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Peter Galbraith. [Source: CBC]US President Bill Clinton and National Security Adviser Anthony Lake decide that they will give the Bosnians a “green light” for the arms supply pipeline from Iran to Croatia. The CIA is not consulted. Lake passes the word on to US ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith by “cleverly” telling him that they have “no instructions” for him with regard to the Iranian arms shipments. [Wiebes, 2003, pp. 167- 168] Two days later, Galbraith passes the “no instructions” message on to Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, making it clear that the US government is giving him a green light for Croatia to conduct arms deals with Iran. [APF Reporter, 1997]
Imam Reza shrine. [Source: Public domain]After failing to bomb the Israeli embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, Razmi Yousef moves back to Pakistan and plots a bombing inside Iran. Yousef, a Sunni Muslim, has a deep hatred of Shiite Muslims, and most Iranians are Shiites. On June 20, 1994, Yousef bombs a mosque in the Iranian town of Mashhad, killing 26 people and injuring over 200 more. The mosque is an important shrine and one of the holiest Shiite sites in Iran, and the attack also takes place on a Shiite holy day. The group Yousef works with this time includes his younger brother, Abdul Muneem, and his father, who is arrested and detained in Iran. While Yousef generally works in concert with or by orders from bin Laden, the Mashhad bombing runs counter to bin Laden’s efforts to work with the Iranian-influenced Hezbollah militant group this same year (see Shortly After February 1994). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 63-67]
Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan supplies Iran with blueprints for an advanced P2 centrifuge, used to produce weapons-grade uranium. Iran already has some technology for centrifuges and spare parts provided by Khan in the 1980s (see 1987), but discovers that what it has is out of date. The new, German-designed P2 centrifuges are better than the earlier P1 versions, as they have rotors made from specialty steel and are more reliable. Khan also makes other deliveries of nuclear weapons technology to Iran around this time (see 1994). [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 256]
US President Bill Clinton issues Executive Order 12957 imposing strict oil and trade sanctions on Iran. US companies and their foreign subsidiaries are hence prohibited from entering into any contract “for the financing of the development of petroleum resources located in Iran.” [US President, 3/15/1995; BBC, 3/17/2000; US Department of Energy, 8/2004]
On a visit to Iran, Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto quietly asks Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani about possible nuclear weapons transactions between their two countries. The question is prompted by rumors Bhutto has heard about some kind of nuclear weapons deals between them, and is put to Rafsanjani at a meeting with Bhutto and Pakistani President Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari. Bhutto will later say: “I asked Rafsanjani: ‘Is there something going on? Is there a nuclear exchange?’ Rafsanjani looked surprised. He said he suspected it too but he said he knew nothing.” Bhutto will add that she later learns the Revolutionary Guard is the organization responsible for the deal in Iran, indicating Rafsanjani’s profession of ignorance may be genuine. The timing of this meeting is not entirely clear, as Bhutto visits Iran twice around this time, in December 1993 and November 1995. However, she is known to meet with Rafsanjani on November 7 during her second visit. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 255, 511]
Newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (see May 29, 1996) flies to Washington, DC, to visit one of his strongest political supporters, neoconservative Richard Perle. Perle is the chief author of a new strategy proposal called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Security in the Region” (see July 8, 1996). In essence, Perle’s policy proposal is an update of fellow neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz’s Defense Planning Guide (see February 18, 1992), which had so horrified Clinton and Bush officials. But Netanyahu is clearly pleased with the proposal. After meeting with Perle, Netanyahu addresses the US Congress. Quoting extensively from the proposal, he tells the lawmakers that the US must join Israel in overseeing the “democratization” of the Middle East. War might be a necessity to achieve this goal, he warns. While the “Clean Break” authors are primarily concerned with Iraq and Syria, Netanyahu takes a longer view. “The most dangerous of these regions is Iran,” he says. [Unger, 2007, pp. 145-148]
Cover of ‘Tyranny’s Ally’. [Source: Amazon (.com)]Neoconservative David Wurmser, the co-author of “A Clean Break,” the recently prepared plan to redraw the Middle East (see July 8, 1996), writes a book, Tyranny’s Ally, in which he advocates that the US use military force to literally redraw the map of the Middle East. In his book, Wurmser says that Iran’s Shi’ites will be negated by Iraq’s Shi’ites, whom for some unexplained reason can be expected “to present a challenge to Iran’s influence and revolution.” Wurmser writes that by overthrowing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the US will destabilize the role of the mullahs in Iran as well. “Any serious display of American determination,” Wurmser writes, will cause “our regional enemies to wilt.” Overthrowing Hussein “will send terrifying shock waves into Tehran… and will promote pro-American coalitions in the region, unravel hostile coalitions.” We even asserts that “the Iraqi Shi’ites… if liberated from [Hussein’s tyranny], can be expected to present a challenge to Iran’s influence and revolution.” In 2007, author Craig Unger writes sarcastically, “Democracy would spread throughout the region! Israel would be secure and the US would have allies in the oil-rich states of Iran and Iraq! But, again, the text contained no facts to back up Wurmser’s assumptions.” Wurmser acknowledges those “who guided my understanding” as Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi, “Clean Break” co-author Richard Perle, and Perle’s close colleague Douglas Feith, among others, leading Unger to observe, “In other words, the neocon echo chamber had begun to rely on itself to reinforce their own myths.” [Unger, 2007; Unger, 2007]
Turkey signs a $23 billion deal with Iran, agreeing to buy up to 350 million cubic feet per day (mmcf/d) of Iranian liquefied natural gas (LNG). The deal is met with criticism by the United States, which wants to isolate Iran. Turkey’s demand for natural gas is expected to quintuple by 2010 to 2.9 billion cubic feet per year (Bcf/d). Under the terms of the agreement, Iran will supply Turkey with three billion cubic meters of gas a year, increasing to 10 billion cubic meters (353 billion cubic feet) by 2007. [US Department of Energy, 8/1996; BBC, 7/30/2001]
Ahmed Rashid. [Source: Jane Scherr/ University of California, Berkeley]Ahmed Rashid, correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and The Daily Telegraph, conducts extensive investigative research in Afghanistan after the Taliban conquest of Kabul. As he will later write in his 2000 book, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia, he sees a “massive regional polarization between the USA, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Taliban on one side and Iran, Russia, the Central Asian states and the anti-Taliban alliance on the other. While some focused on whether there was a revival of the old CIA-ISI connection from the Afghan jihad era, it became apparent to me that the strategy over pipelines had become the driving force behind Washington’s interest in the Taliban, which in turn was prompting a counter-reaction from Russia and Iran. But exploring this was like entering a labyrinth, where nobody spoke the truth or divulged their real motives or interests. It was the job of a detective rather than a journalist because there were few clues. Even gaining access to the real players in the game was difficult, because policy was not being driven by politicians and diplomats, but by the secretive oil companies and intelligence services of the regional states.” [Rashid, 2001, pp. 163]
The US State Department includes the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, in its list of foreign terrorist organizations. [Executive Office of the President, 9/12/2002 ; Newsweek, 9/26/2002; US Department of State, 4/30/2003] MEK, which in English means, “People’s Holy Warriors,” [Christian Science Monitor, 7/29/2004] is later described by its former members as a cult. Its husband-and-wife leaders, Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, exercise absolute control over the group’s rank-and-file, requiring that members worship them and practice Mao-style self-denunciations. Many of the MEK’s members are tricked into joining the group. For example, the parents of Roshan Amini will tell the Christian Science Monitor in 2003 that their son joined because he had been told he would be able to complete two school grades in one year and earn a place in college. But after joining, Amini was not permitted to leave. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/31/2003; Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2004]
[Source: USIS, American Embassy]Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski publishes a book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, in which he portrays the Eurasian landmass as the key to world power, and Central Asia with its vast oil reserves as the key to domination of Eurasia. He states that for the US to maintain its global primacy, it must prevent any possible adversary from controlling that region. He notes: “The attitude of the American public toward the external projection of American power has been much more ambivalent. The public supported America’s engagement in World War II largely because of the shock effect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.” He predicts that because of popular resistance to US military expansionism, his ambitious Central Asian strategy can not be implemented, “except in the circumstance of a truly massive and widely perceived direct external threat.” [Brzezinski, 1997, pp. 24-25, 210-11] The book also theorizes that the US could be attacked by Afghan terrorists, precipitating a US invasion of Afghanistan, and that the US may eventually seek control of Iran as a key strategic element in the US’s attempt to exert its influence in Central Asia and the Middle East. [Brzezinski, 1997]
The Bundesnachrichtendienst, a German foreign intelligence agency, informs the US that Pakistan and Iran are cooperating on weapons purchases. According to the Germans, Pakistan has set up what authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will call a “network of dummy export companies” on behalf of the Iranians, and these companies are being used to purchase weapons bound for Iran. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 512]
Richard Falkenrath, Executive Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, speaks at the Washington Institute’s Policy Forum on the issue of Iran and weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Falkenrath argues that Iran “poses a greater long-term threat to US interests in the Persian Gulf,” asserting that it possesses significant quantities of chemical weapons, is developing and has small stocks of biological weapons, and intends to “produce medium-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching Israel and beyond.” The US should be concerned, he says, because a WMD-armed Iran would allow it to “deter the United States, disrupt US-led coalitions, and foment regional instability and arms races.” He recommends that the EU end its unconditional political and commercial ties with Iran, and work with the US and other allies to develop a new policy toward Iran and states like Russia that have been supplying Iran with nuclear materials. He also stresses that “US allies should enhance their ability to participate in US-led military operations against WMD-armed adversaries.” [Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, 6/8/1998]
The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel obtained a collection of Iranian documents containing correspondences between Iranian government officials and leaders of the Revolutionary Guards discussing efforts to secure nuclear warheads from former Soviet republics. According to the Jerusalem Post, “US congressional experts” determined the papers were authentic. But a senior Israeli source who is quoted in the paper says, “At this point, we can’t say for certain whether these are genuine. But they look awfully real.” The article does not provide information about when precisely the documents were found, though a US government consultant is quoted saying that Israel has “had them for years.” [Jerusalem Post, 4/9/1998]
The “Team B” intelligence analysis exercise of 1975, which so disastrously overestimated the Soviet threat (see November 1976), returns in the form of the “Rumsfeld Commission,” which issues its report this month. Conservative commentators and former participants have called for a second “Team B”-style competitive intelligence analysis ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall (see 1990, 1994, and 1996). The “Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States” (see July 15, 1998), led by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is packed with conservative and neoconservative hardliners much as the original Team B cadre was; it includes some former Team B members such as former Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz. Like the original Team B, the Rumsfeld Commission challenges CIA estimates of foreign military threats; like the original Team B, the Rumsfeld Commission wildly overestimates the impending threat from countries such as Iran and North Korea, both of which it judges will be capable of striking the US with nuclear weapons in five years or perhaps less. The original Team B findings impelled thirty years of full-bore military spending by the US to counter a Soviet threat that was fading, not growing; the Rumsfeld Commission’s equally alarmist findings impels a new push for spending on the so-called “Star Wars” ballistic missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly will observe that the Rumsfeld Commission’s report “provided Congress with enough talking points to win the argument [on missile defense] both in the strategic arena and in the 20-second soundbite television debates.” Former State Department intelligence analyst Greg Thielmann will later observe, “time has proven Rumsfeld’s predictions dead wrong.” Author and professor Gordon R. Mitchell will write that the second “Team B” exercise shows “that by 1998, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz had honed the art of intelligence manipulation through use of competitive intelligence analysis. Retrospective assessments revealing serious flaws in the Team B work products came long after political officials had already converted the alarmist reports into political support for favored military policies.” [Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 ]
Congressional conservatives receive a second “alternative assessment” of the nuclear threat facing the US that is far more to their liking than previous assessments (see December 23, 1996). A second “Team B” panel (see November 1976), the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, led by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and made up of neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz and Stephen Cambone, finds that, contrary to earlier findings, the US faces a growing threat from rogue nations such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, who can, the panel finds, inflict “major destruction on the US within about five years of a decision.” This threat is “broader, more mature, and evolving more rapidly” than previously believed. The Rumsfeld report also implies that either Iran or North Korea, or perhaps both, have already made the decision to strike the US with nuclear weapons. Although Pakistan has recently tested nuclear weapons (see May 28, 1998), it is not on the list. Unfortunately for the integrity and believability of the report, its methodology is flawed in the same manner as the previous “Team B” reports (see November 1976); according to author J. Peter Scoblic, the report “assume[s] the worst about potential US enemies without actual evidence to support those assumptions.” Defense analyst John Pike is also displeased with the methodology of the report. Pike will later write: “Rather than basing policy on intelligence estimates of what will probably happen politically and economically and what the bad guys really want, it’s basing policy on that which is not physically impossible. This is really an extraordinary epistemological conceit, which is applied to no other realm of national policy, and if manifest in a single human being would be diagnosed as paranoia.” [Guardian, 10/13/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 172-173] Iran, Iraq, and North Korea will be dubbed the “Axis of Evil” by George W. Bush in his 2002 State of the Union speech (see January 29, 2002).
