Swiss Bulletin of International Affairs

The role of Iran in supporting oppositional jihadi forces in Iraq

15 January 2006

“The road to Qods ( Jerusalem) is through Kerbala (southern-central city in Iraq)”. A famous quote by the founder of Islamic theocracy, Khomeini, and repeatedly cited by Tehran’s officials in the past 26 years. Stating the vision of Islamic Fundamentalism, Khomeini’s quote describes the moral, political and religious expansionist agenda of the theocratic government in Tehran.

In 1989, Ali Khamenei replaced Khomeini; yet, the vision became an active strategy today where Iran’s destructive role in Iraq has been characterized as “ America’s hidden war”. While America has come, for the first time, face to face with Iran’s strategy on Iraqi soil, some American media and policymakers still fail to recognize the engine behind it: Islamic Fundamentalism.

Khomeini’s vision and political agenda of supporting Jihadists, or better yet radical Islamist forces, in Iraq has been in works for more than 50 years. However, the 2003 surgical transformation of Iraq’s political presence in the region has made it more visible and recognizable.

In order to understand the depth of Iran’s influence in Iraq, one has to look at the status of Iraqi women, social and political transformation of Iraqi society since the removal of Saddam.

As a point of historical reference, Islamic Fundamentalism in Iran was established as a form of government in 1979. Since the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war in September 1980, the Islamic Republic of Iran had intentions to dominate its neighboring countries and the region. The Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988 after eight years of death and destruction did not deliver results, yet Khomeini's vision lived on. The invasion of Iraq and removal of Saddam Hussein created the best opportunity for the clerical regime to actively reengage in its goal of expansionism.

Strategy and implementation

Since the beginning of invasion in 2003, Iran has played a dual role in Iraq. In anticipation of the invasion the Iranian regime sent thousands of its agents to settle in different areas to influence the political course in Iraq. Iran also infiltrated by sending money and weapons as well as training different Shiite and Sunni militias who fight against the coalition forces. The Iranian regime supported its surrogates such as the Ansar es-Islam terrorist group to spread chaos in the northeast and the Badr Brigade and Al-Mahdi army, to support insurgency in the south and Baghdad regions.

Tehran ’s regime’s strategy of spreading the Islamic revolution employs a potpourri of well designed and carefully coordinated tactics ranging from very subtle cultural influences to utterly bold military interferences. Critical success factors are:

  • Continuous broadcast of radio and television programs aimed at “Islamization” of the population. The Al-Alaam television was lunched immediately in post-Saddam era.
  • Leveraging from close and historical alliance with religious establishment in Najaf, Tehran is heavily infiltrating the religious Shia ranks primarily by those who spent decades in Iranian religious schools in Qum.
  • Setting up social service organizations as a venue for cultural influence, a tactic successfully used by the Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine.
  • Systematic purchase of real estates, lands and houses at higher than market price value by Iran’s intelligence ministry and revolutionary guards in various parts of Iraq, particularly in Diyala province and Baghdad surroundings.
  • Implementing Islamic Sharia laws in Southern Shia towns such as Almanar and Najaf through both local officials and non-officials.
  • Infiltrating the bureaucratic ranks of the Iraqi government, particularly Iraq’s interior ministry.
  • Influencing the commerce through heavily subsidized dealings and sabotage efforts to create superficial black market needs.
  • Instigating widespread fraud in the local and national elections by dispatching thousands of fraudulent ballets from Iran.
  • Exploiting ethnic conflicts between Iraqi Sunni and Shia factions through providing arms, finances, training and expertise.
  • Supporting the foreign terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Ansar-al-Islam.
  • Direct paramilitary operations by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Basijji forces, train and dispatch of suicide bombers to destabilize the country as well as hunt down the Iranian opposition members based in Iraq.

I. Formation of Iraqi opposition backed by Iran

Clearly, in order to thoroughly examine these tactics, one has to keep the concept of Islamic Fundamentalism as an ideological and political power in Tehran and its hegemonic goals in the region. In the early 1990’s, Saddam Hussein persecuted the Shiite population in southern Iraq resulting in mass migration of Shiite Iraqis to Iran. Soon there after, the Supreme Islamic Council for the Revolution in Iraq (SICRI) was formed with the help if Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) and Ayatollah Baqir Al Hakim became the recognized leader by the Iranian regime. IRGC played an instrumental role to militarize SCIRI and train its armed wing the Badr Brigade.

