On July 10, 2009 the U.S. released five Iranian operatives that had been in custody for two and a half years. They were let go under the Status of Forces Agreement, which says all prisoners held by the U.S. must be freed or turned over to the Iraqis by 2011. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki requested that the Iranians be released, and he met with them before they were turned over to the Iranian embassy in Baghdad. The Iranians were originally rounded up as part of an American plan to break-up Tehran’s lethal support of Shiite militias that missed Iran’s main goal in Iraq.
On January 11, 2007 the U.S. raided the Iranian Liaison Offices in Irbil and arrested the five Iranians. At that time President Bush ordered that Iranian agents operating within Iraq be killed or captured. The office was a local headquarters for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force. At the Irbil airport the Kurdish peshmerga stopped the Americans from arresting two other Iranians, who were the real target of the operation. The five captured at the Liaison Office were junior offices, while the two that got away at the airport were Mohammed Jafari, the deputy on the Iranian National Security Council, and General Minojahar Frouzanda, the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ intelligence service. Jafari and Frouzanda were on an official visit to Kurdistan, and met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani. The Kurds immediately protested the detentions, and demanded that the 5 Iranians be released. The U.S. refused saying they were involved in attacks on American and Iraqi forces.
Iranians had been operating in Kurdistan for twenty years, and had offices in Irbil and Sulaymaniya. The two ruling Kurdish parties were based in Iran during Saddam’s time, and both fought on the Iranian side during the Iran-Iraq War. It was at that time that the Revolutionary Guards began operating out of Kurdistan.
The offensive against Iran’s Qods Force began the month before. In December 2006, the U.S. arrested Iranian General Mohsen Chirazi and Colonel Abu Amad Davari. They were arrested in the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council’s (SIIC) compound in Baghdad. The two had invitations to be in Iraq from Pres. Talabani. Chirazi was the number three man in the Qods Force, and the highest Iranian captured by the U.S. Both were released a week later after protests by Iraqi officials.
Again, it was no surprise that Iranians were found at this location. The Supreme Council was created by Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, and recognized Ayatollah Khomeini as their leader. The SIIC’s militia the Badr Brigade was an official arm of the Qods Force, and fought on the Iranian side during the war like the two Kurdish parties. In fact, Chirazi and Davari were at the SIIC compound to meet the leader of the Badr Brigade when the Americans arrested them.
Later in September 2007, the U.S. arrested the Iranian trade delegate in Sulaymaniya. Iraqi President Talabani protested again and demanded his release. The Kurds claimed the Iranian had been in town for a week working on a new border crossing between Kurdistan and Iran. The Iranian was Mahmud Farhadi. He was a commander in the Qods Force Ramadan Corps. The Corps was one of four created to operate within neighboring countries. The Ramadan Corps set up three regional commands along the Iraqi border known as Nasr, Zafar, and Fajr, to deal with different parts of Iraq. Farhadi was in charge of the Nasr command. He was probably in Sulaymaniya for what the Kurds said as the Qods Force is also in charge of economic ties with Iraq.
When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 it was seen as a great threat and opportunity by Tehran. They sent in their operatives and friendly Iraqi parties to shape the facts on the ground to their advantage. The SIIC had been able to win over the Americans before the war, and became the main Shiite party they supported. The Qods Force helped put together the United Iraqi Alliance, which won the most seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections, and broke the deadlock to put Nouri al-Maliki into office in 2006. This was all to ensure Shiite rule in Iraq, and maximize Iranian influence. At the same time, the Qods Force began funneling money and weapons to any and all Shiite militias that would fight the Americans to hold them down in Iraq so that they wouldn’t attack Iran, and hopefully eventually make them leave. The arrest of the Iranians was aimed at that military effort. While the U.S. was successful in arresting some Qods Force members and the militias they supported, it’s questionable whether these had any real effect upon Iran’s support for Shiite militants. That didn’t really seem to change until Maliki’s crackdown in Basra in March 2008. More importantly, the U.S. never addressed Tehran’s political policy, and in fact supported the SIIC, the most pro-Iranian Shiite party, and helped integrate their Badr Brigade into the Iraqi security forces. In forging this strategy, the Bush administration got caught up on the security situation, and ignored Iran’s main goal, to ensure that Iraq never became a rival again by putting their allies in power. While the Americans were understandably mad at having to release these five Qods Force operatives, it was another sign of their misinterpretation of Iran’s true motives and goals in Iraq.
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