By Bob Kent* and Rachel Ehrenfeld
With funds from Dubai, the Maliki/Iran/ISIS network has been busy establishing sleeper cells in Western cities, and at least one sleeper agent is now in New York City on a student visa.
The US is intentionally ignoring the invisible puppet master behind ISIS terrorist attacks in Barcelona, London, Paris, Iraq, and Afghanistan. From the 1983 Beirut Barracks bombing, to the 1984 US Embassy bombings in Kuwait and Beirut, to the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, to supplying advisors and weapons to Sunni and Shiite militia groups in Iraq, and providing similar support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, Iran has demonstrated a long history of using proxy militias and terrorists to attack US Forces. These proxy attacks are often devastatingly effective, and at least twenty-five percent of US casualties in Iraq can be linked to Iranian supported groups.
From the 1983 Beirut Barracks bombing, to the 1984 US Embassy bombings in Kuwait and Beirut, to the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, to supplying advisors and weapons to Sunni and Shiite militia groups in Iraq, and providing similar support for the Taliban in Afghanistan, Iran has demonstrated a long history of using proxy militias and terrorists to attack US Forces. These proxy attacks are often devastatingly effective, and at least twenty-five percent of US casualties in Iraq can be linked to Iranian supported groups.
Since the 2011 withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, Iranian influence has dominated Iraqi political, military, economic, and cultural affairs. During this time, Iran has concentrated on its strategic goals of creating a client state in Iraq and establishing a strategic corridor from Iran through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. Mimicking the methods used by Iranian radicals during the Islamic Revolution (by creating discord between divergent ethnic groups inside Iran until it could consolidate power), Quds Force incited sectarian violence in Iraq. The resulting violence enabled Iran to organize and sponsor proxy militias to defend against the perceived “threat.” Iran is using its influence and power over Shi’a politicians in Iraq, as well as terrorism, as a tool of statecraft to further its goal of becoming a regional hegemon.
Iran is supporting Shiite Militias and their associated political parties for the express purpose of projecting Iranian Ideology and power throughout the Middle East. Iran’s support is so pervasive that all Shiite Militias in the Middle East must be considered part of the broader IRCG-Quds Force network. The Iranian Government will continue to stoke the sectarian divide between ethnoreligious groups in Iraq and will continue to use proxy militias to promote its interests in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. The unchecked proliferation of Shiite militias is viewed by US Middle East allies as tacit approval of Iran’s regional goals.
“We have returned a great nation as we were before and everyone has to understand that we are the masters of the region; Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain soon, all of them belong to our embraces.” Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier-General Hussein Dheqan, July 2017.
In contrast, for the past three years, the US has ignored strategic objectives in the Middle East and instead focused on the tactical fight against ISIS. Both the Trump and Obama Administrations ignored Iran’s strategic goals and chose to cooperate with the Iranian influenced Iraqi government and help the Iranian proxy Hashid al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces or PMF) wage battle against ISIS. U.S. policymakers have been under the mistaken impression that Iranian military assistance to Iraq furthers the overall U.S. objective of countering the Islamic State. While this policy may achieve the goal of reducing the geographic area that ISIS controls, it is a monistic approach that considers a single element as the primary determinant of behavior and ignores Iranian regional goals.
The current US policy has enabled Iran to secure a strategic corridor to Syria and Lebanon and has unwittingly provided Iran with a source for both a highly dangerous proxy militia and plausibly deniable means to attack US interests in the Middle East and at home: Iran is recruiting zealous ISIS fighters who were captured during the battle of Mosul.
Quds Force has been coordinating with the PMF and Iraqi Government officials loyal to Noori Maliki to recruit the most effective ISIS fighters and release them from Iraqi prisons. Approximately five thousand ISIS fighters have been released and are being organized, trained, and equipped by Quds Force into a Sunni terrorist organization that will be used to attack US forces and other regional forces.
Mosul has long been part of Iran’s strategy to dominate Iraq and extend its influence throughout the region. Through its proxy militias and military forces, Iran now enjoys a zone of influence extending through Iraq to Syria and into Lebanon and the Mediterranean coast. However, unless the Iranians can occupy and exploit the historically Sunni Iraqi plains of the Tigris and Euphrates, sustaining their influence and maintaining control of the strategic corridor they established will be impossible. Mosul is Iraq’s second largest city and strategically located on the Tigris. Iran must secure Mosul and its dam to ensure control of the Sunni Iraqi plains and their strategic corridor to Syria.
Although the extent of Iran’s role in the rise of ISIS is unknown, the current Iranian proxy militia patron and former Iraq Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki conspired with Qasim Sulaimani before ISIS captured Mosul to establish a strategic corridor for Iraq and destabilize Mosul. In early 2014, Qasim Sulaimani sent a letter to Noori Al Maliki advising Maliki that it is not enough that they (Iran) control Dilala, Salahddin, and Alanbar, they also need to keep Mosul unstable until Iranian militias reach the Jordanian border. In June 2014, ISIS seized Mosul after Prime Minister Maliki ordered the Iraqi Army that was fighting ISIS to retreat from the city.
After ISIS captured Mosul, Sulaimani further conspired with Maliki and his successor, PM al-Abadi, to degrade the Iraqi Army and replace Iraqi security forces with the IRCG lead PMF. Iran used the PMF to secure and transform the demographics of the strategic corridor. Diyala is now an Iranian stronghold. The PMF will continue to prevent displaced Sunnis from returning to the strategic corridor and Diyala will be the staging area for future Iranian military operations.