President Clinton submits his biannual report to Congress on the “National Emergency with Respect to Iran” that was declared in Executive Order 12170 (see November 14, 1979). The report, required under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, states that Iran is not in full compliance with the Algiers Accords (see January 19, 1981) which require Iran to maintain a certain amount of funds in a special security account for the purpose of honoring claims made against Iran by US claimants. [US President, 11/16/1998]
Mark Burles authors a report for the RAND Corporation on the subject of recent Chinese policy toward Russia and Central Asia. The report notes that while “China’s relationships with the countries of Central Asia do not carry the same potential threat to US interests as its relationship with Russia does,” China’s support “for the extension of pipeline routes from Central Asia through Iran [does have] the potential to generate conflict between Beijing and Washington.” Burles says China’s “pledge to help construct a pipeline from Kazakhstan to the Kazakh-Turkmen border, with the goal of eventually extending through to an Iranian port… would run counter to the current US policy of denying Iran access to Central Asian oil.” [Burles, 1999]
The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, assassinates the deputy chief of the Iranian Armed Forces General Staff. [US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
A CIA officer whose first name is “Albert” drafts a series of incorrect cables about a plan by Islamist militants to carry out attacks in Jordan around the millennium (see December 15-31, 1999). One cable alleges that the group of terrorists, some of whom are al-Qaeda operatives, is backed by Iran. Ali Soufan, an FBI agent working against the plotters in Jordan, sends a series of parallel cables back to Washington, and his and Albert’s superiors notice the discrepancies. An investigation into who is correct ensues, and Soufan is proved right. In all, 12 cables drafted by Albert have to be withdrawn. Soufan will say that Albert’s problem was that he had a “tendency to jump to conclusions without facts.” The link to Iran was because some of the plotters had trained in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, an area controlled by Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran. [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ; Soufan, 2011, pp. 138-139] After 9/11, Albert will be involved in the rendition of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi to Egypt, where he falsely confesses to a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq (see January 2002 and After).
As part of “Operation Great Bahman,” the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, conducts mortar attacks and hit-and-run raids on Iranian military and law-enforcement units and government buildings near Iran’s border with Iraq. [US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
US Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) agents arrest Mahnaz Samadi, a leading spokeswoman for the National Council of Resistance, at the Canadian border because several years earlier, when she was seeking political asylum in the US, she had not disclosed her past “terrorist” ties as an MEK “military commander” or the fact that she had trained in an MEK camp that was located in Iraq. Hearing about the case from his constituents, Missouri Senator John Ashcroft comes to the rescue and writes a letter on May 10, 2000 to Attorney General Janet Reno opposing Samadi’s arrest. In his letter, he calls her a “highly regarded human-rights activist.” [Newsweek, 9/26/2002; Slate, 3/21/2003; US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, launches a mortar attack against the leadership complex in Tehran where the offices of the Supreme Leader and the president are located. [US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
Kie Fallis, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) terrorism intelligence analyst, later claims that around this time he uncovers an intelligence report about the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Public details of his exact knowledge about this summit have been scant, but it suggests at least some information on the summit spreads beyond the CIA and FBI not long after it takes place. But apparently, Fallis, who had been researching terror links between al-Qaeda and Iranian intelligence, learns that US intelligence discovered at the time that Malaysian security officials traced some attendees of the summit to the Iranian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, where they spent the night. Fallis will use this lead along with other leads to suggest a terror warning in late September 2000 (see May 2000-Late September 2000) that he believes might have stopped the USS Cole attack in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000) . [Washington Times, 8/26/2002]
The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), a militant Iranian opposition group, attempts to assassinate the commander of Nasr headquarters in Tehran, Iran’s interagency board responsible for coordinating policies on Iraq. [US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
Kie Fallis, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) terrorism intelligence analyst, has been gathering evidence of an upcoming al-Qaeda attack or attacks. In 2002, he will describe to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry a research process similar to what Able Danger is using at the same time: “I began to notice there was a voluminous amount of information, as others have testified, regarding al-Qaeda. Most of it appeared to be unrelated to other pieces of information. It appeared to be almost chat. By using a piece of [commercial software called ‘Analyst’s Notebook’] I was able to put these small snippets of information into, and graphically represent them as well, I was able to, over a course of many months, to determine certain linkages between these items—linkages that would never be apparent without the use of this tool. It would be lost in the weeds. And there were a lot of weeds to look through.” [Washington Times, 8/26/2002; US Congress, 10/8/2002] In his research, he claims to find links between al-Qaeda and Iranian intelligence. By May 2000, he writes a classified report on his conclusion that “terrorists were planning two or three major attacks against the United States. The only gaps were where and when.” Apparently, he envisions at least one of these attacks will use a small boat to blow up a US warship. However, the DIA has already issued a report concluding that such a method of attack would be impossible to carry out successfully, and the agency sticks by this assessment. A video message put out by bin Laden in mid-September convinces Fallis that an al-Qaeda attack will happen in the next month or two.(see Mid-September 2000). Shortly after learning about this message, Fallis reaches “the ‘eureka point‘… in determining an impending terrorist attack.” This comes “from a still-classified intelligence report in September 2000, which he will not discuss.” [Washington Times, 8/26/2002] This may be a reference to a lead by the Able Danger team on increased al-Qaeda activity in Yemen at this time (see Late September 2000), and/or it may refer to other intelligence leads. Fallis goes to his supervisor and asks that at least a general warning of an attack in the Middle East be issued. He hopes such a warning will at least put US military forces in the region on a higher alert. His superior turns him down, and other superiors fail to even learn of his suggested warning. The USS Cole will be successfully attacked in the port of Aden, Yemen, by a small boat of terrorists on October 12, 2000 (see October 12, 2000) . [Washington Times, 8/26/2002] One day after the Cole attack, Fallis will resign in protest. According to Senator John Warner (R-VA),“What [Fallis] felt is that his assessment was not given that proper level of consideration by his superiors and, as such, was not incorporated in the final intelligence reports provided to military commanders in the [Middle East region].” [CNN, 10/25/2000]
When the Iranian National Council of Resistance, a front group for the militant Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), holds a demonstration outside the United Nations protesting a speech by Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, Republican Senators Ashcroft and Chris Bond from Missouri issue a joint statement expressing solidarity with the organization. [Newsweek, 9/26/2002; Slate, 3/21/2003; US Department of State, 4/30/2003]
People involved in the 2000 PNAC report (from top left): Vice
President Cheney, Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld,
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Cheney Chief of Staff I. Lewis
Libby, Undersecretary of State John Bolton, Undersecretary of Defense Dov
Zakheim, and author Eliot Cohen.
[Source: Public domain]The neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century writes a “blueprint” for the “creation of a ‘global Pax Americana’” (see June 3, 1997). The document, titled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century, was written for the George W. Bush team even before the 2000 presidential election. It was written for future Vice President Cheney, future Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, future Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Florida Governor and Bush’s brother Jeb Bush, and Cheney’s future chief of staff Lewis Libby. [Project for the New American Century, 9/2000, pp. iv and 51 ]
Plans to Overthrow Iraqi Government - The report calls itself a “blueprint for maintaining global US preeminence, precluding the rise of a great power rival, and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests.” The plan shows that the Bush team intends to take military control of Persian Gulf oil whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power and should retain control of the region even if there is no threat. It says: “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” The report calls for the control of space through a new “US Space Forces,” the political control of the internet, the subversion of any growth in political power of even close allies, and advocates “regime change” in China, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Iran and other countries. It also mentions that “advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target’ specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool” (see February 7, 2003). [Project for the New American Century, 9/2000 ; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/7/2002]
Greater Need for US Role in Persian Gulf - PNAC states further: “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”
'US Space Forces,' Control of Internet, Subversion of Allies - PNAC calls for the control of space through a new “US Space Forces,” the political control of the Internet, and the subversion of any growth in political power of even close allies, and advocates “regime change” in China, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Iran, and other countries.
Bioweapons Targeting Specific Genotypes 'Useful' - It also mentions that “advanced forms of biological warfare that can ‘target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.”
'A New Pearl Harbor' - However, PNAC complains that thes changes are likely to take a long time, “absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/12/2003]
Bush Will Claim a 'Humble' Foreign Policy Stance - One month later during a presidential debate with Al Gore, Bush will assert that he wants a “humble” foreign policy in the Middle East and says he is against toppling Saddam Hussein in Iraq because it smacks of “nation building” (see October 11, 2000). Around the same time, Cheney will similarly defend Bush’s position of maintaining President Clinton’s policy not to attack Iraq, asserting that the US should not act as though “we were an imperialist power, willy-nilly moving into capitals in that part of the world, taking down governments.” [Washington Post, 1/12/2002] Author Craig Unger will later comment, “Only a few people who had read the papers put forth by the Project for a New American Century might have guessed a far more radical policy had been developed.” [Salon, 3/15/2004] A British member of Parliament will later say of the PNAC report, “This is a blueprint for US world domination—a new world order of their making. These are the thought processes of fantasist Americans who want to control the world.” [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/7/2002] Both PNAC and its strategy plan for Bush are almost virtually ignored by the media until a few weeks before the start of the Iraq war (see February-March 20, 2003).
Entity Tags: Robert Kagan, Robert Martinage, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Killebrew, Peter Rodman, Project for the New American Century, Roger Barnett, Paula J. Dobriansky, Saddam Hussein, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Steve Forbes, Zalmay M. Khalilzad, William J. Bennett, William Kristol, Paul Wolfowitz, Vin Weber, Stephen A. Cambone, Steve Rosen, Thomas Donnelly, Norman Podhoretz, Phil Meilinger, Midge Decter, Donald Kagan, Donald Rumsfeld, Dov S. Zakheim, Devon Gaffney Cross, Aaron Friedberg, Abram Shulsky, Michael Vickers, Dan Quayle, Eliot A. Cohen, Dan Goure, Alvin Bernstein, Barry Watts, David Epstein, Elliott Abrams, Frank Gaffney, John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, James Lasswell, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Mark P. Lagon, Mackubin Owens, Francis Fukuyama, Henry S. Rowen, Gary Schmitt, Fred C. Ikle, Frederick Kagan, David Fautua, Hasam Amin, George Weigel
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline, Neoconservative Influence
The Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) claims responsibility for mortar attacks against two separate headquarters of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards in Tehran. The attacks are described by Iranian television as an “indiscriminate act of terrorism.” [BBC, 10/22/2000]
Hamza Alghamdi. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]Future 9/11 hijacker Hamza Alghamdi flies from Iran to Kuwait on October 8, travels to Qatar the next day, and enters Saudi Arabia on October 13. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 32-33 ] According to the 9/11 Commission, he is accompanied on the flight from Iran to Kuwait by fellow hijacker Mohand Alshehri. The 9/11 Commission will mention this flight in a section of its final report suggesting co-operation on travel between Iran, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda—Iran may have helped al-Qaeda by allowing operatives to transit Iran on their way to and from Afghanistan without stamping their passports (see After October 12, 2000). According to a detainee who may have been tortured, Alghamdi was in Afghanistan in the summer of 2000 (see Summer 2000); according to militant leader Luai Sakra, he was in Turkey at around this time (see Late 1999-2000), so it is unclear where Alghamdi and Alshehri are coming from. In any case, there are no direct links between this flight and actions by Iranian operatives, although the commission will note in this context that a senior Hezbollah operative visited Saudi Arabia around this time, and planned to help people in Saudi Arabia travel to Iran. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240] The 9/11 Commission’s statement that the hijackers took this flight will be based on intelligence reports from the NSA, mostly drafted shortly after 9/11. Another source for the paragraph that mentions this flight will be “operative’s claimed identification of photos of two Sept. 11 hijackers,” dated August 2002, although it will not be clear if this applies to this trip by Alghamdi and Alshehri. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 529; Shenon, 2008, pp. 370-3]
Under interrogation following his capture, al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash will say that after the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), Iran makes a concerted effort to strengthen relations with al-Qaeda. However, Iran is rebuffed because Osama bin Laden does not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia, which has poor relations with Iran. Nevertheless, Iranian officials are apparently willing to assist travel by al-Qaeda members through Iran, on their way to and from Afghanistan, by not placing telltale immigration stamps in their passports. Such arrangements are particularly beneficial to Saudi members of al-Qaeda. However, information such as this obtained from detainees under interrogation is thought to be unreliable due to the questionable methods used to extract it (see June 16, 2004). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240]
9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alghamdi apparently flies to Beirut. Based on NSA reporting drafted shortly after September 11, the 9/11 Commission will say that a senior Hezbollah operative is on the same flight, although it will point out that this is “perhaps by coincidence.” The commission will suggest this is the first leg on a journey to Afghanistan, and say that this flight may be part of Iranian assistance to al-Qaeda consisting of allowing operatives to transit Iran without stamping their passports on the way to and from Afghanistan (see After October 12, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240, 529; Shenon, 2008, pp. 370-3] Alghamdi obtained a US visa in Saudi Arabia on September 3, 2000. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 13 ] What he did between obtaining the visa and taking this flight is unknown, as is the place from which he flies to Beirut.
