The Heritage Foundation

WebMemo #249 on Iraq

April 4, 2003

April 4, 2003 | WebMemo on Iraq

Deter Iranian and Syrian Meddling In Postwar Iraq

While American troops relentlessly grind down the military power of Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, a new and more unconventional threat is emerging to American troops in Iraq: low intensity guerrilla warfare supported by Iraq's neighbors, Syria and Iran.


Both countries teamed up to support the Lebanon-based terrorist group, Hezballah, in its successful campaign to drive out American peacekeeping troops in Lebanon in the early 1980s and may harbor ambitions to repeat that strategy in Iraq in the future.


According to U.S. intelligence sources, Iran's leaders decided last month to dispatch paramilitary forces across Iran's border with Iraq to harass American soldiers after the fall of the Iraqi dictator.  According to UPI's State Department correspondent,

 an unidentified U.S. intelligence agency issued a report on March 24 that detailed the conversations of Iran's top leaders, including President Mohammad Khatami and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, at a meeting to formulate Iran's policy in postwar Iraq.


Iran's leaders reportedly decided to raise the costs of occupation by sending paramilitary forces to five Iraqi cities (Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Basra, and Kirkuk) to foment anti-American violence.  Iran already has deployed the Badr Brigade, a pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite guerrilla force, to northern Iraq.


Iran's national security adviser, Hassan Rowhani, publicly warned on March 14 that there will be no "happy ending" to the occupation of Iraq.  Iran also has tried to stir up opposition to American forces in Afghanistan, where it has supported Gulbeddin Hekmatyar, a radical Islamic leader who has joined with remnants of the Taliban to attack the Afghan government and U.S. troops.


Syria also has dropped some ominous hints of its intentions.  Syrian President Bashir Assad, asked in a March 27th interview if Syria would be the next target of American war plans, said, "We are not going to wait until they include Syria in the plan or declare that or not… Some Arab capitals will stand beside Baghdad.  When I talk about some Arab capitals, it does not make sense to exclude Syria."


The next day Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld warned that, "We have information that shipments of military supplies have been crossing the border from Syria into Iraq, including night-vision goggles.  These deliveries pose a direct threat to the lives of coalition forces.  We consider such trafficking to be hostile acts and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments."


Syria also has allowed Arab volunteers to cross its border into Iraq to fight for Saddam's dictatorship. British sources believe that 600 Arabs already have crossed into Iraq from Syria and British Special Forces have intercepted Arab volunteers in western Iraq who were given Syrian passports to facilitate their travel to Baghdad, according to the London Times.


Syria and Iran successfully opposed the multinational peacekeeping force that was dispatched to stabilize Lebanon following the 1982 Israeli intervention in Lebanon.  Iran organized, trained, funded and armed the radical Islamic Hezballah (Party of God), a Lebanese Shiite terrorist group that killed more than 300 Americans in bombings of the U.S. Embassy and the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983.  Syria, which allowed Iran to airlift arms to Hezballah through Syrian airfields, also cooperated with Hezballah inside Lebanon, which it continues to occupy with 30,000 troops.  Now Syria and Iran apparently are making similar plans to stir up Iraqi Shiites against the American military presence.


The Bush Administration must follow up on Rumsfeld's warning to Syria with high-level diplomatic messages to both Syria and Iran that meddling inside Iraq will be considered a hostile act that will irreversibly poison relations with the United States, trigger a forceful American reaction, and incur prohibitive economic, diplomatic, and military costs.  Such external interference must be nipped in the bud before it can turn post-Saddam Iraq into another Lebanon-like sanctuary for anti-Western terrorists.

About the Author

James Phillips Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy