Congressional Documents



Executive Summary

Tehran, Baghdad & Damascus: The New Axis Pact

August 10, 1992

The following paper deals with developments, issues and background material related to the creation of a tripartite alliance between Iran, Iraq and Syria in the wake of the Persian Gulf War.


The current escalation of the US confrontation with Iraq, including the threat of the resumption of hostilities, is but one phase in the strengthening of a Tehran-controlled strategic axis stretching from the Mediterranean to Iran. This axis-itself is an integral part of a much larger "Islamic Bloc" that is being consolidated by Tehran and that also includes Sudan and the Muslim countries of central and south Asia.

This bloc is central to a Tehran government that is making plans for a major war in the region and that has built its strategic plans around the assumption that war is inevitable. The primary objectives of this war will be to evict the US from the Muslim world, primarily the Persian Gulf region, and to "liberate Jerusalem." For its part, Syria shares Tehran's political-strategic view and believes that war is virtually imminent. Indeed, Damascus has already concluded that there can be no compromise between Israel and Syria because their respective positions are too far apart to be reconciled (irrespective of the character of government in Jerusalem).

Thus, for Damascus, the peace process is meaningless as far as its contribution to stability in the region is concerned, and is regarded as a strategic facade for a highly efficient campaign by the US to expand and consolidate its position in the Middle East. Therefore, Damascus is convinced that drastic action, likely to include war with Israel, is urgently needed in order to break the deadlock and reverse the strength ening of US influence.

Similarly, the recent crisis with the US over the UN inspections in Baghdad should be examined as part of Iraq's relationship to the Iran-Syria-Iraq alliance. From this perspective, the crisis was a means for Baghdad to prove its loyalty to Tehran and Damascus, as well as an effective method for allowing the latter two states to further solidify and cement the axis by drawing it together under the pressure of a confrontation with the US/UN.

Iraq is the least trusted member of the axis. Yet its mere location as the geographical link between Iran and Syria, makes Iraq a crucial element in Tehran's grand design. Therefore, efforts are being made to transform Baghdad into a loyal and active participant in the Iran-led bloc. The sense of urgency felt by Iran and Syria in this connection is reflected in the decision by Tehran and Damascus to accept Saddam Hussein's remaining in power. In order to ensure Iraq's ability to contribute to a war against Israel, Tehran and Damascus have even aided Saddam Hussein to weather the UN embargo, subvert the sanctions, and rebuild his military power. However, simultaneously, Iran and Syria are actively considering ways to ultimately replace Saddam Hussein with a leader more to their liking.

Saddam Hussein himself is fully aware of Tehran's approach and is responding with a twin-track strategy of his own. On the one hand, Saddam Hussein is eager to demonstrate his loyalty to Tehran and the axis. Toward that end, Baghdad has announced its willingness to participate in the anticipated war with Israel. At the same time, Saddam Hussein demonstrates his resolve to remain in power by actively purging suspicious elements in the military, (where the most dangerous challenge comes from pro-Syrian Ba'athists), and by suppressing the Shi'ites in order to deprive Tehran of the core of any popular uprising against his regime.

Ultimately, through this convoluted process of power posturing and the pursuit of seemingly contradictory goals, a strategic alliance is emerging along the lines of the axis advocated by Tehran. The ramifications of this development is that the Middle East is rapidly sliding toward a war that will be instigated by Tehran.

* * *

The axis concept itself, and its central role in a major war with Israel, are not new. In fact, the axis concept was a cornerstone of Khomeyni's grand design for an Islamist Middle East led by Tehran. By late-1981/early-1982, Ayatollah Khomeyni believed that the Islamic Revolution would be both secure and capable of exporting the Islamist revolution only if Iran constituted the core of a regional bloc. Former Iranian President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr pointed out that Khomeyni was contemplating "an 'Islamic belt in the Middle East,' a group of Shi'ite countries under his heel that would include Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon." Suffice it to say, it was impossible for Tehran to establish such an axis during its war with Iraq.

However, with the end of the Iran-Iraq war and the rejuvenation of a region-wide confrontational approach toward the US, albeit initially led by Iraq, Tehran's active interest in implementing Khomeyni's axis concept was revived. Thus, in the spring of 1990, Saddam Hussein contemplated a call for an All-Islamic Jihad against the Great Satan for the destruction of Israel and the restoration of a Khomeyni-style traditional Islamic rule over the Holy Shrines in Jerusalem, Mecca, and Medina. Such a formulation of the objectives of Jihad would have markedly expanded popular support for Saddam Hussein's Great War. Indeed, Baghdad believed that such a grand design would prove too popular for Tehran and Damascus to ignore.