Salem Alhazmi. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]9/11 hijacker Salem Alhazmi flies from Saudi Arabia to Beirut.
Tracked by Saudis - According to the 9/11 Commission, Alhazmi’s passport has an indicator of Islamic extremism (see April 4, 1999). Such indicators are used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007), so the Saudi authorities presumably register his departure.
Alleged Iran Link - The 9/11 Commission will mention this flight in a section of its report dealing with possible co-operation between Iran, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda on travel issues (see October 8-13, 2000, After October 12, 2000, and Mid-November, 2000), but there are no direct links between this flight and Iranian operatives. The co-operation consisted of Iran allowing al-Qaeda operatives to transit Iran without stamping their passports on the way to and from Afghanistan (see After October 12, 2000), so the Commission suggests this flight may be the first step on a journey to Afghanistan. The 9/11 Commission’s statement that Alhazmi took this flight is based on intelligence reports from the NSA, mostly drafted shortly after 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240-1, 529; Shenon, 2008, pp. 370-3]
Reason for Presence in Saudi Arabia Unclear - Although several of the hijackers are in Saudi Arabia at this time to obtain visas, it is unclear why Alhazmi would be in the country, as there is no mention of him obtaining a US visa around this time. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 13-16 ]
Returns, Leaves Again - Alhazmi leaves Saudi Arabia again on January 1, 2001, traveling to Yemen. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 116 ] He is presumably tracked by Saudi authorities as he enters Saudi Arabia after returning from Beirut and also as he leaves Saudi Arabia for Yemen.
Waleed Alshehri. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]Based on intelligence reports, the 9/11 Commission will later say that 9/11 hijackers Wail Alshehri, Waleed Alshehri, and Ahmed Alnami travel in a group from Saudi Arabia to Beirut and then onward to Iran in mid-November 2000. An associate of a senior Hezbollah operative is also on the flight from Beirut to Iran. According to US intelligence, Hezbollah officials in Beirut and Iran are expecting the arrival of a group at around this time and this group is important enough to merit the attention of senior figures in Hezbollah. The commission will say that this flight may be part of Iranian assistance to al-Qaeda consisting of allowing operatives to transit Iran without stamping their passports on the way to and from Afghanistan (see After October 12, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240, 529]
Contradicted by Families' Claims - However, two to three years before the 9/11 Commission publishes these claims, the families of both Ahmed Alnami and the Alshehri brothers will deny they travel anywhere at this time, and say they leave home in December, not the middle of November. After 9/11, Alnami’s father will initially say Alnami has been missing since December 2000 and will later repeat that he left home in December 2000 in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. [Washington Post, 9/25/2001; Daily Telegraph, 9/15/2002] The Alshehri brothers’ family will also claim they do not leave until after mid-November 2000. Initially, the father will say that they left “last Ramadan.” [Arab News, 9/17/2001] The month of Ramadan begins on November 27 in 2000. [Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 11/26/2000] Based on a 2002 interview with one of their brothers, the Boston Globe will also later say that they leave in December. [Boston Globe, 3/3/2002] If this is true, the story of their travel with a Hezbollah operative would probably be incorrect.
9/11 Commission's Sourcing - The 9/11 Commission cites intelligence reports, mostly drafted between October and December 2001, as its sources. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240, 529] These reports come from the NSA. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 370-373]
Alnami Possibly Tracked by Saudi Intelligence - According to the 9/11 Commission, Alnami may have had a passport with an indicator of Islamic extremism (see November 6, 1999). Such indicators were used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007).
9/11 hijackers Satam Al Suqami and Majed Moqed fly from Bahrain to Tehran, Iran. Shortly before, they had entered Bahrain from Saudi Arabia, after obtaining US visas there. Suqami continues to Istanbul, Turkey. Moqed’s final destination is not known definitely, but al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra will say that Moqed arrives with Al Suqami in Turkey for training (see Late 1999-2000), so presumably he takes the same flight as Al Suqami. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 107 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 34 ] The 9/11 Commission will mention this flight in a section dealing with possible co-operation between Iran, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda on travel issues—Iran was allegedly allowing al-Qaeda operatives to pass through Iran on their way to and from Afghanistan without stamping their passports (see October 8-13, 2000, After October 12, 2000, and Mid-November, 2000)—but no there are no direct links between this flight and Iranian operatives. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240-1]
According to the 9/11 Commission, Khalid Almihdhar may take a flight from Syria to Iran and continue from there to a point near the Afghan border. The 9/11 Commission will mention this flight in a section dealing with possible co-operation between Iran, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda on travel issues—Iran was allegedly allowing al-Qaeda operatives to pass through it on their way to and from Afghanistan without stamping their passports (see October 8-13, 2000, After October 12, 2000, and Mid-November, 2000)—but there are no direct links between this flight and Iranian operatives. The 9/11 Commission’s statement that Almihdhar entered Iran at this time will be based on intelligence reports from the NSA, mostly drafted shortly after 9/11. The NSA has been intercepting Almihdhar’s calls for some time, so it may have obtained this information from these intercepts (see and Late August 1998 and Early 2000-Summer 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 241, 529; Shenon, 2008, pp. 370-3] Almihdhar was at the Yemen hub earlier in February, which is closely monitored by US intelligence at the time, so the NSA would have had a good opportunity to track his movements from there (see February 2001).
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization logo. [Source: Shanghai Cooperation Organization]The Shanghai Five (see 1996) becomes known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and expands to include Uzbekistan. [BBC, 6/11/2001] SCO member-states agree unanimously to take the organization to a “higher level” and expand its mission beyond the original objectives of resolving border disputes and dealing with Islamic separatists to include issues such as regional economic development, commerce, and investment. [Shanghai Cooperation [.org], 6/20/2005] Leaders of the organization’s member-states say they hope the SCO will counterbalance US dominance of world affairs. According to Chinese President Jiang Zemin, the organization will foster “world multi-polarization” and contribute to the “establishment of a fair and reasonable international order.” [Associated Press, 6/15/2001] During their meeting in Shanghai, members sign a letter of support for the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see May 26, 1972), which the United States has said it wants to scrap to make way for a missile defense shield (see December 13, 2001). [BBC, 6/15/2001] SCO members say the defense system will have a “negative impact on world security.” [Associated Press, 6/15/2001] One Russian official at the meeting says the 1972 ABM Treaty is the “cornerstone of global stability and disarmament.” [BBC, 6/15/2001] China and Russia also discuss collaborating on a joint program to develop a radar system capable of tracking US F-117A stealth fighter planes. [CNN, 6/20/2001]
Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation authors a report warning that recent agreements between Russia and China demonstrate that the two countries are “positioning themselves to define the rules under which the United States, the European Union, Iran, and Turkey will be allowed to participate in the strategically important Central Asian region.”
Good Neighborliness, Friendship and Cooperation Treaty - The treaty, signed two days before, includes a commitment to pursue “[j]oint actions to offset a perceived US hegemonism.” Cohen says the treaty “should signal to the Western world that a major geopolitical shift may be taking place in the Eurasian balance of power.”
Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) - Cohen says the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), created on June 14 (see June 14, 2001), and consisting of Russia, China, and the Central Asian States of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, could undermine US influence in Central Asia.
Military partnership - Cohen warns that the two counties are interested in boosting “each other’s military potential as well as that of other countries that pursue anti-American foreign policies.” They could encourage the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in order to “force the United States to spread its resources thinly to deal with evolving crises in different regions simultaneously.”
Russian and Chinese economic cooperation - There are “numerous projects for developing free economic zones along the Chinese-Russian border and an international port in the mouth of the Tumannaya river (Tumangan)….” The Russian and Chinese also plan to “cooperate in developing a network of railroads and pipelines in Central Asia, building a pan-Asian transportation corridor (the Silk Road) from the Far East to Europe and the Middle East.”
Cohen's conclusion - Cohen urges US policy makers to “examine the changing geostrategic reality and take steps to ensure that US security and national interests are not at risk.” [Heritage Foundation, 7/18/2001]
Despite a history of technical problems, the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and the Turkish oil and gas company, Botas, open a 2,577 km pipeline gas pipeline from the northeastern city of Tabriz to Ankara. Iran becomes Turkey’s largest supplier of natural gas. Under the terms of the 1996 agreement (see August 12, 1996), Iran will supply Turkey with three billion cubic meters of gas a year, increasing to 10 billion cubic meters (353 billion cubic feet) by 2007. [BBC, 7/30/2001; US Department of Energy, 12/2001; Alexander's Gas & Oil Connections, 11/13/2002; AME Info, 2/9/2005]
Richard Perle, head of the Defense Policy Board and foreign policy adviser to Bush, is asked about new challenges now that the Cold War is over. He cites three: “We’re concerned about Saddam Hussein, We’re concerned about the North Koreans, about some future Iranian government that may have the weapon they’re now trying so hard to acquire…” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/6/2001] Note that these three nations are the same three named in Bush’s famous January 2002 “axis of evil” speech (see January 29, 2002). [US President, 2/4/2002]
Hamza Bin Laden in 2001. [Source: Getty Images]Several members of Osama bin Laden’s family cross into Iran on foot shortly before the 9/11 attacks. The exact number of family members that cross at this time is unknown, although 19 of bin Laden’s relatives will soon be present in Iran: one wife, seven children, and 11 grandchildren. The children are Saad, who is 20; Ossman, 17; Mohammed, 15; Fatma, 14; Hamza, 12; Iman, 9; and Bakr, 7. They are placed under virtual house arrest in a high-security compound near Tehran, “for their own safety.” The Iranian authorities will publicly deny their presence in the country, and will attempt to cut off their communications with the outside world. Al-Qaeda operatives will also be held in Iran after 9/11 (see Spring 2002). The whereabouts of the detained family members will remain unknown until November 2009, when they will contact another son of bin Laden, Omar Ossama, who is currently living in Qatar with his wife. The family will tell Omar they live as normal a life as possible, cooking meals, watching television, and reading. They will be allowed out only rarely for shopping trips. As a number of families are being held in the compound, some of the older siblings will be able to marry and have their own children. “The Iranian government did not know what to do with this large group of people that nobody else wanted, so they just kept them safe,” Omar Ossama will later say. [Times (London), 12/23/2009]
State Department official Hillary Mann, walking home after being evacuated from the United Nations building after the two World Trade Center attacks, is contacted by a senior Iranian diplomat on her personal cell phone. Mann and the Iranian, whom she will refuse to name but will describe as a cultured man in his fifties with salt-and-pepper hair, have been secretly meeting in a small conference room at the UN. He says the attacks were most likely the work of al-Qaeda, and then says, “I hope that we can still work together.” In the following weeks, the Iranian official will maintain contact with Mann, offering backchannel support for the US and the chance for more full-fledged, open diplomatic contacts. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
Prominent conservative and former Reagan administration official William Bennett tells CNN that, in light of the 9/11 attacks, the US is locked in “a struggle between good and evil.” Congress must immediately declare war on what he calls “militant Islam,” with “overwhelming force.” Bennett says the US must target Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and China as targets for attack. In 2003, fellow conservative Pat Buchanan will write: “Not, however, Afghanistan, the sanctuary of Osama [bin Laden]‘s terrorists. How did Bennett know which nations must be smashed before he had any idea who attacked us?” [American Conservative, 3/24/2003]
In an op-ed column for the neoconservative Weekly Standard, writers Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt state that the US’s enemies “want to push the United States out of the Middle East. Our response must be to prevent that.” Donnelly and Schmitt, members of the Project for the New American Century think tank (PNAC—see January 26, 1998 and September 2000), say that such an effort “will require more than a vague, unfocused ‘war on terrorism.‘… Last week’s strikes represent a new and more complex phase of this war. But this is not a new war. This is a ‘theater war’ in the classic sense. Neither [O]sama bin Laden nor Saddam [Hussein] cares much about America’s role in Europe or East Asia. They want us out of their region.”
