Iraqâ€™s former defence chief tells Robert Winnett he warned of the Iranian threat
Lucky to be alive after 15 attempts on his life and accused of fraud by his former colleagues, Shalan warned last week that the country is gradually being taken over by Iran with devastating potential consequences.
Talking exclusively to The Sunday Times, he said that the Iranians influence the Iraqi police and army and even the interim government.
More than 460 Iranian intelligence agents have been captured in the country, but many thousands more are openly operating, he said.
According to Shalan, the Iranian intelligence service began infiltrating Iraq two months before the allied invasion.
When Saddam began withdrawing troops from outlying regions to protect Baghdad, Iranian intelligence officers â€œentered through the desert, between 200 and 250 of them carrying just Kalashnikovs and light communication equipmentâ€.
After the invasion, the infiltrators reported back to Tehran that American troops were busy providing critical services such as water, food and medical assistance to Iraqis.
â€œThe Iranians decided there was an opportunity to send large numbers of people very quickly into Iraq. Thousands of Iranians and Iraqi exiles who had joined the militia in Iran began arriving with money to buy houses,â€ said Shalan.
They sought positions of influence on the new councils and other bodies being formed.
Iranian intelligence then started to give out small cash gifts to Iraqis who agreed to co-operate by voting for certain candidates or taking part in local demonstrations, said Shalan. He also claimed that Iraqis were â€œrecruitedâ€ for military training.
â€œThe Iranians began taking people to camps just over the border in the Diyala desert region,â€ he said. â€œIn these camps the Iraqis were being taught military or terrorist techniques; but there was also a very strong religious element. Thousands of men from Najaf, Karbala, Diwaniyah, Basra were being brainwashed, turned into extremists and taught to fight. They were paid between $100 and $200 a month.â€
Shalan said he set up an undercover team to infiltrate the camps and report back. He compiled evidence that recruits returning to Iraq were joining the local police forces and army. He said he sent the analysis to his contacts in American military intelligence.
During 2004, according to Shalan, the â€œsituation developed moreâ€. The Iranians began targeting Shiâ€™ite officers in the army and police who were offered payments of $300 a month to attend courses with the Iranian army in Tehran.
Shalan was by now the defence minister on the interim Iraqi governing council and infiltrated the courses with undercover agents. They discovered 15 Iraqi army officers from Basra, three from Nasiriya and 20 from Amarah undergoing training. â€œIn September 2004 I sent the information to American military intelligence,â€ said Shalan. â€œI warned them: they are being trained to attack you.â€
Artillery trailers, howitzers, grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikovs â€” all bearing Iranian symbols â€” were intercepted while being smuggled into Iraq.
Under interrogation, a â€œfailedâ€ suicide bomber revealed the existence of an Iranian car bomb factory a few hundred metres from the Iraqi border at the closest point to Baghdad.
â€œIt was incredibly sophisticated,â€ said Shalan. â€œThey were using cars with two fuel tanks and converting one tank into a bomb.â€
At the end of 2003, a captured Iranian colonel revealed another factory near the border in southern Iran which made remote-control bombs. He claimed that more than 3,000 had been smuggled into Iraq. This was corroborated by other intelligence, said Shalan.
He believes that the Iranians have two aims: to ensure Iraq becomes a religious state over which they have influence or control, and to keep the Americans under pressure.