Thus, strategic agreement was reached between Baghdad and Tehran (then speaking also for Damascus) in the summer of 1990. Subsequently, in mid-June 1990, Barazan al-Takriti, Saddam Hussein's half-brother and Iraq's ambassador to Switzerland, personally negotiated the cooperation and coordination of terrorist and procurement operations in Europe with Cyrus Naseri, special representative of Hashemi-Rafsanjani. During the negotiations, Tehran insisted that support and assistance for crucial elements of the Iraqi war effort must come within the context of addressing the strategic posture in the region in which Iran and Syria were to be accorded a greater role and power.

The results of these deliberations were codified in a formal secret pact signed by Iran and Iraq on 28 July 1990. Subsequently, on August 15, Baghdad recognized and handed to Tehran a strategic victory in the Iran-Iraq War. The Iraqi agreement with Iran called for Tehran to provide Baghdad with vital support without becoming directly involved in a Gulf conflict. This grand design was supported wholeheartedly by Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Hafiz al-Assad.

However, ultimately, on the eve of the Persian Gulf War, Iran pulled out of the deal because Tehran doubted Iraq's ability to deliver strategic gains, and because of a lingering mistrust of Saddam Hussein's intentions. Thus, as the ensuing war instigated by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was unfolding, both Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Assad saw no reason why a Takriti Sunni, that is Saddam Hussein, should lead and dominate a popular Jihad. Subsequently, Tehran decided against supporting Saddam Hussein's war plans because of Iraq's failure to launch a surprise attack on the US-led coalition in late-December 1990 and its subsequent adoption of a passive strategy.

Tehran and Damascus had grave doubts as to Baghdad's ability to carry out their joint world-wide terrorist campaign and therefore ordered their terrorist networks not to support Iraq. Thus, Iran stayed out of the conflict, but only after Tehran had convinced Baghdad to deploy to Iran many of Iraq's strategic reserves, such as the aircraft, tanks and artillery - weapons that are currently being used by the Iranians. For its part, Syria even went so far as to send a token force to Saudi Arabia to cover its own position.

However, despite these moves by Syria and Iran, Iraq remained committed to the axis alliance. Indeed, by early-1991, Saddam Hussein believed this strategy was his only viable option after he made the decision to absorb the US first strike and remain on the defensive. Baghdad gambled that the combination of an American threat to the Shi'ite Holy Shrines in Najaf and Qarbalah, and a call for a Shi'ite-dominated Jihad would be too volatile for Tehran and Damascus to avoid and would therefore assure him of their ultimate support.

In the event, searching deliberations took place in Tehran in January 1991 about the possibility of reversing policy and of joining with Iraq in the war against the US. However, Tehran ultimately decided not to be distracted from its pursuit of an alliance dominated by itself. Thus, Iran avoided participation in the fighting.

(Tehran's commitment to the consolidation of the strategic axis constituted a major reason for Iran's half-hearted support of the Shi'ite uprising in southern Iraq in the spring of 1991. This lack of assistance came despite long standing Iranian support for Iraq's Shi'ite militants and the close affinity between the Iraqi Shi'ite elite and the mullahs in Tehran, many of whom-had received shelter in Najaf and Qarbalah during the Shah's reign.)

* * *

Thus, by mid-1991, all the main powers of the Middle East were rethinking their regional strategic posture. The Islamic Bloc dominated by Tehran and Damascus was emerging as the dominant power in the region and was joined by the ex-Soviet Central Asian republics, Afghanistan and Pakistan. This gave the "Islamic Bloc" unprecedented power in the Near East. At the same time, as far as the Arab world was concerned, this bloc was not very different from the alliance advocated by Saddam Hussein on the eve of, and during, the first phase of the Persian Gulf War. Therefore, Baghdad could link up with the Islamic Bloc ostensibly without Saddam Hussein's loosing face. Consequently, by the end of 1991, the Islamic Bloc had become the key to Iraq's ability to survive under the U.N. sanctions.

Indeed, as early as the spring of 1991, Baghdad in effect recognized Tehran as the region's dominant power. The Iraqi approach to dealing with Tehran and its allies was the outcome of a profound change in Baghdad's reading of the situation in the region. Having realized that the UN sanctions would not be lifted any time soon, Baghdad moved from pursuing ad-hoc arrangements aimed at overcoming short-term problems to seeking a long-term posture and commitments that would enable Iraq to function for the long term in a hostile world climate.

Thus, Iraq realized that Iran and Syria constituted the key to any long-term importation of military assistance, crucial to keeping Saddam Hussein in power. The use of Iran and Syria as the ports of entry for all forms of sanction-busting imports remains beneficial to Iraq because there is no Western oversight in these countries and both are hostile to the US and in cooperation with all international bodies. In-pursuing this option, Baghdad is fully aware of the extremely high strategic price it has to pay for securing these lines of communication.