Reasserting Dominance in Middle East - The US can win this “struggle for power in the Persian Gulf” by “reasserting our role as the region’s dominant power; as the guarantor of regional security; and as the protector of Israel, moderate Arab regimes, and the economic interests of the industrialized world.” Donnelly and Schmitt trace the US’s problems in the region back to the decision not to overthrow Hussein in 1991 (see January 16, 1991 and After). “As Saddam has crawled back from defeat,” they write, “bin Laden has grown increasingly bold. Meanwhile, our regional allies have begun to hedge their bets, not only with the terrorists and Iraq, but with Iran as well.” The US should focus on routing both bin Laden and Hussein from the region, they say. It is unclear if Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks, they say, though they assert that Hussein was “implicated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993 and October 2000).… But as with bin Laden, we have long known that Saddam is our enemy, and that he would strike us as hard as he could. And if we have learned anything at all from [the] past week, it is that adopting a defensive posture risks attacks with unacceptable consequences. The only reasonable course when faced with such foes is to preempt and to strike first.” Overthrowing Hussein “is the key to restoring our regional dominance and preventing our enemies from achieving their war aims.… When Bush administration officials speak of ‘ending’ regimes that participate in the war against America, they must mean Saddam Hussein’s Iraq” (see Before January 20, 2001).
Cowing Other Nations, Restoring 'Global Credibility' - Overthrowing the Iraqi government will also cow Iran, Syria, and other regional threats, the authors say, and “will restore the global credibility tarnished in the Clinton years. Both our friends and our enemies will be watching to see if we pass this test.” Although attacking Afghanistan is not necessary, toppling the Saddam regime will not be difficult in a military sense, and “the larger challenge will be occupying Iraq after the fighting is over.”
Surpluses Will Pay for Effort - The so-called “lockboxes”—Social Security funds and others—previously kept from being spent on other government programs are, the authors write, “yesterday’s news,” but the sharp increases in defense spending that this war effort will require will not be difficult to fund: “given the surpluses that exist, there is no impediment to such increases.” [Weekly Standard, 9/24/2001]
An Iranian diplomat has been maintaining secretive, “backchannel” contact with State Department official Hillary Mann for months; his efforts to reach out to the US government through Mann have increased since the 9/11 attacks (see September 11, 2001). In one meeting with the diplomat, in the Delegates’ Lounge of the United Nations, the diplomat tells Mann that Iran is ready to cooperate unconditionally with the US. Reporter John Richardson will later note that the statement has “seismic diplomatic implications.” Richardson will continue: “Unconditional talks are what the US had been demanding as a precondition to any official diplomatic contact between the US and Iran. And it would be the first chance since the Islamic revolution for any kind of rapprochement.” Mann will recall: “It was revolutionary. It could have changed the world.” Mann will say, “They specifically told me time and again that they were doing this because they understood the impact of this attack on the US, and they thought that if they helped us unconditionally, that would be the way to change the dynamic for the first time in 25 years.” When she discusses the meetings with a reporter in 2007, Mann will say, “As far as they’re concerned, the whole idea that there were talks is something I shouldn’t even be talking about.” [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
Shortly after State Department official Hillary Mann joins the National Security Council staff as its resident Iran expert, she flies to Europe with senior State Department official Ryan Crocker to establish contact with Iranian government officials. Iran has let the US know through back channels that it is ready to re-establish diplomatic relations (see Fall 2001); Mann’s efforts were critical in the early stages of diplomatic contacts (see September 11, 2001). Mann and Crocker meet with Iranian diplomats in the old United Nations building in Geneva, and the two sides hammer out an agreement for Iran’s assistance in the war against the Taliban. The Iranians agree to provide assistance if any American fliers are shot down near their border with Afghanistan, let the US ship food across their borders, work with the Americans to intercept Iraqi oil being shipped out of the Persian Gulf, and even help capture some “really bad Afghans,” particularly anti-American warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whom they agree to quietly put under house arrest in Tehran. In addition, the Iranians offer the US tactical assistance in the war against the Taliban, including sharing their deep knowledge of the Taliban’s strategic capabilities. Simultaneously, special envoy James Dobbins has a successful meeting with the Iranian deputy foreign minister in Bonn, Germany, discussing Iranian involvement in establishing a new government for Afghanistan. Mann will recall one meeting with Iranian officials shortly after the US began bombing Taliban targets (see October 19, 2001); an Iranian interrupts a rather desultory conversation about a future Afghani constitution by pounding on the table and shouting, “Enough of that!” He then unfurls a map of Afghanistan and begins jabbing his finger at points on the map, telling Mann and her colleagues that the Americans need to bomb this and that target. [Esquire, 10/18/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 245-246]
Neoconservative Richard Perle, the chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, says during remarks at the Foreign Policy Research Institute that the proposed invasion of Iraq is merely the first step in a much larger military strategy that should encompass most of the Middle East and other states which, in Perle’s view, pose threats to the US. “Those who think Iraq should not be next may want to think about Syria or Iran or Sudan or Yemen or Somalia or North Korea or Lebanon or the Palestinian Authority,” Perle says. “These are all institutions, governments for the most part, that permit acts of terror to take place, that sponsor terrorists, that give them refuge, give them sanctuary, and very often much more help than that. When I recite this list, people typically say ‘Well, are we going to go to war against a dozen countries?’ And I think the answer to that is that, if we do it right with respect to one or two, we’ve got a reasonable chance of persuading the others that they should get out of the business of supporting terrorism. If we destroy the Taliban in Afghanistan, and I’m confident we will, and we then go on to destroy the regime of Saddam Hussein, and we certainly could if we chose to do so, I think we would have an impressive case to make to the Syrians, the Somalis, and others. We could deliver a short message, a two-word message: ‘You’re next. You’re next unless you stop the practice of supporting terrorism.’ Given the fact that until now there has been no cost attached to supporting terror, I think there’s a reasonable prospect that looking at the costs on the one side—that is, that those regimes will be brought to an end—and the benefits on the other—they will decide to get out of the terrorist business. It seems to me a reasonable gamble in any event.” [Foreign Policy Research Institute, 11/14/2001]
The Wall Street Journal publishes an op-ed piece by neoconservative Eliot Cohen advocating the overthrow of the mullahs in Iran. Cohen writes: “First, if one front in this war is the contest for free and moderate governance in the Muslim world, the US should throw its weight behind pro-Western and anticlerical forces there. The immediate choice lies before the US government in regard to Iran. We can either make tactical accommodations with the regime there in return for modest (or illusory) sharing of intelligence, reduced support for some terrorist groups and the like, or do everything in our power to support a civil society that loathes the mullahs and yearns to overturn their rule. It will be wise, moral and unpopular (among some of our allies) to choose the latter course. The overthrow of the first theocratic revolutionary Muslim state and its replacement by a moderate or secular government, however, would be no less important a victory in this war than the annihilation of bin Laden.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/20/2001]
Christopher DeMuth. [Source: American Enterprise Institute]Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz arranges for Christopher DeMuth, president of the neoconservative think tank The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), to create a group to strategize about the war on terrorism. The group DeMuth creates is called Bletchley II, named after a team of strategists in World War II. The dozen members of this secret group include:
Bernard Lewis, a professor arguing that the US is facing a clash of civilizations with the Islamic world.
Fareed Zakaria, a Newsweek editor and columnist.
Mark Palmer, a former US ambassador to Hungary.
Fouad Ajami, director of the Middle Eastern Studies Program at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.
James Wilson, a professor and specialist in human morality and crime.
Ruel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA Middle East expert.
Steve Herbits, a close consultant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
According to journalist Bob Woodward, the group comes to quick agreement after just two days of discussions and a report is made from their conclusions. They agree it will take two generations for the US to defeat radical Islam. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the keys to the problems of the Middle East, but the problems there are too intractable. Iran is similarly difficult. But Iraq is weak and vulnerable. DeMuth will later comment: “We concluded that a confrontation with Saddam [Hussein] was inevitable. He was a gathering threat - the most menacing, active, and unavoidable threat. We agreed that Saddam would have to leave the scene before the problem would be addressed.” That is the key to transform the region. Vice President Dick Cheney is reportedly pleased with their report. So is National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who finds it “very, very persuasive.” It is said to have a strong impact on President Bush as well. Woodward later notes the group’s conclusions are “straight from the neoconservative playbook.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 83-85]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Steve Herbits, Paul Wolfowitz, Fareed Zakaria, Fouad Ajami, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Mark Palmer, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Bernard Lewis, Christopher DeMuth, James Wilson
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence
Jordanian Islamist militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi flees Afghanistan (see Early 2000-December 2001) and heads to Iran where he continues to run his militant group, al-Tawhid. He uses telephones and a network of couriers to maintain contact with operatives in Europe. By April 2002, he still is based in Iran and has little to no ties to Iraq. But some time in mid-2002, he unites with Ansar al-Islam, an Islamist group based in a part of northern Iraq controlled by Kurdish rebels and opposed to Saddam Hussein (see Mid-2002). He reportedly moves his base of operations there and establishes an explosive training center camp there as well. [Independent, 2/6/2003; Newsweek, 6/25/2003] In an effort to justify military action against Iraq, the Bush administration will later claim that Saddam Hussein is aware of al-Zarqawi’s presence in Baghdad and therefore is guilty of knowingly harboring a terrorist (see September 26, 2002). The administration will also allege—falsely—that al-Zarqawi is a senior al-Qaeda agent and that his visit is evidence that Saddam’s regime has ties to Osama bin Laden. [Guardian, 10/9/2002; Independent, 2/6/2003; Newsweek, 6/25/2003 Sources: Shadi Abdallah] But the administration never offers any conclusive evidence to support this allegation. The claim is disputed by intelligence analysts in both Washington and London. [Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003]
Wisam Ahmed, a young Jordanian who runs a clothes shop, traveled to Pakistan with his wife and newborn child for an annual religious pilgrimage in August 2001. As they are leaving for home, his bus is stopped at a checkpoint in Iran. Ahmed is forcibly removed because, as he later says, “they associated [my] headdress with al-Qaeda and must have overlooked the fact that it was also my national dress.” Through a process that will remain unexplained, the Iranian government turns Ahmed over to the US. In March 2002, Ahmed is immured in an Afghan prison he will call the “Dark Prison.” He will describe “unimaginable conditions that cannot be tolerated in a civilized society,” and spends 77 days there in a room that “was so dark that we couldn’t distinguish nights and days. There was no window, and we didn’t see the sun once during the whole time.” He is then moved to “Prison Number Three,” where the food is so bad he loses a significant amount of weight, and then transferred to Bagram Air Force Base for a 40-day stint, where the torture truly begins. According to his later statements, Ahmed is threatened by attack dogs, forced to watch torture videos, and intimidated in other ways. He later recalls: “[T]hey used to start up an electric saw and while they were sawing we would hear cries of agony. I thought they would cut me into pieces sooner or later.” He is later transferred to Guantanamo, where he will remain. [Future of Freedom Foundation, 4/27/2009]
According to a later report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pentagon officials conceal potentially life-saving intelligence gleaned from Iranian agents. The report will find that in 2001, the officials, Larry Franklin and Harold Rhode, fail to pass along information gained from Iranian agents to US intelligence agencies, including reports that Iran has sent “hit squads” to Afghanistan to kill Americans. The findings will be based on information from highly unreliable sources: Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar and former Pentagon official Michael Ledeen, both of whom have often provided false or questionable information gathered from questionable sources (see April 3, 2005). In a series of meetings authorized by then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley (see December 9, 2001, December 12, 2001, June 2002, July 2002, and June 2003), two Pentagon officials, including one who reported to then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith (see September 2002), meet with Ghorbanifar, Ledeen, and other Iranians. Hadley does not fully brief CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage about the meetings. The head of the DIA is briefed on the meeting but is not authorized to keep a written summary of it or to discuss it on the orders of then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. For his part, Ledeen will say he twice briefed the US ambassador to Italy about the meetings. “Any time the CIA wanted to find out what was going on all they had to do was ask,” he will say. Though the report will admit that the sources of the intelligence are unreliable, it will still criticize the Pentagon for failing to allow what it calls “potentially useful and actionable intelligence” to be shared with intelligence agencies. [Associated Press, 6/5/2008; Senate Intelligence Committee, 6/5/2008 ]
The Asia Times reports that Osama bin Laden has sought refuge in Iran and is being sheltered by members of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK). The report—citing Pakistani jihadi who fought in Afghanistan, journalists, and intelligence sources—says bin Laden crossed into Iran from Afghanistan around the time of the surrender of Kandahar (see November 25, 2001). [Asia Times, 12/19/2001] This report will later be shown to wildly clash with more reliable evidence placing bin Laden in Tora Bora near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border at this time instead.
