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Jewish World Review June 15, 2004 / 26 Sivan, 5764

Michael Ledeen

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Iran is making trouble, and finessing it is a dangerous strategy | bu Musab al Zarkawi, born Ahmad al Khalayla in Jordan, is the current deus ex machina of the terror war against the Coalition in Iraq. He is credited with numerous assassinations — including that of an American official, Thomas Foley, in Amman — and suicide bombings, along with the spectacular but little-reported attempt to launch a chemical attack against American targets in Jordan. Secretary of State Colin Powell named him on February 3, 2003, in his speech to the United Nations. Powell reported that Zarkawi had been sighted in Baghdad, where one of his legs had been amputated due to injuries sustained in Afghanistan.

Two months earlier, I had written about Zarkawi on the basis of German and Italian intelligence documents, presented by the prosecution in court cases against members of his European network. At that time, I noted that these documents identified Iran as the base of Zarkawi's operations. Powell was making a case against Iraq, and understandably omitted the Iranian connection, but the evidence of the Iranian matrix has just been reinforced in a book by Stefan Dambruoso (and co-authored by Guido Olimpio, a well-known journalist at Corriere della Sera), one of the Italian judicial officers charged with investigating terrorist activities in Milan. The book is entitled Milan-Baghdad, and excerpts dealing with Zarkawi appear in the current edition of Panorama, the leading Italian weekly newsmagazine.

Dambruoso flatly confirms what I wrote in December 2002: "Our investigations permit us to establish that the country of the Ayatollahs is the preferred springboard for militants headed for Iraq." Dambruoso lays it out in some detail. Zarkawi had already organized groups of fighters before the liberation of Iraq, and they operate alongside the remnants of Saddam's killers. The European network is used to recruit new bodies for the jihad in Iraq, and they enter from Iran in groups of three to five, with phony passports and usually pretending to be businessmen (or, I can add, journalists). They rent or buy small apartments in Baghdad, Tikrit, and Ramadi, where they organize larger cells, and then move into the battle area. Zarkawi himself entered Iraq by this method, along with one of the leading ideologues of the jihad, Abu Masaab (a Syrian).

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Dambruoso seems to believe that the relationship between Zarkawi and Osama bin Laden is ambiguous, having seen some evidence (primarily the famous letter captured by U.S. special forces late last year) that Zarkawi was unhappy about the lack of support from al Qaeda. But whatever their tactical and personal disagreements (and these can be feigned), they share a common strategy for Iraq: kill members of the Coalition and any Iraqi who cooperates, and provoke internal conflicts among the various ethnic and religious communities. That tracks with my own analysis, which is that we are dealing with several different groups, supported by the various terror masters in Tehran, Damascus, and Riadh, in a joint operation within the overall matrix of Hezbollah — which of course means Iran.

I think Iran's diabolical hand can also be seen in the evolution of the image of Zarkawi. As Dambruoso points out in his book, the figure of Zarkawi has become more glorious, and he is not only a fighter but a preacher, who, like Osama, posts sermons on jihadist blogs.

Dambruoso explicitly refers to American intelligence sources for some of this information, including the movements from Iran to Iraq. Yet as recently as Saturday, June 12, Robin Wright of the Washington Post was loyally transmitting messages from unnamed "intelligence sources" claiming that Iran was not causing trouble in Iraq, and presenting the usual disinformation about a regime said to be internally divided and strategically paralyzed.

That sort of thing makes one wonder whether anyone at the CIA takes time to read the newspapers, or whether they rely entirely on classified cables from blind men "in the field." Had they read the newspapers they would have seen the mullahs calling for a new wave of suicide terrorism against us in Iraq, and even the remarkable spectacle of a formal signup sheet for those who want to blow themselves up (it thoughtfully gives the volunteer a choice of becoming a martyr in Iraq, Israel, or elsewhere).

I suppose this doesn't constitute troublemaking, huh?

Well, how about the news from Agence France Press on June 7 that Ukrainian troops in eastern Iraq arrested "about 40 Iranians trying to enter the country illegally...with assault rifles, Kalashnikovs, hunting guns and ammunition..."

I suppose the CIA thinks the Iranians were members of a peace-loving gun club.

Well, then, how about the report from IDF Chief of Staff Yaalon to the Israeli Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on May 18, which dealt with a massive arms smuggling operation from Egypt to Gaza? Yaalon said that most of the operation was "almost entirely financed by Iran and being conducted via Palestinian groups in Damascus and Hizbullah in Lebanon. He said weapons are also coming from Saudi Arabia and Africa."

We are inundated from all sides with evidence that should drive our strategy in the Middle East. The war in Iraq is part of a broader struggle, and we will not be able to succeed there unless we also defeat the terror masters who are funding, arming, training, and directing the terror war in Iraq. But instead of going after the Iranian regime by supporting a mass movement to democratize the country, our leaders tell pliant journalists that the Iranians aren't causing trouble, and the real danger comes from the possibility that Ahmad Chalabi leaked some information to the mullahs.

Did no journalist think to ask an anonymous source the obvious question: If Iran's not a problem, why are you so upset about the leak? And if Iran is a problem, why don't we have an Iran policy after four years of discussion? Is there a national-security process or not?

The Bush administration has clearly decided to try to "manage" Iraq and "finesse" Iran, hoping to muddle through until the election and then, if victorious, consider its options in the broader theater. The president and his top advisers evidently want to avoid "new adventures" between now and November.

But this is a very dangerous strategy, because it leaves the initiative, in Iraq and elsewhere, entirely in the hands of people like Zarkawi and his longtime Iranian sponsors. Indeed, it seems to me that doing nothing is an open invitation to "new adventures" in the Middle East, in Europe, and in the United States.

You don't need classified information to see this; it's right in front of our noses. Yet we refuse to see it. This is what intelligence failures are really about: denial of the most obvious facts about the world. And it's what policy failures are about as well: refusal to take the obvious steps to protect our citizens, our allies, and our national interests.

We buried Ronald Reagan. Let's hope we haven't buried American courage along with him.

Faster. Please?

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JWR contributor Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of, most recently, ""The War Against the Terror Masters," Comment by clicking here.


06/02/04:Reagan Seen Plain: He changed the world 06/02/04: Quattrocchi's Killers: We are dealing with a truly international terror network
05/25/04: The Agency Rides Again: Angleton on Chalabi
05/24/04: Lying into the mirror: Misunderstaning the war on terror
05/18/04: Kristof’s Iran
04/19/04: The Iranian Hand: Regime change in Tehran is necessary for peace in Iraq
04/15/04: Dealing with the Libyans: Is Khaddafi about to cash out?
04/08/04: From Tyranny to Freedom: Democracy in Iraq has precedent
03/18/04: Drifting, Dangerously: We must support freedom
03/02/04: Once Upon a Spymaster, Part II: Returning to a conversation
02/24/04: The Great Iranian Election Fiasco: What actually happened; what we must do
02/20/04: Stalinist Mullahs: The Iranian regime is in open battle with its own people
02/11/04: The Jihadis' Primal Scream: Zarkawi's "Yaarrrhhh!"
02/04/04: Inelegant Lies: Making sense out of mullahs
02/03/04: Potemkin WMDs? Really?
01/27/04: The Jihad on Iraq: Bad analysis and bad policy
01/20/04: Our Moment of Vainglory: A p.c. mess
01/06/04: Aftershocks: The West must read the meter in Bam and Tehran
12/02/03: Managing Iraq: We can't continue this way
11/26/03: Back to the Angleton Files
11/25/03: The Turks, Italians & us — never again
11/06/03: Regional Struggle: Fighting narrow vision in Iraq
11/04/03: Unpunished Failure: What are we waiting for?
10/21/03: Curses: Diamonds and Naples
10/15/03: Into the Quagmire: Important days ahead for Iran
09/18/03: The Ayatollahs’ bomb: An invulnerability strategy
09/12/03: You can't make peace until the war is won
09/11/03: Ron Paul, dishonorable congressman
09/03/03: The Latest Horrors: Still organized
08/29/03: The Peace Trap: Back to the war, please
08/27/03: Angrier and Angrier: Self-deception, big-time
08/25/03: Iraq's terrorists have friends in high places
07/10/03: The Future of Iran: Armitage might want to rethink that "democracy" line
07/02/03: Looking Toward July 9: Independence Day in Iran?
06/24/03: Iran: Back the freedom fighters
06/17/03: The Iranian Revolution, 2003: Regime change in the air
06/05/03: Academic Standards: A Middle East scholar has his way with the truth.
05/28/03: The Moment of Truth? U.S. policy could determine Iran's destiny
05/15/03: Iran's Path: Stopping the mullahs in their tracks
05/13/03: The Nuclear Axis of Evil: The people solution
05/08/03: Inside the Dark: Applebaum's ‘Gulag’
05/06/03: Tough Guy: Powell's curious priority list
05/01/03: Desert Shame Redux: Want a free Iran and a free Syria? We have to fight for it
04/25/03: Timing Is Everything: We have a narrow window in Iraq to win Shiite support
04/15/03: Political war can remove terror masters in Syria and Iran
04/07/03: The Others: We have miles to go in eliminating the Axis
04/02/03: French Lies: Take the foreign minister at his word
03/31/03: Why muzzle Saddam's foes?
03/28/03: The post-war terror threat
03/26/03: All Fronts: Military war, political war, psychological war
03/24/03: More Bad News for Daschle: Taking out terror of all nationalities
03/21/03: The Killer Pneu: Virus terror from China
03/13/03: Iran: Nuclear suicide bombers?
03/11/03: A Theory: What if there's method to the Franco-German madness?
03/05/03: The Iranian-Election Revolt: The people speak. The West won't listen
02/19/03: The willful blindness of those who will not see