In the meantime, Sudan has emerged as an instrumental intermediary in the negotiation of the new Iran-Iraq strategic deal. During the Gulf Crisis, Sudan was one of Iraq's closest allies and, in fact, a large Iraqi expeditionary force for the seizure of Islam's Holy Shrines in the Hijaz and the blocking of the Red Sea was deployed there. This was the outgrowth of the coming to power, in 1991, of Hassan al-Turabi and the Muslim Brotherhood, who transformed Sudan into an Islamic Republic, thereby naturally shifting its allegiance to Iran in the process.

Thus, in due course, the first meaningful contacts between Iran and Iraq were revived in Khartoum in April 1991. Iranian officials discussed issues concerning cross-border trade with Iraqi intelligence officials concealed among representatives of an Iraqi Trade Union delegation then participating in a conference in Khartoum. In these discussions, Sa'ad al-Takriti emerged as a major figure in the Sudanese-Iranian-Iraqi negotiations. A longtime colleague of al-Turabi, Sa'ad al-Takriti was involved in such clandestine operations as the financing of the Egyptian Islamlist networks via Sudan.

These tripartite discussions dragged on inconclusively through the summer of 1991 with Tehran insisting on Baghdad's recognition of the new strategic realities in the region before any specific agreement could be reached. Meanwhile, however, Iran gradually reduced its support for the Shi'ite and Kurdish uprisings in Iraq, thus demonstrating good faith.

A turning point took place when a high-level delegation arrived from Baghdad to the terrorist conference in Tehran on 19-22 October 1991. (For details see TF Report on Confronting Pax-Americana.) It was more a symbolic gesture, an attempt to placate and appease Tehran, than anything meaningful. Indeed, the Iranian leadership still did not trust Baghdad, and left no doubt about it by giving prominence to the Shi'ite organization SAIRI. However, the Iraqi delegation held some closed-door meetings with Iranian officials which allowed them to get the measure of the Iraqis after all the strained relations of the past.

Meanwhile, the final transformation of Sudan into an Iranian fiefdom was completed in mid-December 1991 during a visit to Khartoum by a large Iranian delegation led by Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and 157 other senior officials including: Ali Akbar Velayati (Foreign Minister), Akbar Torkan (Minister of Defense and C.O. Military), Ali Fallahian (C.o. Intelligence), Muhsin Reza'i (C.O. IRGC), Zulradr' (C.o.S. IRGC), Gholam Reza Foruzesh (Minister of Construction Jihad), Abdol Hussayn Vahaji (Minister of Commerce), and Massud Roghani-Zanjani (head of budget office).

It was during Hashemi-Rafsanjani's visit that the Sudanese, led by al-Turabi and General Bashir, finally broke the ice and mediated the beginning of a new strategic realignment between Tehran and Baghdad. The first indication of a fundamental change in Iran's position came on 24 December 1991 when Tehran demanded that the new Gulf Security Body should include both Iran and Iraq if it was to truly represent the interests of the region's countries. Tehran was fully aware that problems would persist for as long as Saddam Hussein remained in power and stated so. However, Tehran argued, on the overall balance, when comparing the threat of a US presence and the ramifications of a regional power vacuum, it was still preferable to have a genuine regional security organization free of external influences.

Meanwhile, although Bishari and Hashemi-Rafsanjani had already discussed the Iranian-Iraqi arrangement in principle during the latter's visit in Khartoum in mid-December, it was only after Tehran's statement of its strategic priorities that the negotiations began to move with Sudan acting as the mediator between Iran and Iraq. On 29 December 1991, Gen. Iyad Futayyih al-Rawi, the Iraqi Chief of Staff, arrived in Khartoum to negotiate the transfer of several Iraqi military assets in Sudan to the Sudanese and Iranian forces in return for an Iranian role in lifting the blockade against Iraq. Discussing the Iraqi visit, Maj.Gen. Muhammad Abdallah Uwaydah of the Sudanese General Staff, emphasized "the need to lift the economic blockade against steadfast Iraqi people and their Army" as one of the primary issues discussed in Khartoum.

In the meantime, the changes in the strategic realities in Sudan were reflected almost immediately when Iran announced its support of 25 Iraqi military advisers stationed in the Juba area of southern Sudan, whose arrival brought the total number of Iraqi military advisers to about 100. these Iraqi experts operate within a force dominated by Iranian Pasdaran and Afghan Mujahideen who came to "fight the infidels and purify Sudan." Moreover, in the final phases of the Sudanese offensive against the SPLA, Iraqi pilots flew against the rebels in support for Iranian-led offensive.

Thus, by early-1992, in return for consolidating its strategic hegemony over Sudan, Tehran agreed in principle to supply Iraq with weapons, and to serve as a port of entry for weapons purchased in the ex-USSR, the PRC, and the DPRK, as well as industrialized goods and food. Moreover, Iran and Syria agreed to serve as a major outlet for Iraq's oil. For its part, Baghdad guaranteed uninterrupted land and air traffic for weapons and other equipment between Iran and Syria. Thus, for example, the North Korean SCUD-derivatives purchased for Syria are being shipped to Iran, from where they are being delivered to Syria via northern Iraq. Similar arrangements exist for the large quantities of tanks and self-propelled artillery Syria purchased with Iranian funds in Russia and eastern Europe.