In late November 2001, State Department officials write a paper suggesting that the US has an opportunity to work with Iran to fight al-Qaeda. The CIA seconds the idea, and is willing to exchange information and coordinate border sweeps with Iran. However, neoconservatives led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argue that the US cannot engage with Iran and other officially declared state sponsors of terrorism. In late December 2001, at a meeting of deputy cabinet officials, it is decided that the US will accept tactical information about terrorists from countries on the state sponsors list but offer nothing in return. This policy is called the “Hadley Rules” after Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who chairs the meeting. One month later, President Bush publicly lists Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil,” greatly reducing Iran’s cooperation regarding al-Qaeda. [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] However, the policy appears to be largely focused on Iran, as the US continues working with countries on the state sponsors list like Sudan and Syria against al-Qaeda (see June 13, 2002 and Early 2002-January 2003).
Pentagon ‘Nuclear Posture Review.’ [Source: Federation of American Scientists]White House guidance and the Defense Department’s 2001 “Nuclear Posture Review” (NPR) together lead to the creation of a new set of nuclear strike options—OPLAN 8044 Revision 03—against nations that may plan to acquire weapons of mass destruction. These strike options are secretly presented to certain members of Congress. The new nuclear strike options will not be revealed until November 2007, when the Federation of American Scientists receives a partially declassified document from the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) that details the strike plans. The planning for the new strike options began shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and the US Strategic Command created scenarios for attacking countries such as Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and North Korea; the plan will take effect on March 1, 2003, just weeks before the US invasion of Iraq. Until the documents become publicly available in 2007, Bush administration and Pentagon officials will insist that not only has the US not changed its nuclear policy, it has actually decreased the role of nuclear weapons in its strategic planning (see March 10, 2002, March 9, 2002, and October 9, 2007). Those disavowals will be proven false. Instead, according to the STRATCOM document, one of the first options delineated in the NPR is the use of these newly created nuclear strike options. The significance of the NPR’s new options is in the fact that before now, such scenarios have not been included in the national strategic plans, and “on-the-shelf” plans for nuclear bombing and missile strikes against “rogue” states have not been available. Although the details of the strikes remain classified, it is evident that the planning for these strikes goes far deeper than simple retaliation, but includes, in the words of scientist Hans Kristensen: “actual nuclear warfighting intended to annihilate a wide range of facilities in order to deprive the states the ability to launch and fight with WMD. The new plan formally broadened strategic nuclear targeting from two adversaries (Russia and China) to a total of seven.” [Defense, 1/8/2002 ; Federation of American Scientists, 11/5/2007]
In Los Angeles, local CIA and FBI stations increase efforts to obtain intelligence from the local Iranian exile community. According to officials, Iranian businessmen and expatriates who travel frequently between the States and Iran are viewed as potential sources of intelligence on Iran’s internal opposition and the country’s nuclear program. Iranian-Americans interviewed by the Los Angeles Times in 2005 will acknowledge having supplied the CIA and FBI with information. [Los Angeles Times, 3/20/2005]
Twice in 2002, the US passes requests to Iran to deliver al-Qaeda suspects to the the Afghan government. Iran transfers two of the suspects and seeks more information about others. Iran, in turn, asks the US to question four Taliban prisoners held at the US-run Guantanamo prison. The four men are suspects in the 1998 killing of nine Iranian diplomats in Kabul, Afghanistan. But in late 2001, the Bush administration decided on a policy of accepting help with counterterrorism efforts from officially declared state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran, but not giving any help back (see Late December 2001). As a result, the Iranian request is denied. Counterterrorism “tsar” Wayne Downing will later comment, “I sided with the [CIA] guys on that. I was willing to make a deal with the devil if we could clip somebody important off or stop an attack.” The Washington Post will report, “Some believe important opportunities were lost.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
Some of the weapons found aboard the ‘Karine A.’ [Source: Associated Press / BBC]Israeli commandos seize a freighter, the “Karine A” (or “Karin A”), in the Red Sea 300 miles off the coast of Israel, in an operation dubbed “Operation Noah’s Ark.” Eli Marum, an Israeli Navy operations chief, says the operation took less than eight minutes and did not require a single shot being fired. “The crew was fully surprised,” he says. “They did not anticipate that we would strike so far out into the Red Sea.” Israeli officials claim the freighter contains a large store of Iranian-supplied weapons—including Katyusha rockets capable of destroying tanks, mortars, grenades, Kalashnikov assault rifles, anti-tank missiles, high explosives, and two speedboats—for use by Palestinian fighters against Israeli targets. The Palestinian Authority is forbidden by treaty to own such weaponry. Israel also claims that the captain of the freighter, Omar Akawi, has direct ties to the Palestinian Authority and to its leader, Yasser Arafat. (According to Israeli sources, Akawi claims he is a member of Arafat’s organization Fatah.) Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer tells European Union (EU) authorities that the freighter “was purchased by the Palestinian Authority after September 11” and that “the whole operation was managed and funded by the Palestinian Authority in cooperation with Iran and other sources.” [BBC, 1/10/2002; Guardian, 1/21/2002; Jewish Virtual Library, 2009] “What Iran is trying to do is create another base, besides its base in Lebanon” to threaten Israel, says Major General Giora Eiland, the Israeli Army’s chief of planning. [New York Times, 1/12/2002]
Arafat's Denials - Initially, Arafat denies any connection whatsoever with the shipment, accusing Israel of fomenting a propaganda attack to thwart US-led efforts to implement a cease-fire agreement, and says Israel “fabricated” the whole affair. Ahmed Abdel Rahman, the secretary general of the Palestinian cabinet, calls the operation “an Israeli trap.” Later, Arafat continues to insist that he had no involvement in the affair, but admits that he cannot control “everyone” in the Palestinian Authority. American and Israeli intelligence officials note that the weaponry on board the “Karine A” is similar to that of a “wish list” allegedly drawn up by senior Palestinian officials under Arafat’s direction. [New York Times, 1/12/2002; Jewish Virtual Library, 2009]
Propaganda by Israel? - Some, such as Guardian reporter Brian Whitaker, believe that Israel is using the incident to persuade the EU to stop funding the Palestinian Authority. And, Whitaker notes, Israeli lawmakers and pundits such as former President Benjamin Netanyahu are using the incident to argue that the idea of Palestinian statehood be permanently scrapped. Whatever the truth of the matter, the attempts suffer setbacks when documents show that an Iraqi, Ali Mohamed Abbas, purchased the ship, and other records disprove the Israelis’ claims about the ship’s cargo, which Israel says it picked up in Yemen. It seems clear that the freighter was indeed carrying weapons, but little of Israel’s other claims—they were Iranian in origin and intended for Palestinian use against Israel—are borne out by ascertainable facts.
Hezbollah Connection? - American intelligence sources later speculate that the weapons may have been intended for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite militant organization with close ties to Iran, and not the Palestinians. Israel is initially resistant to the idea, but Israeli defense sources later tell Israeli reporters that it was “certainly possible that some of the arms were earmarked for Hizbullah,” though it is certain that most “were clearly bound for the Palestinian Authority.” Whitaker echoes skeptics’ disbelief about the Hezbollah claim, noting that there are easier and more secure methods of delivering arms to Lebanon than a risky sea voyage past Israeli patrol boats. [Guardian, 1/21/2002] Israel names reputed senior Hezbollah security officer Imad Mughniyeh as a key figure in the incident. Mughniyeh has not been heard from for years by Western intelligence, but is wanted by the FBI for his participation in kidnapping Americans in Beirut during the 1980s and the hijacking of a TWA passenger plane. The BBC reports, “Correspondents say the Israeli government has been going to great lengths to convince Washington that the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is linked to Tehran and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, and hence to what it sees as international terrorism.” [BBC, 1/10/2002]
Iranian Connection Unlikely - And the Iranian connection is similarly hard to swallow. Though Israel insists that the arms prove a new and disturbing connection between Iran and Palestinian militants, Whitaker writes, “most non-Israeli observers of Iran ridicule the idea totally, for a variety of historical, political and religious reasons. It also conflicts with the foreign policies adopted by [Iranian] President [Mohamed] Khatami.” He goes on to add: “The trouble with Iran, though—as one Iranian exile remarked last week—is that it has two governments and 10,000 leaders. If you are going to pin blame, you have to determine which one is responsible.” Whitaker is referring to Iran’s religious and secular leaders, who are often at odds with one another, and to the propensity of Iranian leaders from both sides to conduct independent operations without “official” government sanction. [Guardian, 1/21/2002] The New York Times notes: “Iran’s government has dismissed the Israeli accusations. But Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have discretionary funds and access to weapons, and they often run operations independent of the elected government of… Khatami.” [New York Times, 1/12/2002] The “Karine A” incident helps prompt Bush officials to include Iran as a member of the so-called “axis of evil,” disrupting backchannel negotiations between Iranian and US officials (see January 29, 2002).
