WASHINGTON, April 3 (UPI) -- Iran's senior leadership decided last month to send irregular paramilitary units across their border with Iraq to harass American soldiers once Saddam Hussein's regime fell, according to U.S. intelligence reports.
On March 24, a U.S. intelligence agency issued a "spot report" to a wide range of senior U.S. officials detailing conversations in a meeting of the Islamic Republic's top leadership in the equivalent of the U.S. National Security Council. The council, which is working on Iran's post-conflict strategy, includes Iranian President Mohammed Khatami and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei.
"This confirmed all of our suspicions that the Iranians are not our friends and not for peace in the region. They are in fact for a piece of the region," one U.S. intelligence official told United Press International. This official said the units would target the Iraqi cities of al-Najaf and Karbala, the two places in Iraq considered holiest by the country's Shiite Muslim majority. But also targeted would be Baghdad, where several hundred thousand Iraqi Shiites live in the suburb known as Saddam City, as well as Basra and the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk.
"They were saying we have to be careful ultimately in the battle for Iraq. This is not to be won on the battlefield. Remember the tactics we need are direct confrontation we must raise the cost of occupation," this official said recounting the conversation detailed in the March 24 intelligence report.
Adding to American concerns, previous CIA reports on Iran claim that the country's Revolutionary Guard has procured several Saudi and Kuwaiti military uniforms, a tactic another intelligence official said was meant to cause confusion on the battlefield.
The explosive intelligence from March 24 also confirmed the failure of U.S. and British diplomatic efforts in the last three months to convince Iran to remain neutral in the current conflict. On the weekend of March 16 the U.S. special envoy to the Iraqi opposition met with Iranian diplomats in Geneva, under the auspices of a U.N. grouping to discuss Afghanistan, to firm up an agreement from Tehran not to send proxy forces over their border or attempt to send agent provocateurs into Iraq during or after the conflict.
The private statements from last month's meeting follow with many of the public statements from Iran's senior leaders in the run up to Operation Iraqi Freedom. On March 14 Hujjat al-Islam Hassan Rowhani, Iran's national security adviser, warned ominously in a public statement that there will be no "happy ending to the way the Americans have chosen" for their occupation of Iraq. "The U.S. presence in the Middle East is worse than Saddam's weapons of mass destruction," Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former Iranian president and current chairman of the country's powerful expediency board, said on Feb. 7.
The intelligence has already hardened America's public reaction to Iran's intentions in the war. On March 28, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld opened his news briefing with a stark warning to the Baddr Brigades, the military wing of an Iranian opposition group that he said was "equipped and directed" by Iran's Revolutionary Guards. "The entrance into Iraq by military forces, intelligence personnel, or proxies not under the direct operational control of (Central Command Chairman) Gen. Franks will be taken as a potential threat to coalition forces," Rumsfeld said. He added that the United States would hold the Iranian government responsible for the actions of the Badr Brigades. Two days earlier when Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked whether Iranian proxies were becoming a problem for U.S. forces in the Iraq campaign, he said, "Not yet."
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