone will have something to say about this who knows the subject. pl

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