Meanwhile, the most visible aspect of the Iranian-Iraqi deal was the improvement in Syrian-Iraqi relations. In the second half of December 1991, while the Khartoum negotiations were in an advanced stage, Saddam Hussein sent Hafiz al-Assad a message with Barazan al-Takriti, proposing several ways of cooperation against their "common enemies." Saddam Hussein encouraged and hailed Assad's strong position in the negotiations with Israel and his commitment to confronting it under all conditions. Saddam Hussein implied, and, reportedly, Barazan al-Takriti stated it even more explicitly, that Syria should lead the Arab world in a confrontation with Israel. Soon afterward, the Iraqi trade minister met with the Syrian economy and foreign trade minister to institutionalize the rapidly growing volume of trade between the two countries. Meetings in Cairo between the Iraqi oil minister and the Syrian oil and minerals minister followed soon afterward.

Subsequently, cross-border commercial activity began in December 1991. In the first month alone, Iraq exported to Syria some petro-chemicals while consumer goods, mainly clothes, and processed food from Lebanon and Syria were shipped to Iraq. In early-1992, these commercial activities were institutionalized with the opening of two border crossing posts called al-Walid and Abu Kamal. Consequently, as of the spring of 1992, goods from Syria and Lebanon "have been increasingly evident in Iraqi markets."

Thus, in March 1992, both Damascus and Tehran began articulating their new positions concerning relations with Iraq. "The situation is currently completely different than the situation during the Gulf War," the Beirut Al-Havat mouth-pieced for Damascus. "Kuwait was liberated, and therefore there is no justification for the use of force against Iraq." By then, President Assad had accepted assurances from Tariq Aziz that Iraq would not challenge Syria's position in the Arab world.

In the meantime, in mid-March, the Tehran Times, which is usually affiliated with Hashemi-Rafsanjani, blasted the United Nations embargo on Iraq as serving only the interests of the US. "The continuing imposition of sanctions against Iraq can only be said to be due to the resulting failure of the US-led policy to deal effectively with Saddam Hussein." Tehran added that under current conditions, Saddam Hussein remained fairly stable, facing no danger of being toppled by the sanctions. Tehran also emphasized that the only reason for keeping the sanctions imposed is President Bush's need for an election year achievement. In other words, since the sanctions were helping Washington, Iran's interest was in their several areas, primarily economic (money laundering, acquisition of militarily useful goods, shipment to the Middle East, etc.) and international terrorism, in Europe. Several outstanding specific problems concerning diversified clandestine activities in Western Europe were largely solved and common modes of operation were outlined in the meeting.

The next meeting took place in mid-May in the same border location as the first one. Its stated objective was to complete the text of the new Iran-Iraq Strategic Treaty as well as numerous sub-agreements. The Iraqi delegation included Ali Hassan al-Maj (Defense Minister), Qusayy Saddam Hussein, Barazan al-Takriti, and Sa'dun Hammadi. The Iranian delegation was led by Hussayn Bahramani and Mahmud Baharamani Rafsanjani. Apparently, not all of the expected agenda was completed in this session primarily because of the extent of the Iranian demands. It was therefore decided to solve these issues in a series of follow-up meetings that are still taking place. Meanwhile, high-level Sudanese officials were sent to Baghdad to put additional pressure on Saddam Hussein.

Meanwhile, both Iran and Iraq agreed that other issues of mutual interest would be dealt with by a joint mini-summit and several committees in Khartoum. In order to improve the secrecy of these strategic negotiations, it was agreed that most of the on-going discussions between senior officials be conducted in Khartoum as if via the embassies.

By the second half of May 1992, the Strategic Treaty was already completed in principle. Originally the leaders of Iran and Iraq were to personally ratify and sign it, thus symbolizing the new era of mutual relations. However, a few minor differences relating to some of the sub-agreements remained. Meanwhile, Tehran had its doubts about the prudence of legitimizing Saddam Hussein through a joint signing session, albeit a secret one, with Hashemi-Rafsanjani. Therefore, Tehran used the outstanding minor differences as an excuse not to formally sign the Treaty. However, the Strategic Treaty is already agreed upon and is implemented for all intents and purposes.

Meanwhile, Syria's agreement to open border posts on the Iraqi border and help in exporting Iraqi oil through the Syrian pipeline and under Syrian designation became part of the larger strategic agreement. In early-May 1992, Hafiz al-Assad held several meetings with the visiting Sudanese President Bashir, who was acting as a mediator, concerning the improvement of relations with Iraq. Soon afterward, an agreement to "restore fraternal relations" between Syria and Iraq was reached. In return for Syrian assistance to "lift the ... blockade" on Iraq, Baghdad would resume its role as a "strategic depths for Syria, rendering any possible help during a war with Israel. The Syrian-Iraqi agreement is based upon the Iran-Iraq agreement that had also been mediated with Sudanese help.

