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Kurds: Iran Working With Al Qaeda Affiliate in Iraq

5:01 PM, Oct 5, 2007 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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From Jim Landers of the Dallas Morning News we learn that the Kurds are worried about Iran's ongoing relationship wiith Ansar al-Islam, an al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq. Note, in particular, what the mayor of one Iraqi city had to say about Iran's support for Ansar al-Islam:

"From time to time Iran uses them [Ansar al-Islam fighters] as a pressure card to make trouble for us," said Salam Omer Ibrahim, mayor of the Iraqi border city of Said Sadiq. "They're saying, 'If you help our opposition, we have ways to respond.' "

Landers also provides this interesting account of how Iran may release Ansar al-Islam terrorists on its Kurdish enemies in response to a raid by the U.S. in late September:

On Sept. 23, U.S. soldiers made a pre-dawn raid at a luxury hotel in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah to arrest an Iranian government official named Mahmoudi Farhadi. A U.S. military spokesman said Mr. Farhadi was suspected of supplying armor-piercing bombs and other arms to Iraqi insurgents. The spokesman also accused Iran of smuggling rockets, surface-to-air missiles and other weapons into Iraq.

Iran responded to Mr. Farhadi's arrest by closing its border with Kurdish Iraq, cutting off food, fuel and other consumer goods for much of the eastern half of the region. They also used bulldozers to block smuggling lanes. Kurdish officials say they expect Ansar al-Islam will soon cross the border again to stage another attack.

Go read the whole thing.

Ansar al-Islam ("AAI") is one of those terrorist groups that defies the narrow thinking that clouds our vision of our terrorist enemies. A number of different entities from al Qaeda, to Iran, to Saddam's Iraq have had substantial connections with the group in one way or another. A naysayer may argue these ties don't add up to much, but that would be short-sighted. In the piece cited above, Landers says that AAI's ties to Saddam's regime prior to the war were "unsubstantiated," but that is not really true.

George Tenet explained in At the Center of the Storm how the CIA collected evidence that showed al Qaeda agents were working with Ansar al-Islam not just in northern Iraq, but also from Saddam's neo-Stalinist capital, Baghdad. Jonathan Schanzer provided this excellent write-up on the role that Abu Wael, an Iraqi Intelligence officer, played in supporting AAI. Wael is a relative of Saddam's former right-hand man, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, who also has been connected to AAI and al Qaeda in Iraq in a variety of ways. Al-Douri reportedly broke off ties with al Qaeda in Iraq just recently, but prior to his change of heart he had a long history of collaborating with al Qaeda and its affiliates. For more on al-Douri's relationship with al Qaeda see here, here, and here. This is just some of the available evidence on the relationship between members of Saddam's regime and al Qaeda's affiliates in Iraq both before and after the March 2003 invasion.

To understand how this all works, I would recommend Dan Darling's outstanding dossier on AAI from 2004. I still think that is among the best analyses, if not the best, of AAI to date.

And lest anyone think that the Sunnis of AAI can't work with the Shiites of Iran, think again. There is ample evidence that Iran has been supporting our Sunni terrorist enemies all along.

Hat tip for the Dallas Morning News piece: Counterterrorism Blog