It’s fairly well known that Iran has links to the Sunni extremist organization, al-Qaeda. And now, according to one expert, al-Qaeda is being paid to carry out contract killings and kidnappings in Iraq.
The cost of having someone assassinated in Iraq? According to one expert in such affairs, it depends on how you want it done.
“The cost of an attack ranges between US$10,000 and US$50,000,” this source says. “If you want someone killed with small arms, then that costs around US$10,000. If explosive devices are involved, the price may go up to US$30,000. Of course,” the source says, “the price goes up even further if the target is a minister in the government. And if more than one or two individuals are being targeted, the price can rise as high as several hundred thousand dollars.”
Because these are the sorts of prices that al-Qaeda operatives charge in Iraq these days. The same source reels off a list of recent assassinations and abductions that he says were carried out by al-Qaeda on contract: four engineers abducted in Basra in mid-May. A security guard from the mainly Sunni Muslim opposition party, Iraqiya, assassinated in early May. A former army pilot shot dead east of Mosul in May. And mid-April, the attack on the guarded convoy of a former Minister of Interior, Falah al-Naqib, now an MP for the Iraqiya party.
And apparently there are clear links between the al-Qaeda operatives carrying out these contract killings and paymasters in Iran
"Me against my brother , My brother and me against my cousin, Me, my brother and my cousin against the stranger" This is not the first time this suspicion has been reported. On May 9, Anbar tribal leader Azzam al-Tamimi, the general consul for the Awakening Movement council – the Movement is a mainly Sunni Muslim initiative dating back to 2006 that saw tribal groups taking arms up against Sunni Muslim extremists, particularly al-Qaeda – said as much to a Saudi Arabian newspaper.
“There are clear links between al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Iranian regime,” al-Tamimi said. “Tehran is providing training camps for their members.”
Another senior figure from the Awakening Movement in Anbar, Hamid al-Hayes, questioned the links. “Al-Qaeda considers Iran an infidel state,” says the tribal leader, whose men have been fighting al-Qaeda since 2007. “Why would they cooperate? But they do have one thing in common,” he argues. “They both hate the US.”
Although al-Hayes notes, “attacks on behalf of Iran decreased once the US troops withdrew from Iraq.”
In an excellent and far reaching article in Foreign Policy magazine this January, security expert Seth Jones explains further: “On the surface, the relationship between Shiite Iran and Sunni al-Qaeda is puzzling. Their religious views do differ, but they share a more important common interest: countering the United States and its allies, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom. Iran's rationale might be compared to that of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who declared, "If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons”.”
“Tehran has long used proxies to pursue its foreign policy interests,” Jones continues, “especially Hezbollah in Lebanon, and it has a history of reaching out to Sunni groups. In Afghanistan, for example, Iran has provided limited support to the Taliban to keep the United States tied down. Al Qaeda's proven willingness and ability to strike the United States make it an attractive partner.”
And NIQASH’s source, with expert knowledge of al-Qaeda, agrees. “Before the US troop withdrawal, al-Qaeda was carrying out attacks on behalf of Iran. But since the US withdrew, things have changed: now their operations [on behalf of Iran] are limited to assassinations and kidnappings.”
One local man, Ali, who lives in Khanaqin, a city in north-eastern Iraq near the Iranian border, told NIQASH that locals see the back and forth between al-Qaeda and Iran all the time.
“They receive training in Iran and Al-Qaeda members always cross the Iraq-Iran borders; they tend to travel on the paved roads, rather than the rough back country though,” said the man, who wanted to remain anonymous for security reasons. “And much of the funding for al-Qaeda also passes through Khanaqin,” he added.
The Iraqi government denies this. “It is unlikely that al-Qaeda is still operating in Iraq,” the Deputy Minister of the Interior Ahmed al-Khafaji told NIQASH. “Those who make these claims have no evidence to support them. The people of Iraq don’t want al-Qaeda here. So how can they operate when they’re not wanted here?”
NIQASH’s source, with expert knowledge of al-Qaeda, disagrees: “Al-Qaeda has members in various provinces and inside the government too. It could attack whenever it wanted to,” the source counters.
Local analysts have suggested that Iran has direct or indirect links to many of the Shiite Muslim extremist groups in the world. But, they say, Iran also has links to al-Qaeda because of that organization’s particular methods. Al-Qaeda uses methods that many Shiite Muslim extremist groups consider to be against Islamic rulings – such as, for example, the use of suicide bombers.
Iran has a pragmatic and flexible policy and this is why it has used this group, manipulating it to serve Iranian interests where it can. As Ali al-Jibouri, a political analyst at Baghdad University, explains: “Iran is mainly using al-Qaeda in attacks where the attackers have no chance of survival, or where suicide bombers are the only option.”
Al-Jibouri then recalls an Arabic saying, that goes something like this:
Me against my brother,
My brother and me against my cousin,
Me, my brother and my cousin against the stranger.
“These are the basics for this cooperation,” al-Jibouri concludes. “And the Iraqi government should take a strong stand with regard to Iran’s part in this matter, in order to end al-Qaeda’s influence in this country.”