Thursday, October 28, 2010

Nigeria - Iranian Arms Intercepted!

Nigeria - Iranian Arms Intercepted

Iranian arms have been increasingly sighted across the Middle East, from Iraq, to Lebanon to Afghanistan and even outside of the Middle East in places like the Horn of Africa. Notably, arms shipments that have been captured in Iraq and Lebanon have been accompanied by substantial amounts of photographic evidence rather then just rumored transfers that characterized Iranian arms transfers during the 1990's.

Now Iran has been caught shipping arms through Nigeria. On Tuesday, October 26th, agents from the Nigerian State Security Service discovered weapons hidden inside 13 shipping containers at Apapa port in Lagos. The containers have reportedly been sitting at the port since July. The ship transporting the cargo was registered to French company in the Marshall Islands with no obvious connection to IRISL or other Iranian firm. As with the case of the Francop, the shipping firm claimed no knowledge of the weapons.

The exact contents of the shipment are not yet clear but is said to include 107 mm rockets, small arms ammunition, grenades, explosives and rocket launchers. Only one picture has come out and shows 107 mm rockets which do seem to resemble the types found in Iraq and Lebanon. Pictured Below.

As of now, there is no more concrete information. Israeli officials have alleged that its part of Iran's new smuggling routes to Hamas in the wake of the Israeli destruction of a reported weapons caravan traveling through the Sudanese desert. While there is still no concrete proof of this connection it is a logical conclusion and a very real possibility. On the other hand

AP News
Washington Post

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Wikileaks and Iran

Wikileaks and Iran

While the undeniable majority of the coverage surrounding the most recent round of wikileaks has understandably focused on the supposedly much larger civilian death toll then previously thought, there also exists a large number of incidents involving Iran and their activities in Iraq which has generated some controversy.

I've found the Guardian to have the best site-organization for reading articles. Also worthy are the Telegraph, Wired, the New York Times and Al Jazeera English

These do not come from first hand research of the documents themselves, but from News groups linking to these reports, this means that i most likely missed some references to Iran in the thousands of documents that didn't make it to the front page of the Guardian or the NYT - so i'm always accepting corrections or further additions from readers who want to help out.

So what can we find?

Well, the first thing that leaps out to the reader is that, with a few exceptions, these are not clear-cut cases of personnel with IRGC ID cards being captured right as they were handing rockets to AQI (Al Qaeda in Iraq) or whatever else one might imagine. Instead, they were more commonly or not, reports that were of the same quality of those being read by us in the media - often based on "anonymous" tipsters and from sources of ill-repute which makes the accusations all that much more questionable.

So far, the incidents include (in chronological order, as per the report date, not the date of the event in question - in year/month/day format):

Iran Sponsored Assasination In Basra
Date: 2005/10/31
Summary: IRGC sponsoring Basra-based groups use collaborators within the Iraqi police to assassinate unknown targets. IRGC maintains extremely strict control over tactics used giving explicit directives on how to carry out the operation.
Comments: None

Date: 2005/11/07
Summary: Around October 11th, the IRGC smuggled several MANPADS with a "clear seeker head" to unknown forces in Al Amara. First time, this type of missile reported to have been found in Iraq.
Comments: Exact source for the information (i.e. were they recovered from an arms cache) is unclear. Also, report does not explicitly identify it as a MANPADS, however it's the only realistic option.

Iran Smuggling Weapons Into Southern Iraq

Date: 2005/11/22
Summary: GOI (Government of Iraq) forces recieve information about Iranian arms smuggling by boat in the north of the Basra Province. The operation would reportedly involve 30-35 men and the smuggled cargo was to be explosives and components for IEDs. Border police and civilian elements sympathetic to the GOI attempt to intercept but end up in blue-on-blue incident. No interaction with Iranian smugglers.
Comments: Important to note, that there was no actual contact with smugglers and that the only reference for this report is the anonymous Iraqi source.

Future VBEID Car Brought in from Iran
Date: 2005/12/08
Summary: Pink Hyundai brought in from Iran with the intent on using it as a VBIED (vehicle-borne-improvised-explosive-device) to assassinate former-PM Ayad Allawi.
Comments: Details are extremely scarce, no source of information, or even an implied connection to the Iranian government.

