Iraq War 2003: Background & Lessons

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May 13, 2003

Iran, Libya Embarked on Massive Political Influence Campaigns in US, Elsewhere

Analysis. By Gregory R. Copley, Editor, GIS. The Iranian and Libyan governments are engaged in massive political influence campaigns apparently designed to avert perceived potential threats from the US. Highly-reliable sources indicated that the Iranian clerical leadership had already given at least $50-million in cash to Iraqi Shi’a groups and individuals to thwart US ability to control the post-Saddam political environment inside Iraq. The clerics were also believed to have allocated as much as $200-million to be spent on psychological or influence operations within the United States itself to achieve indirect access to, and influence over, US policy officials.

Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq, returned to Iraq on May 10, 2003, from 23 years of exile in Iran. And while the Western media noted his comments — he condemned religious extremism and rejected any foreign-installed government for Iraq — what passed unnoticed was the fact that he was accompanied by a significant number of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC: Pasdaran) officers, out of uniform, who brought with them significant amounts of cash to be used for political operations inside Iraq. Al-Hakim’s group, whose English acronym is SCIRI, wants Iraq to be governed by Islamic law.

US media sources published on May 12, 2003, reports that the Iranian clerical leadership was holding secret talks with US diplomats in Geneva. The two sides had met three times thus far in 2003, most recently on May 3, 2003, and were due to meet again this week. Zalmay Khalilzad, US Pres. George W. Bush’s special envoy to Iraq and Afghanistan, was representing the US in the exchange.

There are three main strands of the Iranian thrusts at achieving influence over, or paralysis of, US policy toward Iran: one by Pres. (Ali) Mohammad Khatami-Ardakani; one by former President and current Chairman of Iran’s Expediency Council, former Pres. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani; and the third by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Khamene‘i. Each have control over certain assets and initiatives in “staving off the US threat”. Significantly, however, at Friday prayers on April 4, 2003, former Pres. Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had told worshippers in Tehran that “the Americans may damage [Iraqi Shi’a] shrines, but for every brick suffering damage there, more damage will be inflicted on the White House”. His private determination — like that of Pres. Khatami and Supreme Leader Khamene‘i — to resist the US remains undiminished.

At the same time, the Libyan Government of Col. Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi has, quite apart from direct cash payments and promises to US individuals and causes, dangled the prospect of some $900-million to lawyers involved in the US in helping to “settle” the Pan Am 103/Lockerbie terrorist attack of December 21, 1988. The prospect of such substantial funding being available legally to US lawyers has played a significant part in the determination of these politically well-connected law firms to ensure US acceptance of a deal with Libya to settle the outstanding legal dispute between Libya and the US. As well, this has colored the opinion of some key Administration officials who see a future possible relationship — after they have left government service — with these law firms.

The amount of funding moving into the system, quite apart from the massive amount of Saudi funding to US recipients, while all ostensibly legal, has significantly shaped the political debate in the US regarding Middle Eastern issues. Most of the funding falls “under the radar” in the sense that it is not formal lobbying money.

The decision by the US Government to disarm the Iranian opposition group, the Mujahedin e-Khalq (MKO) division-sized armored force in Iraq on May 11, 2003, was apparently a concession to the discreet diplomacy by Iran to have the US soften its stance toward the clerical leadership. However, the Bush Administration had faced criticism for having initially temporized with the MKO force in Iraq, because of MKO’s long history of anti-US, as well as anti-Iranian, terrorist activities.

Part of the Iranian campaign, after removing the threat of military action by the US against the clerical leadership, has been to (a) give the impression of moderation in the clerical leadership and that a rapprochement was now possible between Iran and the US; and (b) to give the impression that there were no viable alternatives to the present clerical leadership inside the country. There have been attempts to discredit, for example, one of the few exiled opposition leaders to have remained untainted and popular among Iranians: the Azadegan Foundation leader Dr Assad Homayoun. 

Dr Homayoun, in Washington, DC, has consistently said that no Iranian leader should accept foreign funding, and that the Iranian people would be able to make the changes needed inside Iran, by removing the clerics through internal means and then creating a representative, secular and free market society. However, the Iranian clerics have consistently, in the past, been able to convince the local population that no US support would be forthcoming — politically or militarily — for any resistance to the clerical rule. This is very much the current campaign being waged by the clerics: to give the impression that the US leadership of Pres. George W. Bush was happy to encourage the continued rule of the clerics.

Similarly, the Libyan Administration has promoted the belief that the only viable succession process in Libya was through the family of Col. Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, to his son, Saif al-Islam. The lobbying funds and promises of very large financial rewards, funneled through law firms and other mediums, has ensured that the tribal and exiled opposition leaderships have received virtually no support within the US State Department.

The Iranian and Libyan influence campaigns are clearly having an effect at this point, and both governments are committed to pouring in vast amounts of additional cash to ensure their success.