Thus, by mid-May 1992, Iran and Iraq were already in effect implementing, and formally on the verge of signing, a major Strategic Treaty that both picked up where their pre-Gulf Crisis agreement left off, and added specific arrangements to cope with the ramifications of the "New World Order" in the Persian Gulf. On the basis of assurances from Tehran and Damascus, Baghdad is convinced that irrespective of the threats from Washington, there will be an escalation in the confrontation with Iraq, including perhaps tactical military strikes, but not an all out war initiated by the US and its allies. Furthermore, the treaty provides an opportunity to rebuild Iraq's economy and military might with the active support of Iran and Syria as part of their consolidation of a confrontation Al anti-US axis. Most important in this context are the Iraqi military procurements from the PRC and the DPRK to be delivered via Iran. Sophisticated weapon systems, such as F-7 fighters and anti-shipping/cruise missiles, top the Iraqi wish list.

Further refinements and clarifications of some aspects of the implementation of the strategic cooperation agreement between Iraq and Iran took place in Baghdad in late-June 1992. 'Ali Khorram, a special envoy of Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, arrived in Baghdad carrying special letters from the Iranian leaders to their Iraqi counterparts. The messages delivered covered Tehran's "desire to promote bilateral relations" with Baghdad, Iranian support for the Iraq "removing the dust of the Atlantic-Zionist aggression" and "their great achievements in the field of reconstruction," as-well as solving outstanding issues concerning Iraqi POWs from the Iran-Iraq War.

Simultaneously, after Bashir and Assad agreed on Syria's new policy toward Iraq, the Sudanese Chief of General Staff, Gen. Abd-al-Rahman Ali, travelled to Baghdad in mid-May to finalize the conditions of the new "heroic pan-Arab posture" between Iraq and its neighbors. The Sudanese military delegation then continued to Tehran, bringing with them Iraqi responses. Gen. Abd-al-Rahman Ali met with Hashemi-Rafsanjani to discuss these issues. (The expansion of the Iranian military presence in Sudan was also discussed during this visit.)

* * *

By mid-June, a comprehensive, well defined anti-US strategy was being articulated by members of the Axis. These statements were characterized by a strong emphasis on the idea that there could be no compromise with the US. For example, the Tehran Jahan-i Islam stressed that US policy "is actually aimed at annihilating the [Islamic] Revolution and gradually dissolving the Iranian system." Confronted with such a threat, Iranians "are not prepared to retreat even an inch in their anti-Zionist positions and in their support for Muslims and the deprived. They will do their best to fight against the mischief, machinations, and plundering of the hegemonistic US Government."

At this time, Syria was already fully committed to an anti-US strategy. Damascus considered the inevitable struggle in the region to be an integral part of a global assault by the US on the Third World. Indeed, in late-June, the authoritative al-Ba'ath newspaper pointed out that "World War III began with the Malta summit and has not yet ended. Civil, ethnic, and border wars are the bullets of World War III which will not end before every US ministry becomes a ministry of the whole world." Therefore, Damascus concluded, "it is not in the US interest for the wars raging in several parts of the world come to end because US control requires continuing tension. This is what makes the United States not serious about solving the Middle East crisis."

Damascus thus concluded that there was no escape from active participation in a war against the US. "In order not to lose the right and the future we have to give priority to our pan-Arab issues, prove to the world that we are a nation whose stage of division is over, and that we will not be the victim of the new world and the division caused by the Third [World] War which began with the Malta summit, and whose chapters have not ended yet," concluded al-Ba'ath. Thus, for Damascus, the Strategic Axis dominated by Iran and Syria, and the entire Islamic Bloc, is the primary instrument for waging this World War III.

As for Iran, its new regional strategy and posture was reflected in its analysis of the Gulf War and its aftermath. In late-June, the Tehran Abrar newspaper defined the Gulf War as an "expansionist attack by American armed forces" on Iraq. Tehran concluded that despite all the Western sanctions and subversion attempts since the war, the Saddam Hussein regime has proved its ability to survive. Abrar reiterated Tehran's commitment to regional collective security with Iran as the local hegemonic power and then suggested that Iraq be a major part of such a regional arrangement provided that the principles of the Saddam Hussein regime be changed, though not the regime itself. Such an Iraq, "in view of its considerable potential capability, ... can also complement this chain of regional cooperation."