Iran Smuggling 82 mm Mortars with Paralytic Toxin

Date: 2006/01/17
Summary: Reportedly, Iran (government of Iran presumably) sold 50 82 mm mortar bombs to an unspecified group in Ash Shamiyah and smuggled them through Basra. Note that this is not a chemical weapon in the traditional sense where a cloud is dispersed, but must be spread via contact much like an animals poison would be transmitted via a bite.
Comments: Low credibility of the intelligence has to be emphasized.

Surveillance Balloon Floats into Iran

Date: 2006/4/24
Summary: A US JLens Surveillance balloon broke free from it's moorings at the Shaibah Log Base near Basra and drifted into Iran.
Comments: This may be one of the few unspecified UAV/drones that were rumored to have been lost to Iran during the Iraq war.

Surveillance Balloon Floats into Iran (for a second time)

Date: 2006/05/02
Summary: A second Jlens surviallance balloon broke free of it's mooring in the Al-Amara district and drifted toward Iran. An F-18 was tasked to shoot it down, but it is unclear if it was able to before it crossed into Iran
Comments: None

Firefight Between Iran and Iraqi/Coalition Forces

Date: 2006/07/06
Summary: During a joint patrol by US/Iraqi Army (IA)/Department of Border Enforcement (DBE) alongside the Iran-Iraq border in Diyala, IA soldiers attempted to pursue two Iranians who had crossed the border at which point they are confronted by an Iranian soldier on a motorcycle and begin talking. Note: An Iranian border fort is adjacent to this location with two T-62 tanks. Within a few minutes, 16 more Iranian soldiers arrive in trucks and begin to try to seperate IA from their transports and adopt tactical positions - they engage the IA diplomatically (attempting to meet with the Americans, bringing out tea, showing pictures, etc). US soldiers attempt to leave, but are unable to because of IA. At this point, 16 more Iranian soldiers arrive in trucks and maneuver into positions attempting to encircle the patrol. After attempts to further attempts to leave, US forces are informed by the IA that if they attempt to leave, they will be fired upon by the Iranians. After declaring intent to leave, Iranians open fire on the patrol. In ensuing one-two minute firefight, at least one Iranian RPG-gunner is killed as US forces (and presumably Iraqi DBE elements) fall back. Iranians capture 4 IA and 1 DBE soldiers who are later released.

Comments: This is potentially the most earth-shaking of events in the wikileaks documents i've seen. This is a full-on firefight between US/Iraqi and Iranian (probably IRGC judging from the use of T-62's) - one has only to imagine what the scene would have been if a conservative news outlet in the US (or Iran for that matter) got wind of it immediately after it happened - there's the real possibility the US might have been pushed into a more hostile position, if not outright war - to say nothing of the possibilities of the Iranians were actually able to kill an American in exchange. Also, the report indicates that the Iranians fired without provoction, but it's important to point out that this was written as an after-action report by US forces, so it would be extremely unlikely they would write anything that would put the blame in their court (much like the debate that surrounded the capture of British soldiers in geographically questionable waters).

Predator UAV Crosses into Iranian Airspace

Date: 2006/10/12
Summary: After the operator lost control of their Predator, it continued on its bearing and continued into Iranian airspace near Basra for 8 miniutes then after control was reestablished it turned back into Iraq.
Comments: None

Iran Smuggling Explosives to Baghdad
Date: 2006/11/30
Summary: In Late November 2006, a blue cargo truck carrying Iranian IEDs, mortars, mortar tubes, and other explosives hidden in furniture travelled from Al Kut.
Comments: Again, details about source of information is unclear, was it an informant or was the truck captured?

