NEWSWEEK PERISCOPE: Tehran-Guess Who's Trying to Infiltrate Iraq?
NEW YORK, Feb. 20 /PRNewswire/ -- NEWSWEEK PERISCOPE item: (Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20050220/NYSU006 ) 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 http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6999382/site/newsweek/ (Periscope item in the February 28 issue of Newsweek, on newsstands Monday, Feb. 21.)