NEWSWEEK PERISCOPE: Tehran-Guess Who's Trying to Infiltrate Iraq?

Feb 20, 2005, 00:00 ET from Newsweek

    NEW YORK, Feb. 20 /PRNewswire/ -- NEWSWEEK PERISCOPE item:
     (Photo: )
     Fresh intel suggests that Tehran is trying to expand its influence over
 whatever government emerges in postelection Iraq. According to U.S. officials
 familiar with the latest intelligence, the Iranian government has been
 secretly directing its agents inside Iraq to plant themselves in influential
 positions throughout the Iraqi government-into agencies that handle economic
 affairs, like the ministries of Oil, Public Works and Finance, as well as
 departments like the Interior Ministry that handle national security. The
 Iranians also are directing their agents to infiltrate Iraqi security agencies
 on the "working level" by taking jobs in regional or local government offices
 and particularly local police forces. According to the most pessimistic U.S.
 analysts, the ayatollahs' ultimate goal: "Taking over the government of Iraq."
 A less pessimistic view is that the latest intel merely shows an ongoing
 campaign of "classical espionage" by Tehran against Iraq.
     U.S. government sources say a significant number of intel reports have
 recently documented the Iranian covert-action campaign and that the reports
 include internal Iranian government discussions about how Tehran's agents in
 Iraq are being deployed. Many of the Iranian agents in question, the intel
 reports say, are members of the Badr Corps, a paramilitary affiliate of the
 Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a political party with
 longtime Iranian ties that is one of the principal partners in the coalition
 of Shiite parties that won the largest number of seats in the new Iraqi
 constitutional assembly. U.S. analysts now believe the corps is riddled with
 agents controlled by Iranian intelligence. U.S. officials note that most of
 the parties and politicians who won biggest in last month's Iraqi elections
 have historical ties to Tehran. Both SCIRI and the Dawa Party, the other major
 partner in the winning Shiite coalition, were based in Tehran for years during
 Saddam's rule, and maintained close relations with Iran's theocracy. So did at
 least one leader of the Kurdish coalition that will be kingmakers in Baghdad.
 Dawa chief Ibrahim Jaafari, a favorite to become Iraq's new prime minister, is
 known to favor an Islamic influence on any new Iraqi constitution. Some Bush
 administration officials are horrified that Jaafari's principal rival for the
 prime minister's office appears to be Ahmad Chalabi, the secular-minded but
 controversial Shiite who during the Saddam era maintained a Tehran office that
 was financed with U.S. tax money. Once the Pentagon's prime candidate to
 succeed Saddam, Chalabi fell out of favor in Washington last year when intel
 agencies alleged he gave Iran information compromising U.S. code-breaking
 operations. (Chalabi denied any wrongdoing.) Despite the ominous new
 intelligence, nongovernment experts say it's possible nationalist-minded
 Iraqis can thwart Tehran's effort to take control in Iraq.
     --Mark Hosenball
      (Periscope item in the February 28 issue of Newsweek, on newsstands
                               Monday, Feb. 21.)

SOURCE Newsweek