IRGC and JAM Plan Mass Rocket Barrage Against Baghdad Base

Date: 2006/12/01
Summary: IRGC is reported to have coordinated with Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) to launch a mass attack on an unidentified location of the "international zone" involving more then 108 rockets and large numbers of mortars and RPG fire, originating from Sadr city. Report details JAM commanders meeting IRGC officials at the border and receiving shipments of rockets. Also details some Iranian MO with dealing with private black market arms dealers to smuggle arms to groups.
Comment: Report is extremely detailed complete with names, dates and specific information. The rockets match the description of Iran's 107 mm rockets, though could also conceivably be the larger Falaq series, though probably not. More importantly though, this planned attack does not appear to have taken place.

JAM Plans Kidnapping with Iranian Assistance

Date: 2006/12/22
Summary: The JAM plans elaborate kidnapping of US soldiers in Baghdad as response to US encroachment in Sadr City. Orchestrator of the attack trained in Iran by IRGC and Hezbollah members.
Comments: Fingerprints of Iranian influence can be found in the complexity of the attack requiring diversions, multiple angles of attack, and focus on capturing rather then killing the targets.

While this specific attack does not appear to have taken place, in January 2007, the US Provincial Join Coordination Center (PJCC) in Karbala was attacked by 12 gunmen disguised as US troops, killing five US soldiers and wounding three. The sophistication of the attack immediately pointed toward Iran, but it was not until Summer 2007 that Iran was concretely linked to the attack after a mock-up of the PJCC was uncovered at an IRGC garrison in Ahvaz.
Excellent details of the attack can be found at The Long War Journal:
The Karbala Attack and the IRGC

US Finds Karbala PJCC Mockup Inside Iran
Iraqi Police Detain Three Special Group Operative Behind 2007 Karbala Attack

Iranian Intelligence Officer Orders Attacks on British Bases
Date: 2006/12/29
Summary: Iranian intelligence officer (presumably IRGC) Lt. Col. Farhadi Majid directs unknown elements to attack the British base in Basra and a US base at the former IrAF base at Al-Taqaddum to coincide with the US/British holidays.
Comment: Unknown if attacks actually took place.

Iranian Sponsored Assassination Campaign Against Iraqi Ministry

Date: 2007/03/27
Summary: Iran is sponsoring JAM and Badr Corps to assasinate Iraqi ministers in order to present atmosphere of insecurity in Baghdad.
Comments: None

JAM Weapons Smuggler Arrested
Date: 2008/01/20
Summary: Coalition forces arrested JAM fighter responsible for smuggling weapons from Iran to Iraq.
Comment: None

Iran-Trained Snipers
Date: 2008/05/11
Summary: Coalition forces capture weapons belonging to an insurgent cell trained in Iran.
Comments: Unclear if the insurgents were actually captured, or just their weapons cache.

Weapons Cache Points to Iran as a Weapons Supplier

Date: 2008/12/27
Summary: US raid on weapons cache belonging to JAM. Captured equipment includes small arms ammunition, a mortar round, IED/EFP components and diaries which detail smuggling of arms from Iran to Iraq.
Comments: None

Rocket Attacks Carry Iranian Fingerprints

Date: 2009/12/31
Summary: Many of the attacks in the fall/winter of 2009, specifically those on December 31st, bear the marks of Iranian training and financing, including the use of 107 mm rockets at their maximum range as well as using multiple launch site. Unnamed insurgent from Kurdish Hezbollah reported to have traveled to Iran for training.
Comments: None

So, it's the end of the day, we now have fairly concrete proof that the US military is confident of Iranian intervention in Iraq, what do these reports mean for US and Iranian strategy in the region? To be honest, not that much. Most of the information is old concerning dated events which simply doesn't have the resonance to the public of a bombing or rocket attack that happened yesterday. Furthermore, these reports mean that all the way since way back in 2005, the US military was aware of Iranian intervention in Iraq and deemed it of relatively low importance all the way up through the present. But perhaps most importantly is just that Iranian offenses remain relatively minor. In the same way the US tolerated Soviet/Sino intervention in Vietnam, and the USSR tolerated US intervention in Afghanistan, so to the US is tolerating Iranian involvement in Iraq not because they don't know about it, but because the alternative of a war with Iran is always going to be worse - realpolitik at it's finest.

The Guardian
The New York Times
The Long War Journal