Documents detail Iranian training of Iraqi militias

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Army terrorism expert Col. Joseph Felter, national security affairs officer at the Hoover Institution, presented once-secret intelligence documents that summarize 28 interrogations of detainees captured in Iraq and provide detailed descriptions of the Iranian-sponsored paramilitary training and aid to militants in Iraq.

Courtesy of Joseph Felter
Iran Felter Fishman

Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman in Iraq. They co-authored the report “Iranian Strategy in Iraq: Policy and ‘Other Means'”.

An Army terrorism expert now at Stanford’s Hoover Institution has released 85 pages of once-secret documents that provide an insider’s account of how the Iranian military and Lebanese Hezbollah forces are training Iraqi Shiite militants to kill American soldiers.

The documents – summaries of interviews with captured Iraqi fighters – were chilling to read, said Col. Joseph Felter, a special forces veteran and former director of the Counterterrorism Center at West Point. His colleagues in the army were “the first beneficiaries”, he said.

Iran has denied the formation, but Felter says the recently declassified interviews help make a compelling case. The documents are the most detailed descriptions ever published of Iranian-sponsored paramilitary training and the provision of military aid to militants in Iraq. The intelligence documents summarize 28 interrogations of detainees captured in Iraq from mid-2007 to mid-2008, and describe the sometimes tedious journey followed by the trainees. Recruits have often complained about the poor quality of training, while instructors from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Al-Quds Force have criticized some of them for being lazy.

A detainee described crossing the Iranian border legally with other Iraqi activists, then taking a taxi-bus to the town of Ahvaz, where they stayed in a house near a roundabout which featured a large statue of teapot in its center. After a night in Ahvaz, they flew to Tehran and were taken directly to a training camp, where they arrived after midnight.

After a day of rest, they started their training with pistols on a football field. “The trainees were unhappy with the training, and constantly joked and slack off,” according to one of the intelligence reports. By Day 19 of an Iraqi militant’s account of his training, Iranian instructors had advanced in teaching tactics for attacking American convoys with roadside bombs.

After another 10 days of training, the Iraqi militiamen learned a new trick: a roadside bomb left in an obvious place, with no attempt to conceal it. Iranian cadres explained that a visible bomb always has a tactical purpose. He can prevent enemy forces from entering an area or divert them to another route, where an ambush awaits.

Iraqis and their Iranian hosts have sometimes argued, even though both groups are Shia Muslims with a common enemy: US soldiers in Iraq. Arab Iraqis complained that their Persian instructors looked down on them and treated them disrespectfully.

There were better relations, apparently, when the instructors were Lebanese members of Hezbollah who were training Iraqi militants, both in Iran and in Lebanon.

A detainee told his US interrogator that he began his journey to participate in Iranian-sponsored paramilitary training by falsely telling his family that he was leaving to guard religious shrines in Iraq. Instead, he met 11 other trainees at a garage in Amarah, a town in southeastern Iraq near the Iranian border. Some then traveled to Iran by bus, while others were taken by boat through the swamps near the border and then flown to Tehran.

Some trainees were eventually flown from Tehran to Damascus, Syria, and driven from the airport to the Lebanese border in curtain-sided vehicles. On a hill across the border, two dark-colored Chevrolet Suburbans awaited them.

“They changed vehicles twice. The roads had a lot of bends and several of the inmate’s associates got motion sickness and vomited in the vehicles,” according to one of the declassified intelligence documents.

But despite Iran providing lethal aid, Felter said the Iranian government’s overriding goal was to gain political, not military, influence in neighboring Iraq. The political ties between the two countries are extensive, ranging from personal relations to historic Shia relations, charitable aid, economic development and trade.

“They have a remarkable influence on the Iraqi political system. They really have their hooks,” said Felter, who earned his doctorate in political science at Stanford and is now a national security affairs research fellow at Hoover.

American leaders are increasingly recognizing the importance of responding to Iran’s strategy with their own strategy, based on a detailed and nuanced understanding of a complicated situation rather than the latest roadside bombing. , Felter said during a recent conference at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. .

Iraqi militants who took part in the Iranian-sponsored training insist that it is designed primarily to expel coalition forces from Iraq and not to fuel the kind of sectarian war that rocked Iraq in 2006 and early 2007, according to Felter.

Felter and his co-author, Brian Fishman, cite an interrogation with a member of an Iranian-trained network known as the Special Group Criminals: “Iran doesn’t care about the fight between the Shiites and al -Qaeda Iran just wants to force the coalition forces out of Iraq because Iran is afraid that the coalition forces will use Iraq as a base for an attack in the future. people to fight coalition forces, not al-Qaeda.

Felter notes that in 2004, when Najaf appeared to be heading for chaos, “Iran stepped in and took strong steps to ensure the continued viability of the electoral political process.” Iran would like to see a loosely federated Iraq strong enough to prevent chaos or a Sunni takeover while giving Iranian leaders a chance to have serious influence in the Shia-dominated, oil-rich southern region. Iraq, Felter said.

Importantly, Felter points out: “The United States and Iran are not engaged in a zero-sum game in Iraq. Both countries want more stability and democracy, as well as a reduction in American troops. Neither Washington nor Tehran want a hostile relationship that could lead to unnecessary conflict. These mutual interests are also shared by Iraqis and, according to Felter, could provide the basis for possible future cooperation and compromise in which the interests of all parties are better respected than with the status quo.

Perhaps paradoxically, Iran may have less influence in Iraq once US forces return home, Felter said. At that point, Iraqi Shiite militants will no longer share a common enemy with Iran, and Iraqi nationalism could rise to the fore, thus exacerbating age-old divisions and animosities between Iraqi Arabs and their Persian neighbors.

Felter’s article, “Iranian Strategy in Iraq: Policy and “Alternative Means,”” can be found with supporting intelligence material at http://www.ctc.usma.edu/Iran_Iraq.asp.

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