Before dawn on December 21, U.S. forces raided the Baghdad compound of Sheik Abdul Aziz al Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).
Eight Iraqis and two Iranians were arrested. “Debriefing the detainees and investigation of the seized materials has yielded evidence linking some of the individuals being detained to weapons shipments to illegal armed groups in Iraq,” said a slide presented by Maj. Gen. William Caldwell IV at a December 27 briefing.
The raid was significant because SCIRI is part of the Shiite coalition that controls Iraq’s government. Founded in exile in Iran, it controls a militia, the Badr Organization, which was trained in Iran (and which now claims to be a peaceful political organization).
Three weeks after the raid, Gen. Michael Hayden, the CIA director, testified in the Senate Intelligence Committee about “explosively formed penetrators” (EFPs), the most lethal bomb used against U.S. troops in Iraq.
“The EFPs are coming in from Iran,” said Hayden. “They are being used against our forces. They are capable of defeating some of our heaviest armor, and incident for incident cause significantly more casualties than any other improvised explosive devices do, and they are provided to Shi’a militia.”
This was not a new claim. But what was new after the December raid in Baghdad was the public emergence of circumstantial evidence suggesting that — in addition to Shiite warlord Moqtada Sadr’s Mahdi Army (JAM) — the Badr Organization might also be involved in attacking Americans with Iranian help.
Last year, the Defense Department reported that Iran provided support to both JAM and Badr. But while DOD pointed a finger at JAM for attacking Americans, it exonerated the Badr Organization of that charge (if not of participating in anti-Sunni death squads).
“The Badr Organization receives financial and material support from Iran, and individuals from Badr have been implicated in death squads,” said DOD’s August report “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq.”
“Like Badr, JAM receives logistical support from Iran,” said the report.
The May edition of the report said: “JAM and some smaller Shi’a extremist groups have attacked both Sunni Arabs and Coalition forces.”
But the August edition said: “The Badr Organization has not engaged in active violence against Coalition forces or the Government of Iraq”
This assessment lent plausibility to the November 8 memo National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley sent to President Bush. It said the U.S. should consider helping Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki “form a new political base among moderate politicians from Sunni, Shia, Kurdish and other communities.” The idea was to liberate Maliki from political reliance on Sadr’s bloc in the Iraqi parliament. This would require getting Hakim to join with Sunnis in a new cross-sectarian coalition that would back Maliki. “Press Sunni and other Iraqi leaders (especially Hakim) to support Maliki,” Hadley advised.
Accordingly, President Bush met with Hakim on December 4. Sitting beside Hakim in the Oval Office, Bush said: “I appreciated very much His Eminence’s strong position against the murder of innocent life.”
Seventeen days later, U.S. forces raided Hakim’s compound.
According to a January 29 report in the New York Times, the two Iranians captured there were specifically discovered in the home of Hadi al-Ameri, who is both leader of the Badr Organization and chairman of the security committee in Iraq’s parliament.
In a tightly controlled background briefing in Baghdad on Sunday in which Defense Department officials laid out evidence making their case that Iran is providing weapons to anti-American fighters in Iraq, U.S. officials confirmed that one of the Iranians detained in December was Mohsen Chirazi, a top commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ al-Quds Force, the unit that has armed and trained Lebanon’s Hizbollah. In an on-the-record briefing on Febuary 14, Maj. Gen. Caldwell was asked of the Iranians detained in December: “Wasn’t it said at the [background] briefing the other day that the government of Iraq had actually confirmed to you that two of the Quds Force officers had provided offensive weapons to a political faction here in the country?
Maj. Gen Caldwell said: “I think the discussion there was talking about an inventory sheet that was picked up in that raid that had a list of weapons on it. And when senior members of — were confronted with that and discussed it, both political parties and government officials, some explained that there is a need for certain weaponry to be — that do come in that people use in, quote, for their — ‘for protection purposes.’ And the concern we had in looking at that list is that on that list were sniper rifles, mortars and some other elements that are clearly offensive in nature, not defensive in nature. …”
“When we asked for an explanation from security personnel, civilian security personnel and others, as to why we would see an inventory with that type of equipment on it, that was the initial explanation given,” said Caldwell. “And then we said, but there are offensive weapons on this and therefore that’s the part that’s unacceptable.”
On CNBC’s “Kudlow and Company” on January 30, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns gave a blunter answer: “We caught the Iranians red-handed just before Christmas inside a Shia headquarters with plans to attack American soldiers.”