Entity Tags: Fatah al-Islam, Omar Akawi, Giora Eiland, Hezbollah, Eli Marum, Bush administration (43), Brian Whitaker, Ahmed Abdel Rahman, Yasser Arafat, Hojjat ol-Eslam Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, Imad Mughniyeh, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, Benjamin Netanyahu, Ali Mohamed Abbas
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
By this time, more than 300 different inspections have been conducted in Iraq by the UN weapons inspection teams, which report no instances of Iraqi attempts to impede their access to the alleged weapons sites. [Associated Press, 1/18/2003; Baltimore Sun, 1/20/2003; New York Times, 1/20/2003] The London Independent quotes one diplomat, who says, “Realistically, it is not going to be easy to see in the next two months that we will be able to say that Iraq is not cooperating.” [Independent, 1/8/2003] Inspectors also say that there are no signs that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction. An Associated Press report cites several specific cases of alleged weapons sites that the inspection teams—after repeated visits—have determined are not involved in the production of weapons of mass destruction. “UN arms monitors have inspected 13 sites identified by US and British intelligence agencies as major ‘facilities of concern,’ and reported no signs of revived weapons building.” [Associated Press, 1/18/2003; Baltimore Sun, 1/20/2003; New York Times, 1/20/2003] And International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Chief Weapons Inspector Mohamed ElBaradei tells reporters: “I think it’s difficult for Iraq to hide a complete nuclear-weapons program. They might be hiding some computer studies or R. and D. on one single centrifuge. These are not enough to make weapons”
(see January 11, 2003). [Time, 1/12/2003]
George Melloan, a deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, calls on the Bush administration to adopt a hardline policy toward Iran. “Mr. Bush has already advised the clerics to butt out of Afghanistan. Next will come attention to Iran’s support of terrorism. It will need to start with a demand that Iran, the PLO and Hezbollah recognize Israel’s right to exist or accept the consequences of refusal.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/19/2002]
Three weeks after the “Karine A” is seized, allegedly filled with Iranian weapons destined to be used against Israel (see January 3, 2002 and After), President Bush names Iran as one of the world’s “axis of evil” nations (see January 29, 2002). State Department official Hillary Mann, who has been facilitating secret backchannel discussions with Iranian officials for over a year (see September 11, 2001 and Fall 2001), later confirms that the “Karine A” incident helped prompt Iran’s inclusion in Bush’s speech. The speech prompts the Iranians to skip the monthly meeting with Mann in Geneva. When they resume their meeting in March, the Iranians, according to Mann, are disturbed by Bush’s characterization. “They said they had put their necks out to talk to us and they were taking big risks with their careers and their families and their lives,” she will recall. [Esquire, 10/18/2007]
President Bush’s State of the Union speech describes an “axis of evil” consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Osama bin Laden is not mentioned in the speech. [US President, 2/4/2002] Bush says: “States like these and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.” Bush goes on to suggest for the first time that the US might be prepared to launch pre-emptive wars by saying, “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004] When Bush advisor Richard Perle was asked one month before 9/11 about new challenges the US faced, he replied by naming these exact three countries (see August 6, 2001). Michael Gerson, head of the White House speechwriting team at the time, will later claim that, as Newsweek will later put it, “Bush was already making plans to topple Saddam Hussein, but he wasn’t ready to say so.” Iran and North Korea are inserted into the speech in order to avoid focusing solely on Iraq. The speech is followed by a new public focus on Iraq and a downplaying of bin Laden (see September 15, 2001-April 6, 2002). Prior to the speech, the Iranian government had been very helpful in the US fight against the Taliban, since the Taliban and Iran were enemies. [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] At the time, al-Qaeda operatives had been streaming into Iran from Afghanistan following the defeat of the Taliban. Iran has been turning over hundreds of suspects to US allies and providing US intelligence with the names, photographs, and fingerprints of those it is holding. [Washington Post, 2/10/2007] Newsweek will later say that it is “beyond doubt” the Iranian government was “critical… to stabilizing [Afghanistan] after the fall of Kabul.” But all this cooperation comes to an end after the speech. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Hossein Adeli will later say that “Those [inside the Iranian government] who were in favor of a rapprochement with the United States were marginalized. The speech somehow exonerated those who had always doubted America’s intentions.” [Newsweek, 2/12/2007] In August 2003, reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will write that “the Axis of Evil [is not] an ‘axis’ at all, since two of the states, Iran and Iraq, hate… each other, and neither [have] anything at all to do with the third, North Korea.” [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]
When asked why he included Iran in the “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), President Bush answers: “It is very important for the American president at this point in history to speak very clearly about the evils the world faces.… I believe the United States is the beacon for freedom in the world. And I believe we have a responsibility to promote freedom that is as solemn as the responsibility is to protecting the American people, because the two go hand in hand.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 247]
Uzi Arad. [Source: Jerusalem Post]Israeli officials tell Bush officials shortly after the president’s “axis of evil” speech (see January 29, 2002) that of the three countries on the list—Iran, Iraq, and North Korea—Iraq is a distant third as far as posing any threat to its neighbors. But Bush officials have a plan. According to former Mossad director of intelligence Uzi Arad, who served as Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy advisor, those officials respond, “Let’s do first things first. Once we do Iraq, we’ll have a military presence in Iraq, which would enable us to handle the Iranians from closer quarters, would give us more leverage.” (Netanyahu, in the years following his term as Israel’s prime minister, will become an outspoken advocate for military strikes against Iran—see November 17, 2006). [Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
Flynt Leverett. [Source: Publicity photo]In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Iran is supportive of US efforts to defeat the Taliban, since the Taliban and Iran have opposed each other. In 2006, Flynt Leverett, the senior director for Middle East affairs on the National Security Council in 2002 and 2003, will recall this cooperation between Iran and the US in a heavily censored New York Times editorial. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a notorious Afghan warlord with close ties to bin Laden (see 1984), had been living in Iran since the Taliban came to power in the 1990s. Leverett claims that in December 2001 Iran agrees to prevent Hekmatyar from returning to Afghanistan to help lead resistance to US-allied forces there, as long as the Bush administration does not criticize Iran for harboring terrorists. “But, in his January 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush did just that in labeling Iran part of the ‘axis of evil’ (see January 29, 2002). Unsurprisingly, Mr. Hekmatyar managed to leave Iran in short order after the speech.” [New York Times, 12/22/2006] Hekmatyar apparently returns to Afghanistan around February 2002. He will go on to become one of the main leaders of the armed resistance to the US-supported Afghan government. Iranian cooperation with the US over Afghanistan will continue in a more limited manner, with Iran deporting hundreds of suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives who had fled Afghanistan, while apparently keeping others. But the US will end this cooperation in 2003. [BBC, 2/14/2002; USA Today, 5/21/2003; New York Times, 12/22/2006]
Norman Podhoretz, the editor of the neoconservative magazine Commentary, writes a call to arms called “How to Win World War IV.” For Podhoretz, the US has already won World War III—the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Now, he asserts, it is time to win the war against Islamist terrorism. The US must embrace this war against civilizations, and President Bush must accept that it is his mission “to fight World War IV—the war against militant Islam.” To win this war, Podhoretz writes, the nations of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea must be overthrown, but also Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority. Bush must reject the “timorous counsels” of the “incorrigibly cautious Colin Powell [and] find the stomach to impose a new political culture on the defeated” Islamic world. The 9/11 attacks caused the US to destroy the Afghan Taliban in the process of battling al-Qaeda, Podhoretz writes: “We may willy-nilly find ourselves forced… to topple five or six or seven more tyrannies in the Islamic world (including that other sponsor of terrorism, Yasir Arafat’s Palestinian Authority). I can even [imagine] the turmoil of this war leading to some new species of an imperial mission for America, whose purpose would be to oversee the emergence of successor governments in the region more amenable to reform and modernization than the despotisms now in place.… I can also envisage the establishment of some kind of American protectorate over the oil fields of Saudi Arabia, as we more and more come to wonder why 7,000 princes should go on being permitted to exert so much leverage over us and everyone else.” A year later, conservative pundit Pat Buchanan will explain why Podhoretz wants to so drastically remake the map of the Middle East: “[O]ne nation, one leader, one party. Israel, [Ariel] Sharon, Likud.” [Commentary, 2/2002; American Conservative, 3/24/2003]
Israeli Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer meets with US Vice President Dick Cheney and tells him that Israel is concerned that Iran, which Israel believes will have nuclear weapons by 2005, represents a greater threat to Israel than Iraq. “The danger, as I see it, is from a Hezbollah-Iran-Palestinian triangle, with Iran leading this triangle and putting together a coalition of terror,” he tells Cheney. [Ha'aretz, 2/9/2002]
Ariel Sharon. [Source: US Department of Defense]Prime Minister Ariel Sharon meets with President George W. Bush. According to the Ha’aretz Daily, the goal of the meeting is to “convince the United States that Iran constitutes a strategic threat to Israel.” [Ha'aretz, 2/9/2002]
Secretary of State Colin Powell gives testimony before a Senate committee, following President Bush’s State of the Union address labeling Iran, Iraq, and North Korea as the “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002). Powell promises that there is no plan start a war with Iran or North Korea, but “with respect to Iraq it has long been, for several years now, a policy of the United States government that regime change would be in the best interests of the region, the best interests of the Iraqi people. And we are looking into a variety of options that would bring that about.” Afterwards, unnamed senior administration officials tell the New York Times, “There [is] a consensus within the [Bush] administration that [Saddam Hussein] must be overthrown and that plans to do so are being drawn up. But there is no agreement as to how precisely that should be done or how long the United States should be prepared to wait for action.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004]
Senior Bush administration officials say President Bush has decided to oust Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein from power. “This is not an argument about whether to get rid of Saddam Hussein,” one official says. “That debate is over. This is… how you do it.”
CIA, Pentagon Making Plans for Regime Change - Bush has ordered the CIA, the Pentagon, and other agencies to come up with a plan combining military, diplomatic, and covert actions to force Hussein from power. A military strike is not yet imminent, but Bush has decided that Hussein and his putative weapons of mass destruction are such a threat to US security that he must be removed from power, even if US allies do not help. The CIA has already presented Bush with a plan to destabilize Hussein’s regime, incorporating covert action campaigns, sabotage, information warfare, and stepped-up bombing runs throughout the northern and southern “no-fly” zones. Bush is reportedly enthusiastic about the plan, and the CIA has begun assigning officers to the task. Reporters Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott write: “The president’s decision has launched the United States on a course that will have major ramifications for the US military, the Middle East’s future political alignment, international oil flows, and Bush’s own war on terrorism.”
Some Allies Dubious - Allies such as Russia have already expressed grave doubts about the wisdom of such a series of actions, and military experts warn that any campaign in Iraq would be long, bloody, and difficult to bring to a satisfactory conclusion. Nevertheless, one foreign leader who recently met with Bush came away “with the feeling that a decision has been made to strike Iraq, and the ‘how’ and ‘when’ are still fluid,” according to a diplomat.
Cheney to Inform Middle Eastern Leaders of US Intentions - Vice President Cheney will soon depart for a visit to 11 Middle East nations; while the public explanation is that he wants to listen to those nations’ views on the US’s Iraq policy, in reality, Cheney will inform them that the US will overthrow the Hussein regime. One senior official says: “He’s not going to beg for support. He’s going to inform them that the president’s decision has been made and will be carried out, and if they want some input into how and when it’s carried out, now’s the time for them to speak up.” At least one Middle Eastern ally, Egypt, has reservations about such a plan. Egyptian Ambassador Nabil Fahmy said last week that Bush should keep the US focus on fighting international terrorism, where he has broad international backing. “If you mix two issues together, you will lose this focus,” he said.
Debate over Role of Chalabi, INC - There is still sharp debate within the administration over the role that Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress will play in the overthrow and subsequent realignment. Many neoconservatives, particularly in the offices of Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, tout Chalabi as the next leader of Iraq, but others are not sanguine about Chalabi and his organization, with CIA officials warning that the INC is riven by internal debate and undoubtedly riddled with spies from Iraq and Iran. [Knight Ridder, 2/13/2002]
Entity Tags: Warren Strobel, Saddam Hussein, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, Iraqi National Congress, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Nabil Fahmy, John Walcott, US Department of Defense
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Reuel Marc Gerecht, a resident fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, calls on the Bush administration to adopt an aggressive policy awards Iran. He says the US must make it clear that it “favors real popular government in Iran.” There are “only two meaningful options,” he writes, “confront clerical Iran and its proxies militarily or ring it with an oil embargo.” Gerecht clearly opposes any sort of dialog with Iran’s government. “If Washington wants to dissuade and punish the clerical regime, it will have to use force, the only currency the clerics truly respect…. Starting at the periphery of the Iranian world—Lebanon and possibly Afghanistan—probably makes the most tactical and strategic sense. Lebanon, in particular, offers the United States the option of hitting three targets—Hezbollah, the clerics, and the Assad regime—at once. However, if al-Qaeda’s liaison with Iran is active, then Washington should probably take the gloves off and hit the clerical regime with enormous force.” As a start, the US should tell Iran to halt its flights to Damascus, which “supply Hezbollah in Lebanon” with arms. Some of the arms are then routed to “Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank,” he says. They should also be warned that “any aircraft suspected of carrying military materiel will be forcibly diverted to Israel, shot down, or destroyed on the tarmac.” [Weekly Standard, 2/18/2002]
Saad bin Laden. [Source: NBC]In the spring on 2002, as the Taliban is collapsing in Afghanistan, many al-Qaeda operatives flee into neighboring Iran. About 20 to 25 operatives composing much of al-Qaeda’s management council are said to wind up in the custody of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Prior to this point, the Iranian government has been turning over most al-Qaeda captives to other countries, but after President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech criticizing Iran (see January 29, 2002), Iran decides to keep this group. [Washington Post, 7/9/2004] Iran does not officially admit to holding them, and their status is unclear, but they all seem to be living in a village near the Caspian Sea. One senior US intelligence official says, “They are under virtual house arrest,” and not able to do much. Those said to be in Iranian custody include:
Saif al-Adel, one of al-Qaeda’s top military commanders.
Suliman abu Ghaith, al-Qaeda spokesman.
Saad and Hamza bin Laden, two of Osama bin Laden’s young sons.
Abu Dahak, who served as al-Qaeda’s liaison to the rebels in Chechnya.
Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, a financial expert.
Two unnamed top aides to Ayman al-Zawahiri. [MSNBC, 6/24/205]
Thirwat Salah Shehata, a member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council, who is probably one of the al-Zawahiri aides mentioned above. [MSNBC, 5/2005]
Mustafa Hamza, head of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an Egyptian militant group, and an al-Qaeda leader as well (see June 26, 1995). In late 2004, he will be extradited from Iran to stand trial in Egypt. [Reuters, 1/9/2005]
At first, these operatives appear to be capable of communicating with operatives outside of Iran. Saad bin Laden is said to play a major role planning the attack of a synagogue in Tunisia in April 2002 (see April 11, 2002). But the Saudi government will suspect that some of the operatives in Iran are involved in a 2003 attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (see May 12, 2003), and they will successfully press Iran to tighten the house arrest of the operatives in Iran. Iran will propose an exchange of these prisoners around the time of the Riyadh bombing, but the US will reject the offer (see Mid-May 2003). Since that time, these leaders apparently remain in a state of limbo. CIA Director Porter Goss will say in 2005, “I think [the] understanding that there is a group of leadership of al-Qaeda under some type of detention—I don’t know exactly what type, necessarily—in Iran is probably accurate.” [MSNBC, 6/24/205] Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will later ask, “The question is, what does house arrest mean in the Iranian context?” He suggests that Iran could release the group or loosen their restrictions depending on how relations evolve between the US and Iran. “They’re a guarantee against bad behavior.” [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] In 2006, it will be reported that Saad bin Laden has been freed. [Reuters, 8/2/2006] Also in 2006, al-Yazid will emerge as a leader of al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and may never have been in Iran. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] In 2007, the still teenaged Hamza bin Laden will reportedly appear in Afghanistan. [Associated Press, 9/11/2007] In 2008, it will be reported that the US still knows little about the al-Qaeda figures detained in Iran, but US officials say they believe Iran has largely kept them under control since 2003, limiting their ability to travel and communicate. One US official will say, “It’s been a status quo that leaves these people, some of whom are quite important, essentially on ice.” [ABC News, 5/29/2008]
Entity Tags: Thirwat Salah Shehata, Saad bin Laden, Saif al-Adel, Mustafa Hamza, Porter J. Goss, Hamza bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Suliman abu Ghaith, Abu Dahak
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline
The conservative National Review publishes an op-ed article by Sam Dealy titled “A Very, Very Bad Bunch,” commenting on the Iranian opposition group known as People’s Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK) and “its surprising American friends.” Dealy’s piece is an attack on Congresspersons who support the MEK despite the exile group’s past history of anti-Americanism (see 1970s and November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). “How has a terrorist group managed to win the support of mainstream US politicians?” he asks. “Simple: Its political representatives in the US have worked hard to repackage the group as a legitimate dissident organization fighting for democracy in Iran—by whitewashing its record and duping our leaders.” Dealy emphasizes that the group’s initial ideological underpinning had been influenced by the likes of Marx, Ho Chi Minh, and Che Guevara, whose ideas the MEK attempted to apply to Shiite society. [National Review, 3/25/2002]
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says that it is useless for the US to engage in diplomatic negotiations with Iran. “The problem with Iran,” she says, “is that its policies unfortunately belie the notion that engagement with it has helped.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 247]
In September 2002, the Washington Post reports that European, US, and Pakistani investigators believe that al-Qaeda and the Taliban have secretly shipped large quantities of gold from Pakistan to Sudan in recent weeks and months. Disguised boxes of gold are taken by small boat from Karachi, Pakistan, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, or Iran, and then flown to Khartoum, Sudan. European officials claim that some of the chartered planes used to fly the gold and other commodities are linked to Victor Bout, the world’s largest illegal arms dealer. [Washington Post, 9/3/2002] Bout worked extensively with the Taliban before 9/11 (see October 1996-Late 2001), but reportedly began working with the US after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). So if these various allegations against Bout are true, it means he would be working with the US and the Taliban and al-Qaeda at the same time. European and US intelligence sources say Sudan may have been chosen because Osama bin Laden used to live there and still retains business contacts there. The Taliban kept most of their money in gold when they ruled Afghanistan. Large amounts of gold were also apparently shipped out of Afghanistan shortly before the Taliban were driven from power there in late 2001. [Washington Post, 9/3/2002] The US learned of bin Laden’s extensive financial network in Sudan several years before 9/11, but apparently never shut it down, even after 9/11 (see December 1996-January 1997 and March 16, 2000).
President Bush issues a statement strongly supporting “prodemocracy” forces in Iran, whose stated goal is to overthrow the current Iranian regime. In response, Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, considered a moderate by most Westerners, calls Bush a “warmongerer.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 247]
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Affairs Mohammad Hossein Adeli says during a press conference that Iran has begun feasibility studies on exporting Iranian gas to India (see 1993) and is considering the possibility of transporting gas to Europe via a pipeline. He says that the Iranian government is also looking into the possibility of exporting gas to members of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) and is also considering selling gas to Armenia, the south Caucasus, and the Republic of Azerbaijan. [Tehran Times, 7/9/2002]
Alireza Jafarzadeh, a spokesman for the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), supplies the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with information about two hidden sites in Iran—an underground uranium enrichment at Natanz and a heavy-water production plant at Arak. Iran will later declare both sites to the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). [Reuters, 3/24/2005]
In a speech to the Economic Club of Florida in Tallahassee, retired Marine General Anthony Zinni, who recently served as the president’s special envoy to the Middle East, argues that there are more pressing issues than Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Specifically, he points to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, instability in Afghanistan, the continuing existence of the al-Qaeda network, and the theocracy in Iran. He adds that the proposed war with Iraq would be expensive and would put considerable strain on the military’s resources, which already are “stretched too tight all over the world.” Furthermore, notes the general, invading Iraq would further antagonize America’s allies in the Middle East. “We need to quit making enemies that we don’t need to make enemies out of,” he says. He also notes, “It’s pretty interesting that all the generals see it the same way and all the others who have never fired a shot and are hot to go to war see it another way.” [Tampa Tribune, 8/24/2002]
German authorities seize a boat in the port of Hamburg containing a shipment of rubber parts—allegedly bound for Iran—that could be used to make tracks for tanks and US-made M-113 armored personnel carriers. The seized boat, the Zim Anvers, is owned by the Zim-American Israeli Shipping Company. An Israeli company, PAD, headed by Avihai Weinstein, 34, had been issued a German export license for the shipment. The license specifies Thailand as its final destination, but according to German customs, the shipment is really destined for Iran. According to the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, it was to be transferred in Hamburg to an Iranian cargo ship headed to the southern Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. Weinstein claims he had no knowledge of the shipment’s actual destination. Raphael Eitan, an adviser on terrorism for several Israeli governments between 1978 and 1985, tells public radio the next day that it would have been impossible for Weinstein “not to know what the final destination of the shipment was. In this type of affair, there is no innocent contract. He knew the shipment was headed to Iran,” he says. Tehran denies any involvement with the boat. [Agence France-Presse, 3/29/2002]
In 2008, Scott McClellan, currently the deputy press secretary in the Bush administration, will describe the current belief in the White House that overthrowing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein will lead to the overall democratization of the Middle East. According to McClellan, once Hussein has been overthrown and democracy established, the White House believes “it would serve as an example to other freedom-seeking reformers in the Middle East.” McClellan will call this ideal a “positive domino effect” that would bring about transformative, democratic change in Iran and Afghanistan. Both Iran and Iraq, McClellan will write, have “a significant number of well-educated, forward-looking citizens,” and as for Afghanistan, that nation is “already on the verge of democracy.” An Iraqi democracy will, the argument goes, inspire the Iranian people “to rise up and change their country’s governance, and a free Iraq and Iran would remove two major threats to peace and stability in the Middle East—two parts of the ‘axis of evil’ Bush had highlighted in his January 2002 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). And this, in turn, would dramatically reduce global tensions and enhance a key national security interest of the United States by ensuring the long-term stability of the massive oil reserves of the Middle East.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 129]
A DIA office. [Source: Daily Wireless]The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) issues an 80-plus-page classified report titled, “Iraq: Key Weapons Facilities—An Operational Support Study,” concluding that there is “no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2002 ; Bloomberg, 6/6/2003; Reuters, 6/6/2003; US News and World Report, 6/9/2003] When this is reported in the press in June 2003, Michael Anton, a spokesman with the National Security Council, immediately denies that the report suggested the administration had misrepresented intelligence. “The entire report paints a different picture than the selective quotes would lead you to believe. The entire report is consistent with [sic] the president was saying at the time,” he claims. [Fox News, 6/6/2003] But two Pentagon officials confirm to Fox News that according to the report, the Defense Intelligence Agency indeed had no hard evidence of Iraqi chemical weapons. [Fox News, 6/6/2003]
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida circulates a letter in Congress that expresses support for the Mujahedeen-e Khalq [MEK]. At the same time, however, Republican Congressmen, Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) and Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), outspoken critics of Iran’s government, circulate a dissident letter chastising Ros-Lehtinen for including partial and inaccurate information in her letter. “We are strong opponents of the current government of Iran but do not believe that it is necessary to use terrorism or make common cause… [with] Saddam Hussein to change Iran’s government,” they write. “Particularly in view of the fact that the MEK is based in Iraq, has taken part in operations against the Kurds and Shia, has been responsible for killing Americans in Iran, and has supported the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran, we wanted you to have the full background on this organization as most recently reported by the Department of State, so that you may best decide whether to lend your name to this letter.” Ros-Lehtinen adds, “Some colleagues have signed similar letters in the past and then been embarrassed when confronted with accurate information about the MEK.” [Hill, 4/8/2003]
Mohamed ElBaradei, the president of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), meets with President Bush in the Oval Office to discuss the news of Iran’s restarted nuclear program (see August 2002 and December 12, 2002). ElBaradei tells Bush that the Iranians want to meet with an American delegation to discuss the program, obviously with the intent of negotiating a cessation in return for American concessions. ElBaradei offers to help set up the talks, and even keep them low-profile. But Bush is uninterested. His goal, as he later tells British Prime Minister Tony Blair, is to “free Iran.” Author J. Peter Scoblic will later write that any negotiations that might succeed in shutting down Iran’s nuclear program would also serve to strengthen and legitimize Iran’s government; it is, therefore, worth the risk of a nuclear Iran to continue working towards “regime change” in that nation. This also helps explain why, several months later, Bush officials refused to consider Iran’s offer of the so-called “grand bargain” (see May 4, 2003). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 247]
In an interview with the London Times, Ariel Sharon says that Iran must be toppled after the US invades Iraq. Sharon calls Iraq “a very, very dangerous country led by an insane regime” and describes Iran as the “center of world terror” and a direct threat to Israel (see also February 9, 2002). [London Times, 11/2/2002]
Neoconservative Michael Ledeen recommends that the US invade Iraq—but only after invading Iran and overthrowing that nation’s government. Ledeen claims that the sporadic demonstrations by Iranian dissidents prove that the entire nation is just waiting for someone like the US to come in and get rid of the theocratic Iranian “mullahcracy” and replace it with a Western-style democracy. Ledeen writes: “This is yet another test of the courage and coherence of American leaders. President Bush has been outstanding in endorsing the calls for freedom in Iran, as has Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. It would be nice if Secretary of State Powell added his own eloquence to the chorus, especially because many Iranians fear that the State Department is still trying to cut a deal with the mullahs. I have long argued that it would be better to liberate Iran before Iraq, and events may soon give us that opportunity. Let’s hope our national security team recognizes how wonderful an opportunity it is, and therefore gives the Iranian freedom fighters the assistance they so richly deserve. Faster, please. Opportunity is knocking at our door.” [National Review, 11/12/2002]
