Making the Case for Iran's Involvement in Iraq
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
To learn a little bit more about the Quds Force that President Bush referred to so often in his press conference, we turn now to Karim Sadjadpour. He's an analyst on Iran for the International Crisis Group. And he's spent a lot of time studying the influence of Iran in Iraq.
And Karim Sadjadpour joins us now in the studio. So glad that you're with us.
Mr. KARIM SADJADPOUR (International Crisis Group): My pleasure, Michele.
NORRIS: First, Karim, tell us about this branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard known as the Quds Force. Who are they and what are their responsibilities?
Mr. SADJADPOUR: The Quds Force - Quds in Persian or in Arabic means Jerusalem. And it's a very elite branch of the Revolutionary Guards. We don't know exactly how many they are in number, but I think we're talking about hundreds, not thousands. Revolutionary Guards altogether are about 150,000 troops. And they're a very elite branch, I think they have military activities that would compare to something like the Navy Seals, very elitely trained.
On the other hand, they're also conducting intelligence operations that maybe are akin to more along the lines of the CIA, or the FBI. And the Quds Forces in Iraq are not just operating in terms of the military power and flexing their muscles in that sense, but they're also operating a lot under the scenes, behind the scenes in terms of intelligence, buying support in Iraq, conducting kind of social capital experiments, funding mosques, funding clinics, things like that. So they're very much a versatile force in Iraq.
NORRIS: Almost sounds like - you mentioned the Navy Seals. Almost sounds a bit like the CIA if you were trying to think of an American equivalent.
Mr. SADJADPOUR: Well, they're a combination of a lot of these things, because they - I think they are trained militarily, but at the same time they're trained to conduct these intelligence operations as well. So I think something akin to an elite fighting force which also has this intelligence sound to it as well.
NORRIS: There is also the question of control. We heard the president today say it's not clear exactly who picked up the phone and told them to do what they did. And some U.S. intelligence officials say that the Quds Force would not be doing this kind of thing unless they had approval from top leaders in Tehran. Does that make sense to you?
Mr. SADJADPOUR: What's an extent that does make sense? I mean if we look at the Iranian Constitution similar to the U.S. Constitution, the president of the United States is commander in chief of the U.S. military. Similarly in Iran, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, has constitutional jurisdiction over the Revolutionary Guards. And the Quds Forces are a branch of the Revolutionary Guards, so hierarchically if you look at it, the Quds Forces ultimately do not report to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.
But also, we have to be clear that this is a very dysfunctional regime in Tehran. You have many different types of personalities, many different types of institutions. It's not a dictatorship like Saddam Hussein's Iraq was, where you have one person who's ruling by decree. Iran - the way decisions are made in Iran is very much a consensus building process, so there's an element of dysfunctionality that different institutions of the regime are conducting.
NORRIS: If Iran does want to exercise broad influence throughout the region, where else is the Quds Forces are operating right now?
Mr. SADJADPOUR: Well, in Lebanon, as well. There's been a lot of accusations in the past that Quds Forces has trained Hezbollah. This was an accusation that the Israelis made during the Lebanon war in the summer of 2006. And there's also, you know, concern that Iran has these Quds Forces and Revolutionary Guards well placed in some of the Shiite communities throughout the Persian Gulf. So for example, Saudi Arabia is a very, you know, key country, and the bulk of Saudi Arabia's energy reserves are in the eastern province.
And the eastern province happens to have a Shiite majority population. And there is a concern, for example, that if Saudi Arabia somehow complicit in taking on Iran, if Saudi Arabia joins the United States in confronting Iran's nuclear posture, that Iran have capability to really make life difficult in Saudi's eastern province through these Quds Forces collaborating with local Shiite Saudi population.
NORRIS: Karim, thanks so much for coming in to talk to us.
Mr. SADJADPOUR: Thank you, Michele.
NORRIS: Karim Sadjadpour is an analyst on Iran for the International Crisis Group.
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