The Badr Organization is the entity involved in running the secret prisons for the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior. Iran has also supported the al-Mahdi Army led by Muqtada al Sadr who travels to Tehran frequently and meets with the officials of the regime there.

II. Iran’s destructive role in Iraq

The evidence of the Iranian government supporting the insurgency is overwhelming. According to an Iraqi Defense Ministry official who talked to the daily Al-Mashreq, in February 2005, 16 trucks carrying weapons and large sums of money from Iran were discovered and confiscated. The weapons included rifles, mortar rounds, and explosives. The individuals arrested admitted to being agents of Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), and said that lodging had been provided for them in Samara, Balad, Najaf, and Latifiyeh. They revealed working for the MOIS in conjunction with Iran's Fajr Forces. The agents also disclosed the names of a number of Fajr commanders and MOIS agents whom they worked for.

In February 2005, Simaye Azadi, exiled Persian-language satellite braodcasting close to the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran, said it had obtained documents from Fajr Garrison of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, which showed that the Islamic Republic was running a vast underground network in Iraq with 40,000 agents on its payroll. Fajr Garrison, near the southwestern Iranian city of Ahwaz, is the principal headquarters of the Revolutionary Guards in southern Iran. The top commanders of the IRGC’s elite Qods ( Jerusalem) Force running Iran’s vast clandestine operations in southern Iraq are based in this garrison.

Dr. Abdullah Rasheed al-Jabouri, who survived 14 assassination attempts as governor of Iraq's Diyala province, told a US congressional hearing in May 2005 that: "There's question today that Iran is behind many terrorist attacks, especially against civilians and anti-fundamentalist politicians," "In Diyala province ... we managed to capture many Iranian agents or Iraqi and foreign nationals who were on Iran's payroll and had received training in terrorist activities."

The Iraqi weekly Al’Ittijahol-Akhar reported in May 2005 that Colonel Ali Esmaeil, the head of the investigative unit of Diyala police force said that 30 individuals arrested in the Iraqi province of Diyala have admitted to acting on the orders of Iran’s notorious Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) to spur sectarian violence to destabilize the region, according to a senior Iraqi police official.

In July 2005 armor-piercing bombs that have the power of three ordinary landmines and are detonated through infrared with Iranian manufacture signatures were discovered by British troops. These bombs are used by Iraqi insurgents against the British tanks in the Basra region and American forces in other areas.

Iran ’s revolutionary forces, IRGC, have also set up training camps in Iran and Southern Lebanon to train the insurgents and suicide bombers. In July 2005, a military garrison was opened in Iran to recruit and train volunteers for “martyrdom-seeking operations”, according to its commander Mohammad-Reza Jafari. A senior officer in the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Jafari told a hard-line weekly close to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the new “Lovers of Martyrdom Garrison” would recruit individuals willing to carry out suicide operations against Western targets. The full text of his interview in Persian which was titled: “Let America and Israel know, each of our suicide volunteers equals a nuclear bomb” can be seen on the weekly’s website at

A state-run weekly Parto-Sokhan is published in the Shia holy city of Qom by the Imam Khomeini Educational and Research Institute. The chairman of the institute is Ayatollah Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, a hard-line cleric regarded as the ideological mentor of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Jafari was also quoted by the weekly as saying that the organization of "martyrdom-seeking popular forces" was being implemented on the basis of instructions from the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

Jafari was quoted to say: “The Imam [Khomeini] said years ago that Israel must be wiped off the face of the Earth, but so far practical steps have not been taken to achieve this”, “Our garrison must find, recruit, organize and train martyrdom-seeking individuals to materialize this objective. Any delay in fulfilling the strategy of the Imam and the Supreme Leader in this regard will not be to the advantage of Islam or the revolution”.

“The United States should know that we have nuclear weapons, but they are in the hearts of our suicide bombers”, Jafari added. Parto-Sokhan weekly also placed an advertisement and application form for the recruitment of suicide bombers.

In September the Dubai based Arabic television, Al-Arabiya reported that a former Iranian colonel in the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Qods Force (one of the five main branches of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps which has the task of conducting operations beyond Iran’s borders), revealed that two IRGC officers based at Ramadan Garrison near the Iran-Iraq border had recently met with four commanders of Ansar al-Islam and Jihad Organization to “examine ways of stepping up armed operations against British forces in southern Iraq”. The meeting was meant to promote relations between Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Ansar al-Islam in Iraqi Kurdistan and the Jihad Organization, which operates in central and southern Iraq.