Michael Ledeen joins with Morris Amitay, vice-president of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs; ex-CIA head James Woolsey; former Reagan administration official Frank Gaffney; former senator Paul Simon; and oil consultant Rob Sobhani to set up a group called the Coalition for Democracy in Iran (CDI). [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 6/1/2003] CDI says it “fully agrees with President Bush’s inclusion of Iran in the ‘axis of evil’ and supports congressional initiatives to bring about needed change in Iran.” [Coalition for Democracy, 1/16/2004] The group has strong ties to Reza Pahlavi, the son of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the US-backed leader of Iran who was removed from power by the 1979 Iranian Revolution. [International Herald Tribune, 6/6/2003]
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) releases a report saying that satellite photos indicate that Iran is constructing two nuclear facilities (see August 2002). The report says the first facility, near Arak, is a heavy-water production facility, which raises concerns that Iran might be constructing a nuclear reactor moderated by heavy water. Lending further suspicion to the purpose behind the heavy-water facility is the fact that the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear reactor does not use heavy water. Additionally, ISIS reports, Iran’s existing research reactors do not consume enough heavy water to warrant the need for a heavy-water plant. The report also says that Iran appears to be building a uranium enrichment plant, possibly using gas centrifuge technology, at a site called Natanz, 25 miles southeast of the city of Kashan. [Institute for Science and International Security, 12/12/2002; Nuclear Threat Initiative, 12/13/2002] The following day, Iran’s UN Ambassador Javad Zarif tells CNN that his country is not developing nuclear weapons. “No. Absolutely not,” Zarif says in response to a question on whether Iran is developing a nuclear weapons program. “Iran is a member of the [Nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty. We have safeguard agreements with the IAEA. Nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction do not have a place in our defense doctrine. We have stated that clearly. And we have shown it.” [CNN, 12/13/2002]
Trade between China and Iran increases by 50 percent. China is a major exporter of manufactured goods to Iran, including computer systems, household appliances, and automobiles. The growth of Chinese-Iranian trade has undermined the effectiveness of US sanctions against companies doing business with Iran, which the Bush administration claims is pursuing the development of nuclear weapons and has ties to terrorist organizations. “Sanctions are not effective nowadays because we have many options in secondary markets, like China,” Hossein Shariatmadari, a leading conservative Iranian theorist and editor of the Kayhan newspapers, will tell the Washington Post in 2005. [Washington Post, 11/17/2004]
Russia is negotiating a long-term oil swap contract with the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC). As part of the swap deal, Russia would send crude oil to Iran’s northern refineries for domestic consumption via a Chinese-built pipeline in exchange for an equal amount of Iranian oil being sent to Russia’s buyers at Iran’s Gulf oil terminals. The arrangement would make Russian oil available to non-European buyers at a competitive price by decreasing the cost of delivery. [Asia Times, 2/11/2003] United Press International will note in 2005 that the swap agreements are “a direct challenge to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Pipeline Project.” [United Press International, 6/29/2005]
Joost Hiltermann. [Source: Representational Pictures]Reporter Russell Mokhiber attempts to pin down White House press secretary Ari Fleischer on the Bush administration’s condemnations of Iraq over its gassing of Iraqi Kurds in Halabja, when the US at the time tried to protect Iraq from international criticism (see January 17, 2003). Mokhiber says, “You and the president have repeatedly said that Saddam Hussein gassed his own people. The biggest such attack was in Halabja in March 1988, where some 6,800 Kurds were killed. Last week, in an article in the International Herald Tribune, Joost Hiltermann writes that while it was Iraq that carried out the attack, the United States at the time, fully aware that it was Iraq, accused Iran. This was apparently part of the US tilt toward Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. The tilt included billions of dollars in loan guarantees. Sensing he had carte blanche, Saddam escalated his resort to gas warfare—graduating to ever more lethal agents. So, you and the president have said that Saddam has repeatedly gassed his own people. Why do you leave out the part that the United States in effect gave Saddam the green light?” Fleischer responds that Mokhiber needs to ask someone “other than the White House,” and claims he has no idea whether those charges are accurate. Mokhiber presses forward, saying that recent media reports show “a number of major American corporations—including Hewlett-Packard and Bechtel—helped Saddam Hussein beef up its military in the 1980s [and] supplied Iraq with cluster bombs, intelligence and chemical and biological agents.” Mokhiber notes that the same articles report the current Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, “went to Baghdad in December 1983 and met with Saddam Hussein, and this was at a time when Iraq was using chemical weapons almost on a daily basis in defiance of international conventions. So there are some specifics, and the question is—if Iraq is part of the axis of evil, why aren’t the United States and these American corporations part of the axis of evil for helping him out during his time of need?” Fleischer again refuses to answer directly, saying, “I think that you have to make a distinction between chemical and biological. And, clearly, in a previous era, following the fall of the Shah of Iran, when there was a focus on the risks that were underway in the region as a result of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Iran, different administrations, beginning with President Carter, reached different conclusions about the level of military cooperation vis-a-vis Iraq. Obviously, Saddam Hussein since that time has used whatever material he had for the purpose therefore of attacking Kuwait, attacking Saudi Arabia, attacking Israel. And, obviously, as circumstances warrant, we have an approach that requires now the world to focus on the threat that Saddam Hussein presents and that he presents this threat because of his desire to continue to acquire weapons and his willingness to use those weapons against others.” Fleischer attempts to brush off any follow-up, refusing to admit that the US had any part in Hussein’s acquisition or use of chemical weapons, and saying, “I think that he gassed his own people as a result of his decisions to use his weapons to gas his own people.” When Mokhiber presses the point, Fleischer retorts, “… I think the suggestion that you blame America for Iraq’s actions is way beyond the pale.” [White House, 1/21/2003]
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami visits India to urge the construction of a multi-billion pipeline that would bring Iranian natural gas to the region. Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee says after meeting with President Khatami that “Iran has gas and we want it.” But Vajpayee adds, “There are some impediments in the middle.” [BBC, 1/27/2003] The so-called “peace pipeline” would bypass unstable Afghanistan entirely. The pipeline would originate near the Iranian South Pars fields by the Persian Gulf; travel through Khuzdar and Multan, Pakistan; and terminate in Delhi. In Pakistan, one section would branch off and divert gas to Karachi on the Arabian Sea coast. [Chudhary, 1/2001]
Iranian political leader Mohammad Khatami reveals that Iran has begun building two nuclear processing plants devoted to enriching uranium. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, later says that one of the Iranian plants is already near completion and a second plant is well underway. Although Iran claims that the nuclear plants are strictly for peaceful energy creation, the Bush administration believes that the Iranians have used the cover of practices not strictly forbidden by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see July 1, 1968) to hide a nuclear weapons program. One Bush official says that if the Iranians run the Bushehr reactor (see December 12, 2002) for five or six years, withdraw from the Nonproliferation Treaty, just as North Korea has done (see January 10, 2003 and After), and reprocess all of their radioactive material, they would have enough weapons-grade uranium and/or plutonium to build as many as a hundred nuclear weapons. Bush officials hope that a combination of pressure from Russia and the US occupation of neighboring Iraq—one senior Bush official says, “I think the presence of 200,000 American troops on their border for X period of time may tend to concentrate their attention”—may keep Iran’s nuclear program under restraint. [New York Times, 5/4/2003]
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon tells a visiting delegation of American congressmen, joined by US Undersecretary of State John Bolton, that Iran, Libya and Syria should be stripped of weapons of mass destruction after Iraq. “These are irresponsible states, which must be disarmed of weapons of mass destruction, and a successful American move in Iraq as a model will make that easier to achieve,” Sharon says. He says Israel considers Iran a security threat, and that the US should have plans for dealing with Iran. Sharon also says that Israel is not involved in the war with Iraq “but the American action is of vital importance.” [Ha'aretz, 2/18/2003]
The Brookings Institution hosts the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Pipeline Project Roundtable. The proposed pipeline would transport Caspian Sea oil 1000 miles from Azerbaijan, through Georgia, and to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. Delegates from each of the three countries and executives and consultants from British Petroleum attend the discussion. The US is a strong supporter of the pipeline project because it believes the pipeline will deny Iran leverage in the transportation of oil and gas from Central Asia and the Caspian Basin. [Alexander's Gas & Oil Connections, 11/27/2002; Institution, 3/4/2003]
Representative Curt Weldon. [Source: H. Rumph Jr / Associated Press]Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) becomes embroiled in a plot by Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar to contrive a secret uranium exchange between Iran and Iraq. According to Ghorbanifar’s story (see January 11, 2006), just before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, a team of Iranian intelligence agents infiltrated Iraq and stole enriched uranium for use in Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The story is later proven to be false, and based on a desire for money and to embroil Iran and Iraq in a spurious WMD plot. After first being contacted by a mysterious Iranian source through a friend and a colleage on March 7, Weldon repeatedly flies to Paris to meet with the source he later calls “Ali,” who is later shown to be Fereidoun Mahdavi, a former minister in the Shah’s Iran who now works as a secretary for Ghorbanifar. Mahdavi has already tried, and failed, to interest several Western intelligence agencies in the stolen uranium tale. He finds Weldon to be far more credulous than the intelligence agencies. According to an intelligence source interviewed in 2006, “Ali provided information that indicated Iranian intelligence had sent a team to Baghdad to extract highly enriched uranium from a stockpile hidden by Saddam Hussein.” Ali tells Weldon that an Iranian intelligence team infiltrated Iraq and stole the uranium for Iran’s nuclear weapons program. According to the story, “the team successfully extracted the stockpile but on the way back to Iran contracted radiation poisoning.” Weldon immediately informs CIA Director George Tenet. Weldon will later write in his book Countdown to Terror: “Tenet appeared interested, even enthusiastic about evaluating Ali and establishing a working relationship with him. He agreed to send his top spy, Stephen Kappes, the deputy director of operations, along with me to Paris for another debriefing of Ali.… On the day of our scheduled second meeting with Ali in Paris, Kappes bowed out, claiming that ‘other commitments’ compelled him to cancel. Later, the CIA claimed to have met with Ali independently. But I discovered this to be untrue.… Incredibly, I learned that the CIA had apparently asked French intelligence to silence Ali.” Weldon is wrong; the CIA’s Paris station chief, Bill Murray, investigates the claims and finds Ghorbanifar (whom either he or the agency mistakenly believes to be “Ali”) to be what the agency calls a “fabricator.” Murray goes so far as to take either Ghorbanifar or Mahdavi to Iraq to have them retrace the route of the Iranian intelligence mission. “Ali” is unable to do so, and Murray learns that the entire story was concocted in hopes of a large payoff: “Soon it became apparent that Ali and his sources were fabricators and were trying to extract large sums of money,” one intelligence source will say. (Murray will later deny going to Iraq with either Ghorbanifar or Mahdavi, but will call “the source” “not credible.… The sensational charges that the source made could not be substantiated.” Weldon, not to be denied, takes his story to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who pressures the CIA to investigate further. One former CIA officer later says, “CIA reluctantly, after pressure from Rumsfeld, followed up by detaching one of their weapons experts from the team that was hunting WMD in Iraq.” Again, this effort proves that Ghorbanifar’s story is completely false. In 2006, reporter Larisa Alexandrovna will call Weldon an “innocent bystander taken in by an internationally known con man and the lure of spook-like activities than an inside player with an agenda or material participant in these events. The Ali composite seems to have used Weldon as a conduit by which to provide the CIA with information.” One intelligence official will observe, “If you were going to launder intel to make up a war, you could easily send some fool on an errand.” [Raw Story, 1/11/2006] Weldon will meet again with Mahdavi, and will write about a lurid Iranian terror plot, the “12th Imam” scheme, based on his tales (see June 8, 2005 and Mid-July 2005). He will claim that the CIA has “routinely” ignored “credible” information about these and other plots.
Trade between Iraq and Iran grows at an estimated annual rate of 30 percent after the US and British invasion. “The economies of Iraq and Iran, the largest Shiite-majority countries in the world, are becoming closely integrated, with Iranian goods flooding Iraqi markets and Iraqi cities looking to Iran for basic services,” the New York Times will report in early 2007. After the invasion, Iraq begins importing electricity and a wide variety of consumer items like Peugeot sedans, carpets, construction materials, fish, and spices. Iraqis are also going to Iran to obtain medical services. Trade between the two nations grows the fastest in the Shiite-dominated south. By 2007, Basra is importing $45 million worth of goods from Iran each year with some 100 to 150 commercial trucks crossing into Iraq from Iran each day. The trend causes concern in the White House, which accuses Iran of having a nuclear weapons program and claims that the Iranians are fueling the insurgency. According to Asaad Abu Galal, the governor of Najaf, “the Americans don’t want to bring Iranians to Najaf. The Americans want to control the sky.” Iranians are also vying for a market in the financial sector, with at least one bank applying for a license to open a branch in Baghdad. [New York Times, 3/17/2007]
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