Later, in early-July, Jomhuri-ye Islami warned against the dismemberment of Iraq by any ethnic group and stated that such efforts "should not be tolerated" by Tehran. Tehran pointed out that "Iraq is not the personal fiefdom of Saddam or his Ba'athist regime," and thus strategic realities must not be based on the quality of a specific regime in Baghdad. "Iran condemns and will not accept any efforts to Balkanize Iraq," Jomhuri-ye Islami stated, and warned that "hatred of Saddam and his Ba'athist regime is certainly not a justification to endorse the disintegration of the Islamic land of Iraq." (It is noteworthy that this resolute position of Tehran is emphasized at the very time that Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are openly contemplating the advisability of the dismemberment of Iraq along ethnic lines as the only viable means of toppling Saddam Hussein and reducing the Iraqi military threat.)

Subsequently, Baghdad's newly found self-confidence was made clear in a two-part al-Jumhuriyah article by Barazan al-Takriti. Iraq's claim for the territory of Kuwait was revived as a component of a long-term regional arrangement based on "redrawing the political map of the Arabian Peninsula. The current GCC must accept this change if it wants to last and survive." Barazan al-Takriti explained, adding that in this context "it will be difficult for Kuwait to preserve its [territorial] integrity in the future because that would necessitate keeping Iraq in a weakened state." Iraq, however, is already rapidly rebuilding its military might, ready to facilitate and defend the "reintegration of Kuwait into Iraq" because "Iraq will never forget that Kuwait is part of its territory."

Barazan al-Takriti stressed that Iran was no longer a threat to Iraq. "Differences with Iran will be solved; and another war with Iran is not possible," he emphasized. He also anticipated that the Arab-Israeli conflict will soon be solved once and for all. Such major strategic changes will come in the aftermath of the "expansion" of the GCC to include greater ["unified"] Syria and Jordan in the organization.

Meanwhile, the final negotiations of the strategic agreements between Iran, Iraq and Syria were agreed to in early-July in Khartoum, during the visit of high level delegations to Sudan to commemorate the anniversary of Bashir's coup. The Iranian delegation was led by Dr. Hassan Ghafuri-Fard, Iran's Vice President and ostensibly minister of sports, but in reality a senior intelligence official. He was accompanied by Muhammad Kazem Khonsari, the secretary general of the Horn of Africa and Middle East Department of Iranian Foreign Ministry. (Tehran made distinction that Khonsari was in Khartoum to discuss bilateral relations, thus leaving open the question of Ghafuri-Fard's main objective.) The Iraqi delegation was headed by Deputy President Taha Yassin Ramadan and State Minister for Foreign Affairs Muhammad Sa'id al-Sahhaf, both travelling on special instructions from Saddam Hussein. The Syrian delegation was headed by Deputy Premier Zuhayr Mashariqah and Labor Minister Ali Khalil.

While in Khartoum, the Syrians discussed "Arab solidarity to confront threats against the Arab nation" with their Sudanese hosts and other delegations, mainly from Iran and Iraq. Thus, by early-July 1992, the Strategic Axis from the Mediterranean to the Indus was a reality with Iraq accenting Iranian leadership.

* * *

Tehran was quick to outline the principles of the new regional realities. In mid-July 1992, a comprehensive Iranian strategy was defined in a series of articles in the Jahan-i Islam. Tehran considered the unfolding crisis in Iraq, symbolized by the world reaction to the UN attempt to enter the Agriculture Ministry in Baghdad, as a catalyst for a wider confrontation throughout the region. Tehran is most worried about the potential exploitation of the Kurdish problem in order to dismember Iraq. Committed to a prudent and orderly consolidation of the Strategic Axis before it is possible to successfully confront the US and Israel, Tehran is apprehensive about a premature explosion in the region as a result of US policy vis-a-vis Iraq.

Indeed, Tehran is especially concerned that Washington might be pushed to the extreme in dealing with Iraq because of internal politics. The Jahan-i Islam pointed out the US elections factor as a wild card that might bring about an explosion in the region. "Public opinion on Saddam in the West is such that his annihilation can be considered as a humanitarian success for anyone who can achieve it." Bush wants this achievement for himself to maintain his position and credibility among the American public and to defeat his opponent in the presidential elections." Thus, Tehran argues, the US might go to any extreme to ensure the reelection of President Bush even if it destroys the entire region in the process.

Tehran's strategy for dealing with this problem is aimed as both furthering the interests of the Muslim world and confronting the US threat. The prudent implementation of these objectives includes the Iranian realization that the toppling of Saddam Hussein, under any circumstances, will be perceived as a great achievement of Washington, thus rejuvenating US regional policy. Therefore, it is in Tehran's interest to support Saddam Hussein for as long as the US challenge exists. As the Jahan-i Islam concluded, "Invariably, Iran's stance will be of special significance. Defending its strategic principles, Iran should also act in such a way as to avoid strengthening the West's position."

Baghdad extended its own support to the Iranian position. During his speech on the Ba'ath Revolution Anniversary, Saddam Hussein declared Iraqis commitment to, and support for, the regional policies and strategy advocated by Tehran. The speech was largely devoted to surveying the achievements of the Ba'ath regime and its commitment to pan-Arab causes. It included several very important deviations from past phraseology.

