Ayatollah Jalal Ganje'i, a prominent critic of the Iranian regime, said in an interview with The Washington Times that the influx is part of continuing efforts by Tehran's power brokers to exploit the crisis in Iraq in order to set up a sister fundamentalist Islamic republic. Washington Times
By Jennifer Joan Lee
PARIS - A top Iranian dissident living in Paris says up to 800 clerics and theology students from Iran are in the process of infiltrating cities in neighboring Iraq in time for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which begins Friday.
Ayatollah Jalal Ganje'i, a prominent critic of the Iranian regime, said in an interview with The Washington Times that the influx is part of continuing efforts by Tehran's power brokers to exploit the crisis in Iraq in order to set up a sister fundamentalist Islamic republic.
The religious leaders, dispatched by the Islamic Propaganda Organization, plan to use the holy month to propagate militant Islamic views, he said, with the goal of strengthening Iraqi political groups whose philosophy and aims coincide with those of Iran's theocratic regime.
The cleric said the religious leaders will take their message into Kut, Nasariyah, Amarra, Najaf, Basra and Baghdad, joining a massive network of other Iranian agents already in Iraq, many in armed underground cells.
"I expect the violence to increase, and this will also set the stage for further meddling in upcoming Iraqi elections," said Ayatollah Ganje'i, who is affiliated with the National Council of Resistance, a State Department-designated terrorist group.
Also known as the People's Mujahideen Organization of Iran, the group was the first to reveal details of Iran's nuclear activities.
"Iran is hoping to use the January elections to bring its own Islamic fundamentalists to power," the cleric said. He did not specify which leaders Tehran was working with in Iraq.
Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York last week, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld similarly said there has been "a lot of meddling" by Iranians in Iraq.
"They clearly want to affect the outcome of the election, and they are aggressively trying to do that," he said. "They're sending money in, they're sending weapons in, and they're notably unhelpful."
Mr. Rumsfeld said millions of refugees and pilgrims regularly travel between the porous border separating Iran and Iraq, adding, "There's no way we could stop the flow of these pilgrims."
An official at the Iranian Interests Section in Washington referred a request for comment to a telephone number in New York, which was out of service.
Ayatollah Ganje'i is a former student of Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who fled the country in 1982 after being sentenced to death for his anti-fundamentalist views. He cited his network of contacts among Iran's clergy as the source of his information.
He said four Iranian institutions - the Revolutionary Guards, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, the state radio and television and the clergy - are coordinating the activities in Iraq. He also charged that Tehran has spent $70 million sending weapons and manpower, including suicide bombers, into Iraq.
Since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in April 2003, thousands of Iranian clerics have crossed into Iraq, bringing books, compact discs and audiotapes promoting their version of Islam.
Ayatollah Ganje'i said they had devised a two-pronged strategy to take over the country: first, by opening charities, clinics and health care centers to win the hearts of the local people, and second, by spreading armed underground cells that would conduct strikes against coalition forces.
In an interview with the Arabic newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat in July, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazem Shaalan declared that the Iranian intrusion had been "vast and unprecedented since the establishment of the new Iraqi state." He said Iranians had "penetrated the country's sensitive centers and set up many intelligence and security centers."
"In the last year and a half, there has been a concerted effort to intervene in Iraqi affairs. This is something that has been widely underestimated by the West," Ayatollah Ganje'i said.