Iran Training Pro-Iran Factions in Iraq

There’s some buzz on both sides of the blogosphere over a number of press stories on the Iran-Iraq nexus.

  • In the NYT, James Glanz and Mark Mazetti report that, “Investigators say they believe that attackers who used American-style uniforms and weapons to infiltrate a secure compound and kill five American soldiers in Karbala on Jan. 20 may have been trained and financed by Iranian agents.” The evidence: the attack was sophisticated, used some particularly high-tech counterintelligence gear, and some suspects have pointed to Iran during interrogation. Further “it would dovetail with assertions by several Iraqi officials that Iran is financing and training a small number of splinter groups from the Mahdi Army to carry out special operations and assassinations.”
  • FOX News reports that a planned Baghdad presser detailing the contents of a “dossier” against Iran that “would contain specifics including shipping documents, serial numbers, maps and other evidence which officials say would irrefutably link Iran to weapons shipments to Iraq” has been “put on hold for several reasons, including concerns over the reaction from Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — as well as inevitable follow-up questions that would be raised over what the U.S. should do about it.” Richard Clarke tells them, “I think it’s very hard to escape the conclusion that, in all probability, the Iranian government is knowingly killing U.S. troops.”
  • At ABC, Richard Esposito and Maddy Sauer report that, “The most deadly improvised explosive devices being used against U.S. soldiers in Iraq continue to come from Iran, and Iran continues to provide more tactical training, according to explosive experts working with the U.S. military.”
  • In TIME, Bob Baer weaves several very tangential strands from a twenty-five year period to deduce that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps may be gearing up for revenge-based attacks against American targets.

This has the generally sober Josh Marshall speculating about a ginned up propaganda campaign as a “predicate for a military attack on Iran.” Ogged is on the bandwagon, too, dubbing it “More crazed propaganda from the war machine” and has him “trying to find just one alarming fact among the alarmist innuendos.”

On the Right, Dan Riehl doesn’t “understand pushing something like this if you don’t plan on doing anything about it. And I don’t think Bush is planning on attacking Iran.” Greg Tinti hopes, “Maybe this will help persuade liberals and their pals in the media that it’s at least possible that Iran has something to do with the violence in Iraq.” Ed Morrissey worries, “We’ve let too many of these incidents pass without consequence to the mullahs, and every unanswered insult begets more of the same.” Michelle Malkin is staying tuned.

Frankly, I’d be quite surprised, indeed, if some Shiite militant factions in Iraq weren’t being trained, financed, and otherwise aided by Iran. They practically invented the export of well-trained terrorist groups and have been at it since roughly 1979. It’s in their interest to see the Americans defeated and to see the most radical Shia elements emerge as the most powerful force in Iraq.

Iran’s active participation in the killing of American forces, of which there is ample evidence regardless of their involvement of this incident, is an act of war. On the other hand, it’s not at all clear what we can realistically do about it. We could certainly turn the place into a glass parking lot or topple the mullah’s and occupy the country, overstretched force or no. But the repercussions of either move would be far worse than the status quo.

Perhaps TigerHawk is right and there is an elaborate plan by the Bush administration to signal threats to Iran, have them reinforced by predictable hand-wringing from the Left, and then leveraged into a diplomatic settlement. Or perhaps this is just a matter of reporters doing their job and it’s a mere coincidence that several Iran-related stories are surfacing at the same time.

UPDATE: Then there’s CENTCOM Commander-nominee Adm. William J. Fallon’s testimony yesterday to the Senate:

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), while calling the use of military force against Iran “the very last resort,” suggested that the United States use its Navy to conduct “battleship diplomacy” and create a “ring of deterrence” around Iran. He also suggested that European nations “send a ship or two to also add to the strength of the signal we’re trying to send to that country, that we’re not going to permit them to go forward with nuclear power.”

“Does that have any interest or appeal to you, that concept?” Warner asked Fallon.

“Senator, the whole idea is most appealing,” Fallon replied, “because we’ve got plenty to do right now with active combat operations ongoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it’s clear to me that to date, the Iranians have not been playing a constructive role in addressing any of these, and in fact are challenging us in other areas.”