Most important was the discussion of foreign, that is US/Western, intervention in the Middle East, where Saddam Hussein attributed the Iran-Iraq War to foreign conspiracies not unlike the conspiracy against Iraq during the Gulf Crisis. "Part of the foreigners' role in the confrontation with Iran in the second al-Qadisiyah and in the foreigners' aggression against us in the Mother of Battles" were aimed at enabling the West to reestablish control over the region and its oil resources, declared Saddam Hussein.

The other key element in Saddam Hussein's speech was his analysis of the situation in the region and the Third world as a whole. Baghdad's position is virtually identical to the strategic analysis that motivated Tehran's quest for an Islamic-Bloc and the Strategic Axis. Saddam Hussein explained that after the collapse of the USSR, the Third World was facing new threats:

"Third World nations and their supporters must strive to get their act together and grapple with the dangers facing them and all of humanity. This is in order for these nations to safeguard human and national rights. Those who are interested among the Arabs ought not to limit themselves to a halfhearted defense in the face of treason, trickery, and foreign ambitions. They must be bolder, franker, and more energetic and committed to a unified position and collective action."

Echoing Tehran's policies, Saddam Hussein warned that under current global conditions, "a lopsidedly powerful United States would be tempted to aspire to a domination of the world. In order for the United States to gain control for longer, controlling Middle East oil and directing the politics of the region are crucial to the promotion of its aspirations." At present, the US is determined to occupy the states of the Arabian peninsula "since they own most oil in the region." A few days later, al-Thawarah, the newspaper of the Ba'ath Party, further elaborated on the themes raised by Saddam Hussein. Al-Thawarah urged "Arabs to escalate their Jihad and wage battles of honor to liberate the nation's territories and free its resources and will of all usurpist and covetous enemies and also of all traitors who are abandoning Arab rights to foreigners and causing weakness, surrender, and treason to prevail." Al-Thawarah identified the Houses of al-Saud and al-Sabah as the arch enemies of the Arab world and urged the peoples of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to topple these regimes.

In another article, al-Thawarah stressed once more that "as a natural extension of Iraqi territory, the area known as Kuwait is part of Iraq." The article stressed that the Middle East is entering a new era of confrontation with the US and, ultimately, of great victories for Islam. Al-Thawarah explained that the Gulf Crisis "closed a chapter in the Arab political life" that had included recognition of the central role of the conservative regimes of the Arabian Peninsula, and opened a new era characterized by a combative alliance to further the cause of Jihad. Although not mentioning Iran and the Axis specifically, this definition hints at the Iraqi shift of loyalty.

Indeed, Baghdad used the "international crisis" over the Agriculture Ministry as an opportunity for Saddam Hussein to demonstrate to Tehran his defiance of the US, as well as his willingness to take risks in the pursuit of a confrontational policy with the US. These actions demonstrated his commitment to pursuing the principles of the Strategic Axis. "The Agriculture Ministry farce left Saddam in place stronger than ever since the Gulf War," a diplomat in Baghdad observed, and Baghdad made a full use of this security to further its strategic objectives. Little wonder that Baghdad calls the incident a "stupendous victory" against the US.

Indeed, Iraqi self-confidence and assertiveness have grown even further since the incident. Thus, on the second anniversary of the invasion of Kuwait, the overriding theme of the Baghdad media was a commitment to return to and annex Kuwait. "It will happen again, InshAllah," was the headline in the Baghdad Babil below a large color photograph of President Saddam Hussein praying in October 1990 on the Kuwait city sea front. "It goes without saying that Kuwait is part of Iraq," stated al-Jumhuriyah. "In the end Kuwait will return to its rightful owners. How and When? History has the answer."

Similarly, in a broadcast on Radio Baghdad, Prime Minister al-Zubaydi hailed 2 August 1990 as "an immortal day, if not the dearest and most glorious day, in the psyche of the Iraqis." He had no doubt that Baghdad would ultimately rule Kuwait. "The return of Kuwait, a usurped territory, to the motherland, Iraq, epitomized the Iraqis' firm national will, apart from allowing one of their dreams to come true," Zubaydi explained. In another editorial, Radio Baghdad called the annexation of Kuwait as Iraq's 19th Province, "the greatest historic epic in the contemporary history of Iraq, one that was crowned with immortal victory with the entry of our valiant armed forces into Kuwait."

Even more emphatic was a declaration by the Iraqi military, indicating that Baghdad had higher strategic priorities other than the mere reoccupation of Kuwait. "Today Iraq is the ferocious rival, the opposite pole of the United States," wrote Abdul Jabbar Mohsin, Saddam Hussein's press secretary, in al-Qadissiyah, the organ of the Defense Ministry. "Iraq's enemies are bewildered. They do not know how to confront Iraq."

