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Dr Musa A Keilani: The politics of revelations
August 09, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Iran has been officially charged by the US of working with Al Qaeda under a secret agreement. The US Treasury Department has imposed financial sanctions on six alleged Al Qaeda agents because they were involved in smuggling money and operatives of the group to Pakistan and Afghanistan under the “secret” agreement. Tehran is said to have allowed Al Qaeda to use Iranian territory in the course of moving money and personnel.

The Treasury Department had in fact made the allegation in a conference call to reporters, meaning that it wanted maximum media converge of the charge. And indeed it received what it wanted although few questioned the loopholes in the Treasury Department’s version.

But then, Tehran can defend itself and we leave it to do just that. However, there are some known and suspected facts related to the issue. The suggestion that Tehran and Al Qaeda had an interactive relationship came up immediately after the Sept.11, 2001 attacks. It was said that Iran allowed Al Qaeda agents, including some of those who took part in the suicide hijackings, to pass through Iranian territory and leave without entry and exit stamps on their passports.

Then came reports that many of the Al Qaeda fighters who were forced out of Afghanistan by the US military in late 2001 had fled to Iran and were comfortably sheltered there. And they included none other than Osama Bin Laden himself. It appears to be true that some family members of Bin Laden had moved to Iran since one of his sons has spoken of them, but, according to the son, they were held there against their will, with only one of his sisters being allowed to leave.

Tehran never bothered to take such reports seriously. It was playing its own game of which few outside the deep corridors of power in Iran knowing exactly what was going on. The latest US charge that Iran and Al Qaeda has a “secret” deal between themselves was duly reported by the US and international media, but little effort seems to have been exerted to substantiate it or try to find out the source upon which the allegation was based.

In any event, the US and Iran appeared to have had an agreement, some parts of it secret and others in the public domain, According to former US officials, Iran had complained that Al Qaeda fighters were sneaking into Iranian territory across the border from Afghanistan after the Taliban were toppled and that it was becoming very difficult to secure Iran’s borders with Afghanistan (950 kilometres) and Pakistan (700 kilometres).

According to the former officials, Iran detained hundreds of suspected Al Qaeda operatives, sent out as many of them to their countries of origin as possible. The Iranian government also sought US assistance in how to deal with detainees whose governments did not want to co-operate, but the then US administration of George W Bush denied the request.

A report appearing in the website last week observed: “Over the course of 2002 and early 2003, Bush administration hardliners made substantive discussion and co-ordination with Iran over Iraq dependent on Tehran finding, arresting, and deporting a small number of specific Al Qaeida figures — beyond the hundreds of suspected Al Qaeda operatives the Islamic Republic had already apprehended — that Washington suspected had sought refuge in Iran’s lawless Sistan-Balochistan province.

“Although Tehran deployed additional security forces to its eastern borders, Iranian officials acknowledged that a small group of Al Qaeda figures had managed to avoid capture and enter Iranian territory, most likely through Sistan-Balochistan, in 2002. The Iranian government located and took some of these individuals into custody and said that others identified by the United States were either dead or not in Iran.

“At the beginning of May 2003, after Baghdad had fallen, Tehran offered to exchange the remaining Al Qaeda figures in Iran for a small group of MEK (Mujahedeen e-Khalq rebel) commanders in Iraq, with the treatment of those repatriated to Iran monitored by the International Committee for the Red Cross and a commitment not to apply the death penalty to anyone prosecuted on their return. But the Bush administration rejected any deal.”

Ultimately, the US cut off the co-operation with Iran over Al Qaeda in May 2003 and officials said the move came based on suspicions that an Al Qaeda figure in Iran was involved in a bombing in Saudi Arabia. Those suspicions were never confirmed, but the US did not resume its contact with Iran. It was as if the Bush administration was anxious to terminate its contact with Tehran. However, Bush administration officials stopped short of making a direct charge that Tehran was helping Al Qaeda carry out extremist actions. And now it is puzzling why the administration of US President Barack Obama now wants to break from that practice.

While the situation largely reminiscent of the way the former administrations built the case for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, we simply don’t believe that Washington wants to wage war on Iran. Surely Iran itself should be raking its brains over the motivations behind the new “revelations.”
The author, a former jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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