Of course, one would think full-on war with Iran would add to, rather than subtract from, the burden. (This is buried on A11 of WaPo, oddly.)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    I think a lot of this is going to boil down to people who still feel burned over the Iraq buildup & will never give this admin the benefit of the doubt, and those who, basically, don’t. Some will see Iran as a legitimate threat to whatever it is we’re trying to accomplish in Iraq, and others will see it as just another set of spin to give Bush a chance go to war. but regardless of your particular POV, Dan Riehl’s statement:

    On the Right, Dan Riehl doesn’t “understand pushing something like this if you don’t plan on doing anything about it. And I don’t think Bush is planning on attacking Iran.”

    Is mystifying… who on this planet doesn’t know that Bush wants to attack Iran? The level of self-delusion in that statement is beyond measurement…

  2. cian says:


    Like you, I am not surprised by Iran’s involvement, nor by the Bush administrations handling of this. Right from the start, way back when the administration should have, but wasn’t, planning for the aftermath of a war they were always going to win, Colin Powell and others were highlighting the fact that Iran would immediately insert itself into whatever came next in an Iraq left reeling. Wouldn’t that have been the time to factor in some kind of a response, some tactic that would counteract what everyone and their great aunt Shelly’s dog knew was coming?

    Like the stockpiles of weapons left unguarded and the disbandment of the Iraq army and police forces, this belated reaction to what should have been obvious is just one more piece of evidence leading to the inevitable conclusion that those charged with protecting America are incapable of doing so.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    I’ve got to admit I’m baffled about the reactions on this.

    Over at my place I’ve been pretty consistent: I oppose invading or bombing Iran. But I can’t understand the hyperventilating over engaging Iranians in Iraq including by folks like Pat Lang, for whom I have substantial respect, who has characterized the reported change in practice in Iraq towards one of engaging Iranians involved in action against U. S. or Iraqi government forces in Iraq or supporting those who do, as “dangerous escalation”.

    Since when is shooting back an escalation?

  4. legion says:

    Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), while calling the use of military force against Iran “the very last resort,” suggested that the United States use its Navy to conduct “battleship diplomacy” and create a “ring of deterrence” around Iran.

    Ummm… are either Warner or Fallon aware of the fact that Iran has borders other than the Persian Gulf? I mean, yeah, we could interdict their tankers with very little trouble – even with our current deployments in Iraq – but what then?

    If Iran thinks their efforts in molding the future Iraq are critical to their own future (a not unreasonable assumption, IMHO), it’s going to take a lot more than just a little economic pressure on the oil trade to get them to change their tactics. Not to mention the havoc that will play on our own economy. What happened to all the people in DC who used to be able to ask the question “What if this doesn’t work?”

  5. LJD says:

    I don’t know where all the talk of a “reaction” is coming from. We are engaged with Iranians on the ground. They are contirbuting to the death and destruction in Iraq, and that of Americans. We are now exerting a measured force to deal with the Iranian influence in Iraq.

    This is not a spin. Iran is engaging in acts of war with us, some people just don’t realize it yet. We are not yet at the point of total involvement, but it is a few incidents away. Even with all the rhetoric, Iran can’t be that stupid. We are still very capable of inflicting horrifying damage on them and they ought to know it.

  6. Triumph says:

    Iran Training Pro-Iran Factions in Iraq

    We must add that the UNITED STATES is also “training pro-Iran factions in Iraq”–namely, the al-Maliki government.

    The Shiite al-Maliki, of course, owes his skin to the Islamic regime in Iran. They gave him political asylum in the early 1980s as he was targeted by Hussein. His party, al-Dawa, has been supported by Iran for a quarter of a century.

  7. Stormy70 says:

    The ships are already headed there, this was announced several weeks ago. The Europeans are getting nervous because of the change in language and the Asian papers have been reporting on this for a while. Do our Senators do anything but ask stupid questions? They are behind the times.
    Now is the time to pressure Iran because there is a lot of civil unrest against the current Iranian President (too tired to look up the spelling). The Iranian economy is faltering and the population freaked out over the inflation on a bunch of tomatoes. He is in trouble.