Iran’s involvement in Iraq is similar to that in Afghanistan, with the regime aiming to exploit American weaknesses in order to become a bigger regional player by spreading its ideas and influence.
Quds Force has also provided assistance to the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Quds Force provided training to the Taliban on small unit tactics, small arms, explosives and indirect fire weapons. Since at least 2006, Iran has arranged arms shipments including small arms and associated ammunition, rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, 107mm rockets and plastic explosives to select Taliban members.
U.S. and NATO troops have intercepted shipments of Iranian-made arms in Afghanistan, including mortars, plastic explosives and explosively formed penetrators that have been used to deadly effect against armored vehicles in Iraq. Former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan William Wood said on January 31, 2008 that “there is no question that elements of insurgency have received weapons from Iran.” The discovery of the first caches of Iranian-made weapons in Afghanistan in Apri 2008, says a State Department official, “sent shock waves through the system.”
Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al-Qa’ida members it has detained, and has refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody. Iran has repeatedly resisted numerous calls to transfer custody of its al-Qa’ida detainees to their countries of origin or third countries for trial. Iran also continued to fail to control the activities of some al-Qa’ida members who fled to Iran following the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Although Iran’s goals in Iraq since the U.S.-led coalition in invasion of Iraq in 2003 are not totally clear, it seeks—at a minimum—to do everything possible to counter U.S. influence in the country and the region, and to ensure that Iraq can never again become a threat to Iran. Iran has sought to achieve its goals in Iraq through several strategies: supporting pro-Iranian Shiite factions and armed terrorist militias; attempting to influence Iraqi political and sectarian leaders; and building economic ties throughout Iraq that might accrue goodwill to Iran. Iranian support for terrorist activity has hindered—and continues to pose a threat to—U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq, and has heightened the U.S. threat perception of Iran generally.
From 2005-2007, at the height of Iran’s support to Shiite militias, U.S. officials publicly discussed specific information on Quds Force – a special unit of the IRGC – and Hezbollah aid to Iraqi Shiite militias, particularly the Jaysh Al-Mahdi. Despite its pledge to support the stabilization of Iraq, Iranian authorities continued to provide lethal support, including weapons, training, funding, and guidance, to militant groups that targeted Coalition and Iraqi forces and killed innocent Iraqi civilians. The Quds Force provides Iraqi militants with Iranian-produced advanced rockets, sniper rifles, automatic weapons, and mortars that have killed Iraqi and Coalition Forces as well as civilians. Tehran was responsible for some of the lethality of anti-Coalition attacks by providing militants with the capability to assemble improvised explosive devices (IEDs) with explosives that were specially designed to defeat armored vehicles. The Quds Force, in concert with Lebanese Hizballah, provided training both inside and outside of Iraq for Iraqi militants in the construction and use of sophisticated IED technology and other advanced weaponry.
Various press reports have put the number Quds intelligence personnel in Iraq around 150. Some U.S. commanders who have served in southern Iraq said they understood that there were perhaps one or two Quds Force personnel in each Shiite province, attached to or interacting with pro-Iranian governors in those provinces. Quds Force officers often do not wear uniforms and their main role is to identify Iraqi fighters to train and to organize safe passage for weapons and Iraqi militants between Iran and Iraq, although some observers allege that Iranian agents sometimes assisted the Jaysh Al-Mahdi in its combat operations.
From December 2006 through October 2007 U.S. forces arrested a total of 20 Iranians in Iraq many of whom were alleged to be Quds Forces officers. In late 2007, the U.S. military released ten of them, but continued to hold ten caught in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil believed of high intelligence value. Eventually these remaining ten were also freed, the final five on July 9, 2009. On August 12, 2008, U.S.-led forces arrested nine Hezbollah members allegedly involved in funneling arms into Iraq.
On March 24, 2007, with U.S. backing, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1747 (on the Iran nuclear issue), with a provision banning arms exports by Iran—a provision clearly directed at Iran’s arms supplies to Iraq’s Shiite militias and Lebanese Hezbollah. In an effort to financially squeeze the Quds Force, on October 21, 2007, the Bush Administration designated the Quds Force (Executive Order 13224) as a provider of support to terrorist organizations. On January 9, 2008, the Treasury Department took action against suspected Iranian and pro-Iranian operatives in Iraq by designating them as a threat to stability in Iraq under a July 17, 2007 Executive Order 13438. The penalties are a freeze on their assets and a ban on transactions with them. On October 21, 2007, the Administration designated the Revolutionary Guard and several affiliates, under Executive Order 13382, as proliferation concerns.
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