According to recent press reports, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the leader of an al-Qaeda umbrella group in Iraq threatened war against Iran unless it stops supporting Shiites in Iraq.
Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who leads the group Islamic State in Iraq, said his Sunni fighters have been preparing for four years to wage a battle against Shiite-dominated Iran.“We are giving the Persians, and especially the rulers of Iran, a two month period to end all kinds of support for the Iraqi Shiite government and to stop direct and indirect intervention … otherwise a severe war is waiting for you,” he said in the 50-minute audiotape.
Al-Baghdadi also “advised” all Sunni leaders and businessmen inside Iran and in the Gulf to cease any partnerships with Shiite Iranians. These reports along with a considerable history which routinely places Iranian Shiites and certain Sunni non-Iranian groups at opposite ends of the regional power structure makes repeated U.S. declarations that Iran is cooperating with Al-Qaeda highly unlikely. This Washington Post article, citing the 9/11 Panel, repeats the familiar charge:
While it found no operational ties between al Qaeda and Iraq, the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has concluded that Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network had long-running contacts with Iraq’s neighbor and historic foe, Iran.
Al Qaeda, the commission determined, may even have played a “yet unknown role” in aiding Hezbollah militants in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia, an attack the United States has long blamed solely on Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors.
The notion that bin Laden may have had a hand in the Khobar bombing would mark a rare operational alliance between Sunni and Shiite Muslim groups that have historically been at odds. That possibility, largely overlooked in the furor of new revelations released by the commission last week, comes amid worsening relations between the United States and Iran, which announced on Thursday that it would resume building equipment necessary for a nuclear weapons program.
The U.S. has consistently held Iran accountable for the Khobar Tower bombings, however, recent announcements from former Defense Secretary William Perry have cleared Iran and implicated al-Qaeda for the bombings.
“Admission of the former US Defense Secretary W. Perry was a response to the US administration’s baseless charges against Iran,” said Hosseini in his weekly press briefing when asked to comment on Perry’s statement clearing Iran of involvement in the al-Khobar explosion after 11 years.
Perry said after 11 years that the US had come to the conclusion that al-Qaeda had been behind the suicide bombing in the US military base in al-Khobar not Iran.
In fact, there are indications the U.S. is covertly supporting Sunni militant groups allied with the Taliban to destabilize Iran through a series of raids including car bombings and beheadings in Iran’s Baluchestan region bordering Pakistan.
A Pakistani tribal militant group responsible for a series of deadly guerrilla raids inside Iran has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials since 2005, U.S. and Pakistani intelligence sources tell ABC News.
According to this ABC News report, Bruce Reidel, “a recently retired CIA senior official who dealt with Iran and other countries in the region” states “The entire plan has been blessed by [Elliot] Abrams, in particular.” ABC News notes Abrams’ record on foreign interference:
Abrams’ last involvement with attempting to destabilize a foreign government led to criminal charges.
He pleaded guilty in October 1991 to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress about the Reagan administration’s ill-fated efforts to destabilize the Nicaraguan Sandinista government in Central America, known as the Iran-Contra affair. Abrams was later pardoned by President George H. W. Bush in December 1992.
Vali Nasr, Professor of International Politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University, highlights the volatile nature of this policy.
And this covert action is now being escalated by the new U.S. directive, and that can very quickly lead to Iranian retaliation and a cycle of escalation can follow.
Last month, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, raised the oft-repeated accusation that Iran is arming the Taliban, who are close allies of al-Qaeda. This article in Wired by Sharon Weinberger contains an interesting analysis on Burns’ comments including citing a humorous New York Times article:
This statement, however, actually reminds me of back during the 2000 elections, when Condoleezza Rice, a Sovietologist by training, claimed there was an Iran-Taliban connection, only to be mocked for her ignorance in a New York Times article (which also noted that Bush thought the Taliban was a rock band).
However, despite the long-running tensions and accusations between the U.S. and Iran, some analysts see an aligning of interests in resisting al-Qaeda which may form a mutually beneficial partnership between the two countries and serve as a potential starting point for easing hostilities. Iran scholar R.K. Ramazani, professor emeritus at the University of Virginia, published the following article entitled Might U.S., Iran cooperate on al-Qaida?
Anti-Iran hawks will be horrified at the idea to partner with Iran against al-Qaida. Iran’s ties to Hezbollah and Hamas, they will claim, establish Iran and al-Qaida as woven from the same terrorist cloth.
But such charges gravely distort reality. There is no such a thing as good and bad terrorism; terrorism kills and maims innocent civilians, regardless of the cause. But failure to grasp the importance of conflicts between al-Qaida and Iran benefits al-Qaida and blinds us to common American and Iran-ian interests in the peace, security and stability of Iraq.
Update (7-19-07): According to this article by the LA Times, some claim al-Baghdadi is a fictional character played by an Iraqi actor.
An Iraqi actor has been used to read statements attributed to Baghdadi, who since October has been identified as the leader of the Islamic State of Iraq group, said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner.
Irancove @ July 13, 2007