News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqIran 'taking control of Basra by stealth'

Iran ‘taking control of Basra by stealth’

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Daily Telegraph: Iranian intelligence is preparing for complete dominance of southern Iraq when the British withdraw by penetrating Basra’s security network and political parties, it can be revealed. The Daily Telegraph

By Thomas Harding in Basra

Iranian intelligence is preparing for complete dominance of southern Iraq when the British withdraw by penetrating Basra’s security network and political parties, it can be revealed.

Iraqi intelligence sources disclosed to The Daily Telegraph that Iran plans to reap the huge financial rewards presented by the southern oil fields and prevent Western businesses from gaining a foothold inside Basra.

British and American political and military leaders are also concerned over Teheran “giving succour” to terrorists who continue to kill troops every week.

Commanders are anxious that once they pull out of Basra in May the Iranian-backed militias will take over the political and security structures, undoing four years of work that has cost 129 British lives and billions of pounds.

Only the Iraqi army stands in the way of the murderous militias. But while it is regarded as competent, the key moment will come when responsibility for administering Basra is given to the Iraqi government with local politicians taking over. At that point a showdown between the Baghdad-controlled Iraqi army and Iranian-backed Basra militias is expected.

Iran has found it easy to build alliances with fellow Shias who form the majority in southern Iraq. The Iranian-backed insurgents have many recruits among the city’s jobless. They are encouraged to attack British patrols and positions to make them look strong as part of the power struggle for Basra, an Iraqi official said. He added that if the British withdrew from the region too early Sunnis would be killed to drive them out and the work of the last four years would have been destroyed.

The ammunition and weapons used to kill and maim British troops have almost certainly crossed the border from Iran 10 miles outside the city and gone straight into the hands of terrorists.

British military intelligence is certain that the insurgents have received training from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard with the accuracy of mortar and rocket attacks improving by the week.

“We know some extreme elements in Basra are being given support and succour from Iran and get weaponry, money and IED (improvised explosive device) technology in order to try to destabilise this part of the country,” said Lt Col Justin Maciejewski, commanding officer of the 1,200-strong 1 Bn Royal Green Jacket battle group.

“Local people here are pretty fed up with it. Its impact in certain segments of Basra society is causing violence against us and those elements of the Iraqi security forces seen as not susceptible to Iranian influence.”

A senior American official, based in the British camp, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was deep concern over the “destabilising effect” Iran was having on the area. “The indications we are receiving is that the militia firing rockets into this compound are receiving support from Iranian factions,” he said. “This is very troubling when we are trying to bring peace and stability.”

Iraq’s most senior politicians have no doubts about the ambitions of their eastern neighbour. Speaking during an official visit to London, Tariq al-Hashemi, Iraq’s vice-president, accused Iran of “playing a disastrous role in our internal affairs”. “We have plenty of evidence that Iran is becoming, unfortunately, the main player in Iraq. They do have a deep influence on everything in Iraq. Wherever you go in Iraq, you see their fingerprints on everything.”

In the past three months the murder rate in Basra has dropped from 45 to five a week, partly due to the British breaking up the death squads of a corrupt police unit.

Lt Col Maciejewski admitted that the locals were “looking forward to the day we go” but only when the job was done with strong Iraqi security forces in place.

While the Iranians give support to fellow Shias in Iraq there is evidence that the minority Sunni population, estimated at 200,000, has received support from fellow Sunnis in Saudi Arabia. There are worries this could lead to a full-blooded sectarian war that could spread amongst the two branches of Islam throughout the Middle East.

When it withdraws from the city the Army can only watch and hope, but it appears there are greater powers at work. Iran has always known Britain’s presence was transient and is well prepared for the departure – and for the next round of almost inevitable conflict.

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