HAS THE ISLAMIC REPUBLIC JOINED THE COALITION AGAINST IRAQ?

By Nazenin Ansari Moshiri

LONDON (Keyhan of London) As the United States moves towards a state of full military readiness for war with Iraq, the Islamic regime in Iran has been at pains to put down or silence any notion of co-operation with the United States. On Oct. 21 Iran's Foreign Ministry denied press reports that Tehran would provide U.S. troops with access to military bases in Kermanshah and Dehloran.

The original media reports of a basing agreement followed a three-day visit to the Islamic republic by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. He also travelled to Iran just prior to the U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan last year.

The extent of the Islamic regime's hysteria became further evident since the publication of a survey showing 74 per cent of Iranians favoured resuming dialogue with the United States. After Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) and Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) published the results. Not only the three opinion pollsters were detained and the polling institutes closed, the Head of the IRNA and the Director of ISNA were charged for publishing the results.

In fact reports are emerging that disclose the Islamic regime's assistance to the United States and Britain in their campaign against Iraq. As such, it seems that Islamic Republic has become a partner in the coalition.

Significantly the Islamic regime has been cooperating with the US Navy in interdicting oil smuggling from Iraq via the Persian Gulf. At a press briefing on 29th October, Central Command commander General Tommy Franks referred to Iran's cooperation with the US navy in cracking down on Iraqi oil smuggling. He stated that the interdiction efforts were "less effective when Iranian territorial waters were somewhat open to Iraqi smugglers to be able to come out of the Khor Abdollah or the Shatt-al-Arab, and then move through Iranian waters and so forth. The Iranians have taken a hard stand there now."

Further reports appeared on Bloomberg's energy website on the 5th November. According to local US commanders, previously "smugglers would sail out of Iraq's Fao Peninsula into the Khor Abdollah waterway where the primary shipping takes place, turn left and hug the Iranian coastline within its 12-mile international limit -- a route dubbed by coalition crews as the "Smugglers' Superhighway" that pursing warships couldn't enter".

However, "Iran in the last year has shut down the "Superhighway", forcing vessels virtually into coalition hands. "Iran's cooperation has been critical'', Captain James Hanna, chief of staff of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said. "If you don't have Iran enforcing her borders, you have just a short time to get them'', he said.

"Iran has worked very hard to actively force them out to the point of using weapons, shooting at smugglers getting them to stop, or having smugglers shoot at them'', Captain John Peterson commander of the overall intercept effort added.

On the 11th November UPI reported that the cooperation "is going a lot further than allowing British and American warplanes into [Iranian] airspace. There are also strong rumours inside the Special Forces community that Revolutionary Guards' specialist troops have been inserted alongside U.S. and British Special Forces teams now in the marsh districts of southern Iraq".

The UPI report further claimed that Iran was the vital factor behind Syria joining the other 14 UN Security Council members to vote for the Resolution against Iraq. "Syrian and Iranian officials had been arguing hard over the past month about Tehran's decision to give "limited cooperation", including the use of its air space to the Americans and British against Iraq. Last Thursday the rift was made public by Syria's best-known media figure and unofficial spokesman, Ibrahim Hamidi. Assad then spoke to Iran's President Mohammed Khatami. On Friday, Syria cast its vote against Iraq".

According to STRATFOR intelligence report, "a full-scale U.S. war in Iraq must ultimately and inevitably end with a siege of Baghdad as the final stronghold of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. An ancient city with a population estimated at between 2 million and 6 million, Iraqi troops could sustain a Defence of Baghdad even if the regime were to lose control over the rest of the country. This could force the American military to launch a bloody, urban campaign of door-to-door combat and quickly could destroy any advantage it had gained in the countryside".

"The alternative would be for the U.S. military to lay siege to Baghdad. But for this to work, American forces would need to encircle the city and prevent supplies and reinforcements from entering -- something for which Iran's cooperation would be vital".

More important, with Tehran's cooperation U.S. troops could interdict supplies and reinforcements coming from either north or south of Baghdad. A base in Kermanshah would allow U.S. military forces the capability to block reinforcements from the Iraqi Republican Guard Southern Corps, based in Ba’qouba, from reaching Baghdad by shutting down the main road, Highway 5, between Ba’qouba and Baghdad.

U.S. military forces positioned in Dehloran could shut down the main Basra-to-Baghdad highway and block reinforcements coming from Al-Amarah military base, where the Iraqi Army's 4th Corp is stationed.

The report continues, "It is almost impossible to imagine that Iran would agree to a major basing arrangement with the United States. The Islamist clerical regime in Tehran could not tolerate massive U.S. forces on Iranian territory. But a smaller, Special Operations force conducting surgical strikes and interdiction raids into Baghdad's north-eastern and south-eastern flanks might be acceptable".

"If Tehran did cooperate in this way, in return for its cooperation it likely would want some renegotiation of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act and perhaps a piece of the oil wealth in a post-Hoseyn Iraq. For instance, the Iranian oil company conceivably might wish to become a joint-venture partner for development projects in southern Iraqi oil fields. Greater involvement in Iraq's oil fields could translate into greater Iranian sway within OPEC and, by extension, a reduction of Saudi Arabia's clout for manipulating oil prices".

Several questions remain. Firstly why is the regime so adamant in keeping its cooperation with the coalition against Iraq a secret from Iranians at home? Second, what has the Islamic regime gained in return for such cooperation? And finally, will the latest internal political crises which has rocked the foundations of the Islamic Republic for the past two weeks have any impact on Iran's co-operation and contribution to the war against Iraq? ENDS IRAN US IRAQ 221102

Editor’s note: The Persian-language weekly newspaper "Keyhan of London" published the above article on its latest issue appeared on 20 November.