Ahmadinejad’s appointment of the Islamic hard-liner Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar as the Defense Minister was a boost to the extra-territorial insurgency support by the clerical regime. “Mohammad-Najjar was the first commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Middle East branch and is committed to export of Iran’s Islamic revolution”, said Nasser Akbarian, a former Iranian army officer who now lives in Germany. “As Defense Minister, he will be in a unique position to take care of all the logistical needs of the Qods Force for its operations in Iraq and in other parts of the region”. Mohammad-Najjar, who spent most of his time as commander of IRGC’s Middle East forces in Lebanon between 1981 and 1985, has been implicated in the suicide bombing of the U.S. Marines compound in Beirut airport in October 1983, which killed 241 Americans.

More than 70% of Ahmadinejad’s cabinet are members or commanders of notorious IRGC. Given the strong network and extensive influence in Iraqi affairs, Iranian regime clearly views the “road to Qods” is paved via Karbala.

Future of the region

The Iranian officials and media have already started declaring victory in Iraq. On December 22, 2005 the Interior Minister Pour-Mohammadi said: “Today, the people of Iraq and their elite have adopted our ideals and models as their own.” Pour-Mohammadi served as Iran’s Deputy Intelligence Minister for years, running the country’s vast secret police operations abroad, including Iraq. He was also a member of the “death committee” in the notorious Evin prison in 1988. The committee ordered summary executions of thousands of political prisoners.

On Dec 23, 2005 the editorial of Iran’s leading hard-line daily Kayhan hailed the outcome of Iraq’s parliamentary elections as “the creation of the first Islamist state in the Arab world”, and warned against “American plots” to prevent the formation of the new Iraqi government by Iranian-backed Shiite groups. It continued on to say: “Today’s Iraq shows the two sides of the Middle Eastern coin: the victory of Islamism, and the defeat and flight of the West”.

The ultimate goal, as Khomeini declared, is reaching Jerusalem from Kerbala. Just weeks after his election, Ahmadinejad said: "Thanks to the blood of the martyrs, a new Islamic revolution has arisen and the Islamic revolution of 1384 (the current Iranian year) will, if God wills, cut off the roots of injustice in the world." In October, Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be "wiped off the map. “The revival of Islam is whipping the frail body of the Global Hegemony”, Ahmadinejad said in a reference to the United States. “This Global Hegemony will soon be toppled”. In December 2005, Hamas head Khalid Mashaal visited Tehran and told Ahmadinejad that Hamas appreciates Iran's stance against Israel generally and the president's "insistence on the illegitimate nature of Israel”. Interior Minister Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi told Mashaal that Palestine is the Iranian government's top foreign policy priority. In January 2006, Ahmadinejad defended his remarks against Israel and said: “Some in Iran and abroad thought that we were making these speeches without a specific plan and policy, but we have been pursuing a deliberate strategy in this regards ( Israel). The wave [that these speeches created] has a lot of supporters among young people in the Muslim world and it will continue to move forward”.

Such statement clearly describes the hegemonic objectives of the Islamic Fundamentalist ideology throughout the region. Yet, such views have not gone unchallenged. In 1993, Iran’s main opposition group warned of Tehran’s danger. In his book: “Islamic Fundamentalism, the New Global Threat” published in 1993, Mohammad Mohadessin the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran NCRI identified and described this threat.

Iran ’s spread of Islamic Fundamentalism is clearly a threat in the region. In October 2005, Mrs. Maryam Rajavi, leader of the NCRI, delivered a speech to US Congress and said “Today, the world is reaching a common understanding of the global threat that Islamic fundamentalism poses.” Referring to the strategy of Tehran’s regime, Rajavi explained “the mullahs in Iran, they see the export of Islamic fundamentalism as the only means of survival, because they are hated by 95 percent of the Iranian people.” In her view, there is a political solution to defeat Islamic Fundamentalism and it must come from both Iran and Iraq. Outlining specific components to such policy on Iran, Rajavi urges the west to “Refer the Iranian regime's nuclear and terrorism files to the UN Security Council”. In addition, she calls on the US and Europeans to stand with those who have been calling for democracy in Iran in the past 26 years.

Continued policy of appeasement and constant talk of military attacks will not defeat the threat of Islamic Fundamentalism. Both Iranian and Iraqi people are capable and will take control of their country’s future.


Jila Kazerounian

Jila Kazerounian is the executive director of the orgnisation "Women's forum against fundamentalism in Iran" (WFAFI) and writes regularly for various publications dealing with the situation in Iran






2004 Swiss Bulletin of International Affairs