One of the first reports that Iran was taking an anti-American stance in Iraq came from a UPI. It quoted a U.S. intelligence source that said in March 2003 Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, President Mohammad Khatami, and others met to decide Tehran’s policy in the wake of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. They decided to make the U.S. pay a price for invading Iraq. Tehran set about implementing this decision through several means.
On the military side Iran sent in agents, friendly Iraqis, and Hezbollah into several Iraqi cities including Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Basra, and Kirkuk to organize against the Americans. 1000s of fighters from the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council’s (SIIC) militia the Badr Brigade flowed into Iraq after the invasion. At the time, Badr was a formal arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and was also supervised by Iranian intelligence. Later in 2003 there were reports that Hezbollah operatives were also dispatched to Iraq to help as well.
On the political front, Iran made agreements with the Kurds and facilitated negotiations between them and the SIIC. First, Iran and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) agreed upon a non-aggression pact. There were also a series of meetings in the fall of 2001 between the Badr Brigade and KDP and PUK leaders to discuss how to deal with the United States and a post-Saddam Iraq. Iranian intelligence was involved in many of these meetings.
After the invasion, Iran also tried to rally Iraq’s Shiite clerics against the Americans. In late April 2003 Iraqi born, but Iranian based Ayatollah Kadhem al-Haeri issued a fatwa calling on Shiite imams to fill the power vacuum left by the fall of the old regime by taking over administration of Iraq’s cities. Al-Haeri also said clerics needed to oppose the United States. There were several examples of this. In the city of Kut in Wasit province for example, the SIIC took over the city hall and a local cleric Sayed Abbas Fadhil claimed to control the city. His followers staged two protests against the American presence there, and there were several drive-by shooting on U.S. troops as well. Jay Garner, the head of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Affairs, who was the civilian administrator of Iraq at the time, said the events in Kut were all examples of Iran trying to interfere in Iraq.
These early reports show the different sides of Iran’s policy towards Iraq. Not only was it going to use military means to undermine the American presence, but it was also using its extensive contacts with the Iraqi opposition, many of whom had been based in Iran during the Saddam years, and religious ties to Iraq’s clerics to get a foothold in Iraq’s new political order.
For more on Iran’s policy towards Iraq see:
Ayman, Dr. Hashemi, “A detailed and dangerous report about the Iranian role in the destruction of Iraq,” Homeland Security US.net, 3/19/06
Elkhamri, Mounir, “Iran’s Contribution to the Civil War in Iraq,” Jamestown Foundation, January 2007
Felter, Joseph and Fishman, Brian, “Iranian Strategy in Iraq, Politics and ‘Other Means,’” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, 10/13/08
Phillips, James, “Deter Iranian and Syrian Meddling In Postwar Iraq,” Heritage Foundation, 4/4/03
Pound, Edward, “The Iran Connection,” U.S. News & World Report, 11/22/04
Risen, James, “A Region Inflamed: The Hand Of Tehran: Hezbollah, in Iraq, Refrains From Attacks on Americans,” New York Times, 11/24/03
Smith, Craig, “Iraqi in Iran urges Shiites to take power,” San Francisco Chronicle, 4/26/03
Strauss, Valerie, “Pentagon: Ex-Iraqi Leader Aziz Is in Custody,” Washington Post, 4/24/03
Tanter, Raymond, “Iran’s Threat to Coalition Forces in Iraq,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1/15/04