|General George Casey – An Active Democratic Opposition To The Largest Sponsor of Terrorism|
|Thursday, 23 February 2012 10:02|
Thank you. Thank you very much. Well, I'm the relative newcomer to this group, but in actuality I've been working on the issue of Camp Ashraf since 2004. When I got to Iraq in July of 2004, that just happened to be the same month that the MEK received its protected status and we worked very hard to honor that commitment. And for the folks at Ashraf, they will remember General Miller, General Brandenberg, and General Gardener who worked weekly with the residents there of Camp Ashraf and reported to me on a weekly basis to make sure that we maintained our responsibilities.
Since I am a relative newcomer to the group, I'm going to focus on really what Patrick said, and it's why it is so important to have an active Democratic opposition to the largest sponsor of terrorism of any state in the world. And that state should not be able to sponsor terrorism and exist as a member of the international community. And it won't change without an active Democratic opposition.
Now, what I would like to talk about with you today is how Iran exercised their political economic and military influence in Iraq in a way that significantly destabilized the situation there and resulted, one, in the prolonging of the violence that wrecked the country in 2006, but also resulted in the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi civilians. And that is a regime that could not ever be a productive member of the international community.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that I am one of twenty-six Americans that are on a list in Tehran that bans me from visiting. So I have some experience in what it means to be listed, but that is not a list that I am looking to be delisted from. At least while that regime is in power.
Let me just take a few minutes to talk you through how Iran almost played a significantly negative role in our mission in Iraq. We believed all along that their mission was to see a supportive government in place in Iraq. And to them this largely meant a Shia government and a government that was formed by some of the Shia political parties. And they worked very hard to do that. At the same time, they worked very hard for us not to succeed, to deny the United States of America their objectives of establishing Iraq as a peaceful and Democratic country. And often as you could imagine, those two goals were in opposition to each other. In fact, I was talking with one of the prime ministers. I said, Prime Minister, they want you to succeed and us to fail. And he looked at me and said, that can't happen. And he was right.
In our early days in Iraq, I will tell you that the political influence was very visible and the humanitarian influence was very visible in the southern part of Iraq. What was not visible to us in the early days was the military influence. We got our first Iranian influence in Iraq about thirty-five days after I got there. And some of you will remember in early August of 2004 there was a major battle Najaf. One of our marine patrols strayed too close to a house and got into a fire fight. Sadr used this as an excuse to expand his control on the city and began attacking police station across Najaf. We saw it as an opportunity to restore Iraqi governmental control in Najaf. Because at that time it was occupied by the Saudis militia. With a strong showing by Iraqi coalition forces, our forces went in, first pushed the militia out of the cemetery, which you know is the largest Muslim cemetery in the Muslim world and 125 degree heat. And then went in to evict the militia in area in the Old City, one the most sacred shrines in. And so disciplined and so precise in those forces that they were able to evict the militia and take away Sadr's options without so much as chipping a tile off in the mosque. And that was to negotiate his release with Prime Minister Maliki, no strings attacked. And he was allowed to move out of the mosque and leave. It was a great victory for the new Iraqi government.
As we went forward, basically throughout 2005, we were executing a process that had been given us by the United States security counsel. We were to have elections in January 2005 to elect a transitional government, a transitional parliament, that would draft a constitution. We would hold a referendum on that in October. And the Iraqi would hold a further election that would elect a government based on that constitution. So you then had a constitutionally-elected government that would guide the country forward.
We saw increased Iranian influence in the election process. Lots of money, lots of money to Iraqi political parties, lots of humanitarian support in the name of gaining political support. But it wasn't until the summer of 2005 where we began to see increased military support. And what happened is, as the government of Prime Minister Sharifi was seated, it became clear that that government was not acceptable to the Sunni population of Iraq. And so Al-Quaida launched attacked against the Shia community, very viable suicidal attacks. At that point, we saw increased Shia militia with some improvised explosive device that we just talked here earlier. So we launched a significant effort to find out where the Iranian operatives were in Iran.
It's one thing to be able to say, yes, there is political influence, yes, there is economic influence, yes, there is humanitarian influence, but to tell me where the operative is, at what time, in what place, on what floor, in the apt building, so they can be attacked, is quite another thing. So we began a significant intelligence gathering process that would allow us to target the Iranian moves.
Let me talk just a second about this improvised explosive devices. They are called explosively formed penetrators. I don't want to get too technical, but they have to be made with machine tools and that technology was not available in Iraq. They could only come from one place and that was Iran.
These are designed, the explosives are formed, in a way that they shoot a copper charge that goes so fast that it will penetrate the side of a tank. And this was a significant problem for our soldiers and the Iraqi soldiers because their armored vehicles were their best protection against the improvised explosive devices. About two months after we started seeing the increase of this, we found the cash inside our city. And the cash was full of these and they were clearly made in Iran. In addition, we found the newest type of rocket propeller grenade that was also made in Iran. And we found a number of rockets that were clearly marked with Iranian markings. And we continued over the fall and winter of 2005 to find this type of equipment.
I wasn't going to use this story, Louie, but since you mentioned Hadi Al-Ameri, I'm going to use it. Hadi Al-Ameri was also the leader of the militia tied to the party now called Sciri. We believe that the Badr Corps. was an active militia and was actively out conducting attacks against primarily Sunni civilians.
After the elections in 2005, I asked for a meeting with them because I wanted to see if there was any reason that we should try to work with the Badr Corps. In the course of this meeting, he was sitting directly across the table from me and I popped the question to him, I looked him right in the eye and said, Mr. Ameri, are you being supported by Iran. And he stopped. He paused and he went like this, no. And that told me that he was lying and it told me that I had nothing left to do with what Al-Ameri and the fact that he got in the White House is unbelievable to me.
The other element in 2006 that I wanted to mention is we briefed the new incoming Prime Minister, Prime Minister Maliki, but we showed him what was being done by the Iranians in Iraq. When I finish the briefing he looked at me and said they are conducting terrorism in my country. And I said, you're right, prime minister, they are, and it needs to stop.
We also briefed the presidency counsel and they had a similar reaction. But the answer was, there was not the political will by the Iraqis to pressure the Iranians to stop the disruption. All of our hard work on intelligence came to their fruition right before Christmas of 2006. And we had been tracking some operatives around Baghdad and we caught six them in what amounted to a safe house. We thought they were all force operants, but they immediately said that four of the operatives were actually under diplomatic protection because they worked for the embassy. The other two they couldn't make that argument, so we held on to them. What did we find? We find Badr Corps. headquarters. And then they had maps on the wall that clearly showed that they were plotting to push the Sunni population out of the neighborhoods they were in so they could expand the control of the Shia militia across Baghdad. They had sites of Baghdad marked too, different color, designating the way for future operations.
There was money, there was weapons' receipts, there was no question that this was an Iranian supported operation. As with any good operation, we exploited the information there and were able to continue to put pressure on the Iranian operatives throughout 2007 and gradually reduce the flow of support. Why do I tell you this? Some of it is ancient history.
I tell you all of this because that is how Iran operates. They destabilized Iraq. They use terror as a means of accomplishing their political and ideological objectives. They are destabilizing force in Iraq, they are destabilizing force in the region, and it is not a regime that is capable of being a productive member of this world order. And they will not be removed without an effective and active Democratic opposition.
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