Baghdad Accuses Iran of Fomenting Terrorism in Iraq

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Iraqi officials accused Iran this week of stirring up trouble within its borders.

Iraq and Iran fought a brutal war against each other through much of the 1980s. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the Iranians.

Over the years there had been a slight warming of relations between the two foes, particularly after President Bush named them as two out of three countries that formed the "axis of evil."

Dr. Yoram Kahati, research fellow at the International Policy Institute on Counter-Terrorism, said since the end of the most recent war, the Iraqi-Iranian border -- which is hundreds of miles long -- has been neglected.

Iranians have been using the excuse of going on a pilgrimage to holy Shiite Muslim cities in Iraq as a way to infiltrate the country and export the revolution, Kahati said.

Even though the Iraq's Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is a Shiite Muslim -- that is not enough for Iran, Kahata said. "Iran wants the government controlling Iraq eventually [to] be Iranian oriented rather than U.S. or secular oriented," he said.

Dr. Nimrod Raphaeli, an analyst with the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), wrote in a recent report that Iran had two main goals in Iraq.

Iran wants to "to stir up problems for the Americans...and divert their attention from its nuclear program," Raphaeli said.

Tehran also wants "to assert its influence over the...[Shiite] religious centers in the two holy cities of Najaf and Karbala to prevent the emergence in these cities of an independent religious and spiritual leadership competing with the Iranian city of Qum," he added.

This week, two high-ranking Iraqi officials were quoted in separate reports published in the London-based Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat charging that Iran was penetrating its borders in order to foment terrorism.

In an interview published in the newspaper on Tuesday, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Al-Sha'lan said there were hundreds if not thousands of terror cells operating in his country and that Iraq had a big problem with its borders.

"The country that penetrates the borders the most and encroaches the most on Iraq is Iran," Sha'lan was quoted as saying in a translation provided by MEMRI on Thursday.

Sha'lan described the penetration as "extensive and unprecedented" since the founding of the Iraqi state.

"The Iranians have entered the crucial junction points of the country as a whole and established many intelligence and military positions in Iraq," he said. "They admit to having spies in Iraq, whose task is to undermine the social and political situation. The Iraqi people, however, are immune to this."

Sha'lan said the government had begun to deal with the matter in a "subtle and exacting" way.

In an article printed on the same day of his discussions with the Jordanian Interior Minister, Iraqi Interior Minister Falah Hassan Al-Naqib also accused Iran of being behind terrorism in Iraq.

"It must be acknowledged that Iran plays an important part, whether official or popular, in the terrorist and sabotage operations being carried out in Iraq," Al-Naqib told reporters.

"The sabotage and criminal operations now going on in Iraq, regardless of their political or religious garb - it is the same element that plans it, the same mind that organizes it, and it is using one and the same strategy for targeting Iraq and Iraqi unity," Al-Naqib said.

But Dr. Kahati does not believe that all the unrest in Iraq is coming from Iran.

Iran backs the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, he said. Followers of Al-Sadr launched a violent rebellion several months ago in Baghdad and several cities in central and southern Iraq. He opposes Allawi's government as illegitimate.

Many of the terror attacks currently being carried out in Iraq are blamed on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an al Qaeda operative.

Zarqawi could be one of the few al Qaeda operatives that have found refuge in Iran, Kahati said. But because Zarqawi has previously voiced strong anti-Shiite sentiments, it is unlikely that he is working with the Iranian backed groups, he said.