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Calling the Shots
by Nooredin Abedian
2 December 2003

Some of the recent attacks in Iraq required enormous resources, professional skill, and long-time planning, as well as a good number of trained personnel are at stake; items that only states can afford to provide.

The explosion of a booby trapped tanker in the Italian base in Nassiriya, south of Iraq, several weeks ago marked a sensational rise in terrorist operations in Iraq against coalition forces. 18 Italians and 8 Iraqis perished in the event, termed as the worst single military loss for Italy since World War 2.

Those operations tend to grow, as much in quality as in quantity, with no apparent single source being finger-pointed as responsible for them.

Al Qaeda, known in the area under the name of Ansar ol Eslam, is not capable of handling sizable classical paramilitary operations. Even in Afghanistan, al Qaeda's breeding ground, no such operations were witnessed on their part. Suicide bombings, yes; but big, well prepared and well planned military operations, never.

Some sophisticated military operations undertaken in areas around Fallujah, western Iraq, and around Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's native city, are attributed to former Iraqi elite forces. But those forces, even if existing, are logically not in such a state to launch those effective offensives, with virtually no command mechanisms in place and the most part of the famous list of 55 influential Iraqi officials behind bars or killed. And then the consistent trend of well planned, professionally executed operations against strong, sometimes armored military units seems beyond local capabilities.

There remain the "big" explosions. Booby trapped cars or trucks blowing complete buildings apart, killing tens of innocent civilians. At first glance, that seems the classical al Qaeda style. But logistics as well as professional operational tactics for such operations are beyond the capabilities of the Kurdish Ansar or the so called "Arab fighters" infiltrating into Iraq on their own through Saudi or Syrian borders. In such a consistent rhythm, such deadly techniques are tremendously difficult to apply successfully. All the past history of Ansar's suicide attacks can be summed up in one or two missed attempts against rival Kurdish groups.

Logically, enormous resources, professional skill, and long-time planning, as well as a good number of trained personnel are at stake; items that only states can afford to provide. The only reasonable guesses as to who is calling those shots have to remain among countries in the region that "profit from the crime."

David Aufhauser, former Treasury general counsel who left office on Oct. 31 to return to the private sector, said that Syria and Iran were funding military operations inside Iraq against coalition forces.

Syria has in the past been blamed for hostile attitude towards the coalition, though it seems unlikely that they can be looking for any significant gains by destabilizing Iraq.

Iran, on the other hand, has a different story. The country's record in terrorism is second to none. Among a long list of terrorist operations attributed to them are bombings of the Argentine Jewish center in 1994, the US Marine barracks in Beirut back in 1983, and even a booby-trapped pickup truck that blasted a civil bus carrying Iranian opposition members in 1998 near Baghdad. The country has its own network of operatives in Iraq, through thousands of Iraqi Shiites who spent years in Iran and were trained by its Revolutionary Guards in such techniques, and are now back in Iraq.

This hypothesis, however, does not answer all the unanswered questions about the ongoing operations, for example the huge explosion that last August killed Mohammad-Baqir al Hakim, a long time Iranian ally in Iraq. But then there are good reasons why Iran could be doing this. As a member of President Bush's axis of evil, they think the longer American soldiers are stuck in Iraq, the better their own chances for survival.

Only one day before the Nassiriya explosion, in its November 11 issue, the French weekly Géopolitique, in a detailed article, quoted an Italian intelligence agent working in Iraq: "The significant rise in recent operations in Iraq could be the result of the presence of well trained foreign agents who slipped into the country during last week. Those foreign agents are trained in 'Imam Khomeini' camp 30 km from Tehran, run by Revolutionary Guards round the clock since March 29 and devoted to 'Arab volunteers.'" The weekly further explains that "Italian services do not rule out the presence of such agents in the Basra and Nassiriyah regions where around 2800 Italian military personnel of the Joint Task Force are staying!"

Nooredin Abedian is an Iranian engineer based in Germany, and a former lecturer at Tehran University. He writes from time to time on Iranian issues and politics

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