London, Asharq al-Awsat -Iran was interfering in Iraq, and politicians who were aware of this meddling but refused to denounce it were collaborating with the devil, according to former Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan.
Speaking to Asharq al Awsat from the Jordanian capital Amman, where he now resides, Shaalan attacked those “Iraqi politicians and ministers whose interests collude with Iran. Some are afraid of the consequences of speaking while others prefer to remain silent and hold on to power.”
He added, “Arab politicians and some Kurdish leaders are aware of Iranian meddling but chose to remain silent for their own benefit.”
Indicating he had concrete proof of Iran’s involvement in its neighbor’s affairs, compiled during his tenure as governor of Al Diwaniyah province, Shaalan revealed that Iranian officers traveled to Iraq, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, with forged identity cards from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to harm these countries if they were ever detained.
He described himself as “the lone witness to Iranian interference which started after the fall of the former regime and continues today, and whose aim is to establish an Iranian state in southern Iraq before controlling the rest of the country.”
The ex-minister told Asharq al Awsat about the questioning of an al-Qaeda member from Sudan detained in Al-Diwaniyah in June 2004 after a bottle filled with poison was found in his possession with which he intended to contaminate water purification centers in the province. The interrogation revealed that “this man traveled to Iraq through Iran, after the Taliban fell in Afghanistan”, where he has received military training before entering Iraq through the al-Shalamjah border crossing and then traveling to Basra and Al-Diwaniyah.
In addition, during his tenure as Defense Minister, Shaalan pointed out that two trucks filled with ammunition from Iran were discovered on their way to Najaf. Weapons in the confiscated cache had Persian writing on them saying, “Made in Iran”. He also indicated that a Lebanese man was arrested after murdering a Spanish soldier serving in the multinational forces. He was discovered to be a member of the Lebanese pro-Iranian Hezbollah group and had identity cards signed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, “allowing him to travel around Iraq freely and requesting assistance be provided to facilitate his movements.”
As governor, Shaalan revealed that he escaped four assassination attempts, the last of which was carried out by an Iraqi man trained in Iran who aimed seven missiles at his convoy but missed.
The former cabinet minister said an “important document” discussing Iranian interference in Iraq included the interrogation of one of the heads of al Qaeda in Iraq who acted as a liaison between al Zarqawi and others in Osama bin Laden’s organization in Iran. Only addressed by his initials, AHD, the man hails from a well-known tribe and acted as a mediator between Ahmad al Ghamdi, Bin Laden’s assistant and Zarqawi.
Asharq al Awsat noticed that Shaalan was close to revealing the name of the suspect had it not been for the timely intervention of his legal assistant, Dr. Munir Iskandarani, who was sitting beside him, and requested the name remain secret because of an ongoing court case in the British courts against three Iraqi figures.
According to the interrogation, the Iraqi mediator revealed that he traveled to Turkey to carry out terrorist attacks and spoke of going to Taqsim square in Istanbul, where a number of foreign banks are based, to carry out a suicide operation, using the car and explosive belt of an accomplice. The man admitted, “We carried out more than 15 operations in Afghanistan. I was responsible for gathering information and accompanied Ahmad al Ghamdi and his Yemeni associate Salim al Harithi”, adding that, “a number of al Qaeda supporters left Afghanistan for Iran and then traveled to Iraq.”
“After spending a few months in Iraq, I traveled once more to Iran and met al Ghamdi at a military training camp near the Afghan border, which is supervised by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. I met al Ghamdi and Sadi al Ghayoussi.
The man told his interrogators he was a member of al Qaeda and received “$1500 US as a monthly salary”. He said, “I entered Iraq and gave al Zarqawi a letter indicating recruits were in need of explosives, type C4 and C3, to use for operations in Iraq as supporters were enduring difficult times.”
Al Zarqawi contacted some people and ordered I stay in a Baghdad hotel where I met an Iraqi man, known as Mohammed Muri, who said the situation in the capital was dangerous. He was driving a brown Opel car and was accompanied by a man called Abdul Rahman. We traveled along an unpaved road through Abu Ghraib towards Fallujah and then to an uninhibited desert area.
Continuing his confession, the al Qaeda operative said, “We arrived at a poultry farm where the Italian hostage Giuliana Sgrena was held captive. She was moved to another safe house because of US raids in the surrounding areas in a black Opel. We drove through the desert and met a Syrian man, Abu Talha, aged 40 or so, and told him we wanted to meet Abu Musab al Zarqawi but he indicated the meeting would be difficult to arrange. I saw the other men move the hostage to another place.”
(Sgrena was released on 4th March 2005).