Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei plans to meet with Iraqi dissident cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the coming days, as Iran seeks to intensify its pressure on U.S. forces in Iraq, destabilize Iraq’s government, and eradicate Kurdish dissidents in northern Iraq, sources with access to Iranian strategic plans tell NewsMax.
Al-Sadr arrived in Tehran on Saturday and plans to stay for five days, well-placed sources in the Iranian capital said.
In addition to meeting with Khamenei, he is expected to confer with President Ahmadinejad and the new Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jaafari. On Sunday, he met with former president Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the father of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
The firebrand cleric surprised many of his followers earlier this month when he announced he was dissolving his Iranian-backed militia for six months.
Units of Sadr’s Mahdi Militia, known by its Arabic acronym, JAM (Jaish-al Mahdi), have disobeyed his orders and attacked U.S. forces in recent months, even as al-Sadr has attempted to reintegrate himself into the Iraqi political mix.
NewsMax has learned from U.S. sources in Iraq that American commanders have held talks with al-Sadr’s representatives in recent weeks and succeeded in convincing the firebrand militant to stand down his militia.
“It has finally dawned on Muqtada that the IRGC now controls his militia, and that’s why he stood them down,” a U.S. political observer in Iraq asserted.
“He has finally realized that the Iranians don’t intend to help him, but to put their own guys in power,” the observer added. “Despite his public image, Muqtada remains an Iraqi Arab nationalist, not a Persian puppet.”
It remains unclear whether al-Sadr is traveling to Tehran of his own free will to seek additional Iranian assistance, or whether he has been summoned by Iranian leaders to warn him off any cooperation with the U.S.
Senior Iranian officials involved in planning the proxy war in Iraq have used al-Sadr’s militia as part of a much broader plan to destabilize Iraq and drive the United States from the region, NewsMax sources believe.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Turkish military officials are putting the final touches on an agreement to launch a joint ground offensive against Kurdish guerilla fighters in Northern Iraq in mid-October, NewsMax has learned from Iranian sources close to senior military officials in Tehran.
The Iranian government claims that the Kurds are receiving military and intelligence support from U.S. forces in Iraq as part of a supposed U.S. plan to topple the Tehran regime.
But senior Bush administration officials and congressional sources say that the Iranian fears are groundless — unfortunately.
Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) leader Rahman Haj Ahmadi told NewsMax in an exclusive interview last month that senior leaders of his organization had met with U.S. military officials twice in Iraq shortly after the liberation of Iraq in 2003, but had never received pledges of aid.
“We would love to have received U.S. help, but until now we have had no direct contacts with the U.S. government,” he said.
The State Department and the White House both refused to meet with Mr. Ahmadi during his recent visit to Washington.
Last week, former Revolutionary Guards commander Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi confirmed for the first time in public that Iran was firing artillery shells into Iraqi territory.
Gen. Safavi was replaced as head of the IRGC on Sept. 1, and is now a senior advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In an unusual public admission, he told reporters that Iran was justified in shelling Iraqi territory where fighters from Haj Ahmadi’s PJAK had holed up.
“Some of their bases are 10 kilometres [six miles] deep inside Iraqi territory so this is part of our natural right to secure our borders," Gen. Safavi said.
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) confirmed on Thursday that Iran had resumed shelling of a half-dozen Iraqi villages close to the border with Iran. The PUK is the party of Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani.
The border area in the mountainous region between the two countries is sparsely populated and beyond Iraqi government control.
In preparation for more intense operations against the United States and its allies in the region, the Revolutionary Guards Intelligence Department recently replaced the head of its operational station in Damascus, Syria with a hard-liner known for his involvement in the assassination of Lebanese Christian politicians.
The new IRGC resident, Brigadier Gen. Ebrahim Dashti, had previously been posted to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, where he oversaw training of Hezbollah guerilla fighters and weapons supplies, sources close to Revolutionary Guards leaders in Tehran tell NewsMax.
The Iranian government is also trying to eliminate moderates among the Shiite religious leadership in Iraq, and has been involved in an assassination campaign that has claimed the lives of eight senior advisors to Supreme Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani over the past three and a half months.
Ayatollah Sistani, who is based in Najaf, Iraq, is the ultimate religious authority for the world’s Shiite Muslim community, including Iran, and opposes the Iranian system of absolute clerical rule.
Iran’s leaders are hoping to replace him with Ayatollah Mohammad Sayyid al-Hakim, whose family came to Iraq from Iran in the 1850s and has remained close to hard-line Iranian clerics based in Qom ever since.
U.S. military spokesmen in Iraq have revealed in a series of briefings in recent months Iran’s extensive involvement in supplying weapons, money, training, and instructions to insurgents in Iraq.
“Iran's aim is to weaken American resolve and force a premature [U.S.] withdrawal,” said Kirk A. Johnson, a former aide to U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker.
“Undoubtedly, Iran would be a winner in this scenario, consolidating its influence over Iraqi resources and possibly territory,” Johnson wrote in a recent paper for the Heritage Foundation. “The Iranian President has already announced that Iran will fill any vacuum in Iraq.”
Ambassador Crocker told Congress during his Sept. 10 appearance with Gen. Petraeus that Iran has actually stepped up its efforts to destabilize Iraq ever since the United States began talks with Iranian representatives in Baghdad in January.
But Crocker believes the Iranian efforts could backfire, as Iraqis in the Shiite-dominated southern part of the country start to cooperate with coalition forces, just as Sunnis did in Anbar province.
“So what we may be seeing is, again, not a parallel exactly, but a similar phenomenon, where Iraqi Shiia decide they have had enough of radical extremist Iranian-backed elements, just as Iraq's Sunnis decided they'd had enough of al-Qaida and its excesses,” Crocker said.
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