Quds Force leadership believes that Iran will have to confront both the US and the Peshmerga to protect their strategic corridor. Since May, Iran has been preparing for the next phase of the Iraq conflict and has been systematically stockpiling long range ballistic missiles, anti-aircraft, and other heavy weapons in Basra, Salah al-Din, and Diyala. Quds Force preparations to confront the US include inserting a company of snipers in the Green Zone to target the US Embassy and direct fire for militia controlled MLRS batteries in Abu Ghraib and Rustomia. On June 4th, Quds Force representatives met with the Russians, Syrians, and Iraqis at Muthana Airport (Baghdad) to plan the proxy occupation of Kirkuk by Quds Force lead Turkoman PMF militia.
Backed by Maliki’s multi-billion dollar war chest, Mosul is being transformed into the headquarters for the Maliki/Iran/ISIS network and will be the staging area for future Quds Force and PMF operations. Quds Force has already completed three critical steps necessary to create an international terrorist facilitation network. First, they are changing the demographics of Mosul and are turning the city into an Iranian stronghold. The PMF is preventing any Sunnis from returning to Mosul, and power brokers loyal to Maliki have been purchasing large swaths of property in Mosul’s Green Zone for Iran, the PMF, and the Dawa Party.
The Maliki/Iran/ network has been busy establishing ISIS sleeper cells in Western cities, and at least one sleeper agent in now in New York City on a student visa.
The Iranians are using mostly captured ISIS fighters from Western countries, organizing them into a proxy terrorist force (ISIS 2.0). The recruited fighters are given lodgings in the Mosul area. Some are “sheep-dipped” and given new Shiite identities while others were given positions in the recently formed Quds Force led Sunni Tribal Mobilization Forces (TMF). While the US watched, Quds Force capitalized on the defeat of ISIS in Mosul and created a proxy international terrorist facilitation network.
Although the IS network presents an imminent threat to Western cities, Iran will most likely use ISIS 2.0 to attack Shiite communities in Southern Iraq before the end of the year. The only threat to Iran’s continued political domination of Iraq is the burgeoning alliance between Muqtada al-Sadr and Saudi Arabia. Quds Force and Hezbollah are currently training ISIS 2.0 and Al Qaeda terrorists at a training facility near Shikhan and plan to use them to attack civilian targets in Najaf. Najaf is the third holiest city in Shia Islam and the birthplace and stronghold of al-Sadr. The objective of these terrorist attacks will be to instigate sectarian violence between Shiites and Sunnis and destroy al-Sadr’s cooperation with Saudi Arabia. Quds Force has also begun cooperating with ISIS in Syria and recently used Hezbollah to transport ISIS fighters from the Lebanon/Syria border to Dairazor, Syria.
The 2017 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community stated that Iran is the “foremost sponsor of terrorism, and, with its primary terrorist partner, Lebanese Hezbollah, will pose a continuing threat to US interests and partners worldwide. This statement does not sufficiently inform US policymakers as it fails to emphasize that Iran considers terrorism a valuable foreign policy tool and sponsors terrorism to promote geopolitical goals, not religious ideology.
Iran established the Quds Force in 1990 for the express purpose of increasing militant Islam, greatly increasing the number of terrorist activities as well as the provision of arms to terrorist and militant groups in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf states, and several other countries. In late 1991-1992, Iran agreed to assist Al-Qaeda in carrying out operations against common enemies, chiefly the U.S. and Israel, as well as providing senior members of the group with explosives training inside Iran. Another group of Al-Qaeda members was trained in Lebanon by Iranian operatives in 1993. Notable terrorist attacks attributed to Iran during the early 1990s include the bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aries and the attack on Khobar Towers.
The September 11th attacks thrust Islamist terrorism into the Western media spotlight. Iran greatly increased state sponsored terrorism after these attacks by actively aiding al-Qaeda as well as supporting insurgencies in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Iran repeatedly provided sanctuary for al Qaeda fighters during this period. The 9/11 Commission reported that 8 to 10 of the 9/11 hijackers traveled through Iran between October 2000 and February 200l and took advantage of an Iranian agreement to not stamp the passports of Al-Qaeda members going through the country. Additionally, Saad bin Laden, a son of Osama bin Laden, orchestrated the 2003 attacks in Riyadh from inside Iran, where he was protected by a radical security force loyal to the nation’s clerics.
Iranian state sponsored terrorism became so pervasive that in 2010 the U.S. State Department stated that “Iran is the most active state sponsor of terrorism.” Between 2001-2010, Iran provided hundreds of millions of dollars in support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and trained thousands of Hezbollah fighters at camps in Iran. Iran has been aiding Hamas and has been training their terrorists to carry out 425 attacks in Israel in just two years (2002-200) killing 425 Israelis. In 2016, immediately after receiving $1.7 billion from the Obama administration, Iran has boosted its support of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
In Iraq, Iran’s Quds Force trained and financed Shiite militias like the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army and equipped them with explosively formed penetrators; rocket propelled grenades and Katyusha rockets. As a direct result, Iranian supported militias killed an estimated 1,100 US troops, and Iranian Militia death squads killed hundreds of Iraqi Sunnis.
In Afghanistan, Iran has been supporting the Taliban, allowing Taliban leaders to meet in Tehran, opening their border to Arab fighters entering/leaving Afghanistan, and allowing opium smuggling across their border to fund the Taliban insurgency. Additionally, Quds Force provided weapons and ammunition, trained select Taliban elements on small unit tactics, small arms, and explosives, and helped coordinate attacks.
The U.S. must stop reacting to terrorist events and start crafting a foreign policy that destroys the ideology that fuels terrorist networks and States. It must start holding state actors responsible for proliferating these groups and creating the conditions that allow them to thrive. The only way to way to end global scourge of Islamist terrorist groups is to target their critical power broker, the Islamic Republic of Iran.