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Stratfor report on Iran/Iraq tensions

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Global Intelligence Update
April 16, 1999

Tensions Rise Along Iran-Iraq Border


Iran and Iraq have reportedly redeployed their forces along their 
common border. This move, the first since 1991, builds on 
steadily increasing tensions between the two countries in recent 


The London-based "Al-Zaman" newspaper reported on April 13 that 
both Iran and Iraq have redeployed their troops along their 
common border.  This is reportedly the first time that either 
country has done so since the 1991 Gulf War.  The newspaper's 
sources stated that the situation along the Iran-Iraq border has 
been tense since the Iranian opposition group, the Mojahedin-e 
Khalq Organization (MKO), claimed responsibility for the 
assassination of Lieutenant-General Ali Sayyad-Shirazi. Sayyad-
Shirazi, Iran's Deputy Chief of General Staff and advisor to 
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was assassinated 
in Tehran on April 10.

On April 11, the MKO issued a statement claiming responsibility 
for the assassination of Sayyad-Shirazi.  The group said it 
killed the general as revenge for his role as commander of 
Iranian ground forces during the 1980-88 Gulf War and attacks 
against MKO bases in Iraq.  The last known such attack occurred 
on March 17, when a large explosion was reported at MKO 
headquarters west of Baghdad.

On the same day that the MKO claimed responsibility for the 
attack, the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Iraqi charge 
d'affaires to receive Iran's "strong protest against the Iraqi 
government's support for terrorist activities of the terrorist 
Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization."  The Director-General of the 
Iranian Foreign Ministry's Persian Gulf Department, Ali-Asghar 
Khaji, told the Iraqi diplomat, "Such events would leave negative 
and irreparable impacts on Tehran-Baghdad relations."  Khaji then 
demanded that the Iraqi government offer its explanations on the 

Iraq issued its reply on April 12 in the London-based newspaper, 
"Al-Hayat."  Quoting "an Iraqi diplomatic in Amman," the 
newspaper reported, "Iraq confirmed its willingness to stop the 
Iranian opposition from performing any activities on its 
territory if it encounters from the Iranians a similar commitment 
to stop their support for the Iraqi opposition present on Iranian 
territory."  The diplomat then allegedly denied that the 
murderers of the Iranian general had launched their attack from 
Iraqi territory and said Iraq "hopes that Iran will devote 
attention to the issue of stopping the actions carried out by a 
hireling group that is assassinating officials, citizens and 

This statement was almost certainly a direct reference to the 
Iranian-backed Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq 
(SCIRI). SCIRI has been stepping up its attacks on Iraqi forces 
in the past month, and reports of unrest in southern Iraq 
continue to pour in.  Iraq has blamed SCIRI for the deaths of 
Shiite clerics in Iraq, a charge the group ahs both denied and 
denounced as an attempt to divide Iraq's Shiite opposition.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), the political 
wing of the MKO, apparently issued a reply as well. After an 
eight-day meeting of 542 of the council's 570 members in Baghdad, 
the NCI issued a statement declaring that the Tehran regime is 
"in the process of being overthrown."  The MKO is reported to 
have placed their bases in Mansuriyat al-Jabal, near the Iranian 
border, and Abu Ghurayb, near Baghdad, on alert in anticipation 
of an Iranian retaliatory strike.

Relations between Iran and Iraq have deteriorated recently, with 
increasing unrest in southern Iraq spurred on by a series of 
murders of leading Iraqi Shiite clerics -- most recently 
Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr.  Iraqi Shiites suspect Baghdad 
is behind the killings, and spontaneous civil unrest has been 
bolstered by targeted attacks by SCIRI.  Among these attacks, 
SCIRI reported that Saddam's son, Qusay, was wounded in the head 
during an SCIRI attack on Radwaniyah Palace on March 20.  
Operation Desert Fox was accompanied by a limited Shiite uprising 
as well, and the U.S. has stated its intention to financially 
support the Iraqi opposition.

Neither Iraq nor Iran are likely to abandon their proxy armies, 
and Iran may even retaliate directly for the assassination of 
Sayyad-Shirazi. Iran has, in the past, used planes to strike MKO 
bases within Iraqi territory. As well, SCIRI has been known to 
attack MKO convoys and bases in Baghdad with rockets and mortars, 
and possibly Iranian commandos.  With troops being deployed on 
both sides of the border and proxy strikes raising tensions 
dramatically, risk of Iranian-Iraqi confrontation is rising.


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