02/12/03: The Europeans Know More Than They Now Pretend? They choose to dawdle and obstruct
02/03/03: Monumental failure: Nelson Mandela had promise
01/30/03: Elevation: The president knows what it's all about
01/29/03: No Leader: France's Chirac is all about personal interest
01/28/03: The Axis of Evil Redux: Same place, a year later
01/27/03: The Return of the Ayatollah: Washington could afford a little more attention on Iran
01/13/03: How we could lose
01/09/03: Fish are Better than Women: Gauging U.S. priorities
01/07/03: The Shape of Things to Come: The terror masters are now waiting for us
12/20/02: A Prophecy for the New Year --- Faster, please!
12/16/02: Scud Surrender: The "W" factor
12/13/02: The Heart of Darkness: The mullahs make terror possible
12/12/02: The Real War
12/09/02: Tom Friedman's Reformation: His Iran
11/26/02: How Tyrannies Fall: Opportunity time in Iran
11/22/02: The Blind Leading the Blind: The New York Times and the Iranian crisis
11/13/02: The Temperature Rises: We should liberate Iran first --- now
11/05/02: End of the Road: Iran's Mohammed Khatami, on his way out
10/29/02: The Angleton Dialogues, Contnued: What George Tenet doesn’t know
10/24/02: The Iranian Comedy Hour: In the U.S., the silence continues
10/16/02: Sniper, Saboteur, or Sleeper? Channeling James Jesus Angleton
10/01/02: The real foe
09/27/02: The Iranian String Quartet: The mullahs get increasingly nervous
09/25/02: The Dubya Doctrine
09/23/02: Intelligence? What intelligence?
09/12/02: America's revenge: To turn tyrannies into democracies
09/10/02: Iran & Afghanistan & Us: We'll have to deal with the mullahcracy, sooner or later
09/04/02: Iran, according to the Times: All the nonsense that's fit to print
08/21/02: Life and death of Abu Nidal tells us a great deal about our enemies
08/08/02: Can You Keep a Secret?: The media silence on Iran
08/06/02: Fantasy Reporting: The latest disinformation from the Washington Post
08/02/02: Propping Up the Terror Masters: Europe's Solana on tour
07/16/02: Bush vs. the Mullahs: Getting on the side of the Iranian freedom fighters
07/12/02: The State Department Goes Mute: It's official: State has no message
07/09/02: History being made, but the West appears clueless
06/05/02: Is George Tenet endangering peace in Israel?
06/03/02: Ridiculous, even for a journalist
05/20/02: So how come nobody's been fired yet?
05/14/02: Open doors for thugs
04/20/02: Iran on the Brink … and the U.S. does nothing
04/16/02: It’s the war, stupid … someone remind Colin Powell
04/08/02: Gulled: In the Middle East, Arafat doesn't matter
04/02/02: Faster, Please: The war falters
03/26/02: The Revolution Continues: What's brewing in Iran
03/18/02: Iran simmers still: Where's the press?
03/05/02: We can't lose any more ground in Iran
02/14/02: The Great Iranian Hoax
02/12/02: Unnoticed Bombshell: Key information in a new book
01/31/02: The truth behind the Powell play
01/29/02: My past with "Johnny Jihad's" lawyer
01/21/02: It's Munich, all over again
01/08/02: What's the Holdup?: It's time for the next battles in the war against terrorism
12/11/01: We must be imperious, ruthless, and relentless
12/06/01: Remembering my family friend, Walt Disney
11/28/01: The Barbara Olson Bomb: Understanding the war
11/13/01: How We're Doing: The Angleton Files, IV
11/06/01: A great revolutionary war is coming
10/25/01: How to talk to a terrorist
10/23/01: Creative Reporting: Learning to appreciate press briefings
10/19/01: Not the Emmys: A Beltway award presentation
10/15/01: Rediscovering American character
10/11/01: Somehow, I've missed Arafat's praise of the first stage of our war on terrorism
10/04/01: What do we not know?
09/28/01: Machiavelli On Our War: Some advice for our leaders
09/25/01: No Room for the U.N.: Keeping Annan & co. out of the picture
09/21/01: Creative destruction
09/14/01: Who Killed Barbara Olson?
08/22/01: How Israel will win this war
08/15/01: Bracing for war
08/09/01: More Dithering Democrats
08/02/01: Delirious Dems
07/31/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit, cont'd
07/19/01: Be careful what you wish for
07/17/01: Consulting a legendary counterspy about Chandra and Condit
07/05/01: Let Slobo Go
05/30/01: Anybody out there afraid of the Republicans?
05/09/01: The bad guys to the rescue
05/07/01: Bye-bye, Blumenthal
04/20/01: Handling China
04/11/01: EXAM TIME!
04/05/01: Chinese over-water torture
03/27/01: Fighting AIDS in Africa is a losing proposition
03/14/01: Big Bird, Oscar, and other threats
03/09/01: Time for a good, old-fashioned purge
03/06/01: Powell’s great (mis)adventure
02/26/01: The Clinton Sopranos
02/20/01: Unity Schmoonity: Sharon is defying the will of the people
01/30/01: The Rest of the Rich Story
01/22/01: Ashcroft the Jew
01/11/01: A fitting close to the Clinton years
12/26/00: Continuing Clinton's shameful legacy
12/21/00: Clinton’s gift for Bush

© 2001, Michael Ledeen