Little wonder, therefore, that a diplomat in Baghdad said he was worried by Saddam Hussein's complete confidence that he was stronger than ever since the Gulf War. "When he is like this he tends to come up with disastrous ideas like the war with Iran and the invasion," he explained. "All this makes me wonder what he might be planning next."

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Beyond all of this, the strategic objectives of the Strategic Axis were precisely defined by Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Hussayn Khamene'i in a sermon on July 29. In his sermon, Khamene'i indicated that Tehran accepted Saddam Hussein's explanation of the real guilty party in the Iran-Iraq War. He explained that "during eight years of imposed war the enemy was openly fighting us. In appearance it was Iraq, but behind Iraq-was--the United States, NATO, and all the reactionaries."

The essence of Khamene'i's sermon was to warn Tehran, and the entire Muslim world, that they were on the verge of a fateful confrontation between Islam and the West, a confrontation that might result in the expansion of the Muslim world by force of arms. "Today, in the World of Islam, we are duty-bound to prepare the Islamic people, the Muslim World, and our own people to the highest degree possible. They must be aware, must recognize the enemy, must know their duties. Today, considering the formation of Islamic rule and hoisting the banner of Islam -- an unprecedented event in the history of Islam since its early days -- the Muslims have this capability. We have no right to make a mistake recognizing the enemy today, in recognizing the direction of the onslaught."

If nothing was done, Khamene'i warned, "the Islamic society is in danger." Pointing in the direction of the preferable solution, he urged the listeners to "learn from the early days of Islam," when Muhammad and the first Caliphs led their armies to occupy an Islamic Empire. He stressed that recent experience confirms that Iran was capable of leading the Islamic Bloc, and the entire Muslim world, on a comparable surge. "Our nation is the first nation, which, relying on the Koran and through the slogans of Koran and Islam, was able to defeat the United States and the world of arrogance," Khamene'i reminded his listeners. "We ask Allah to guide us in our difficult struggle in his Path so that we may be able to recognize and understand our duties and responsibilities and continue to advance the paths of the prophets and imams ... and the [Islamic] revolution."

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Between August 5 - 8, Iran and Syria moved to further implement their agreement with Iraq in the course of the latest summit of the Higher Syrian - Iranian Joint Committee devoted to coordinating the policies of both governments. The Iranian delegation headed by Vice-President Hassan Habibi and the Syrian delegation was headed by Vice-President Abd-al-Halim Haddam. Both delegations also met with President Assad. The summit "discussed Tehran-Damascus cooperation in the political, economic and commercial fields, and also exchanged views on important regional developments including the Iraqi situation." They also had meetings and joint sessions with the leaders of the HizbAllah, the PFLP-GC, and other terrorist organizations. Habibi described the outcome of these talks as "good and positive."

At the end of the summit, Damascus emphasized the identity of interests between the two countries, especially concerning Israel. Al-Ba'ath hailed Tehran's commitment to "liberating Jerusalem from the destruction of the Zionist usurper." Al-Ba'ath emphasized the importance of "the firm, joint struggle being waged by Syria and Iran against Zionist ambitions - and - expansionist schemes in the region," and that Syrian-Iranian "strategic relations are becoming more cohesive in the face of [Israel's] Torah dreams." (EDITORS NOTE: Torah is the Hebrew for the Pentateuch. The Syrian article used the Hebrew word in transliteration.) During the summit, Syrian - Iranian "relations have made large strides on the paths of mutual trust and respect and joint objectives under the historic leadership of the struggler President Hafiz al-Assad and the leaders of the Iranian revolution," concluded al-Ba'ath.

On the day that the al-Ba'ath article appeared, al-Thawrah, the paper of the Syrian Government, repeated the apprehension in Damascus of an impending crisis in the Middle East despite the optimism stemming from the peace process. Al-Thawrah defined the new Israeli Government as an "advocate of aggression, not peace." It reiterated the Syrian position on the futility of the peace process and the imminence of war. "All the proposals and trial balloons devised by Rabin and his political aides contribute nothing at all to advancing the peace process." Instead, Israeli policies "are a brandished sword that slaughters peace and that increases tensions in the region, pushing it toward conflagration and war." In conclusion, Al-Thawrah repeated the Syrian commitment to "a comprehensive solution" that, by Arab definition, would amount to the destruction of Israel.

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Imam Khomeyni did not just originate the idea of the Strategic Axis, he also outlined the method of the realization of its objectives. In January 1980, Khomeyni presented his perception of the state of the world. "We are at war against infidels.... I ask all Islamic nations, all Muslims, all Islamic armies and all heads of Islamic states to join the holy war. There are many enemies be killed or destroyed. Jihad must triumph." In a sermon in the summer of 1982, Khomeyni identified his approach to the liberation of Jerusalem: "Our belief is that Muslims should unite and defeat America; they should know that they can do this, and they have many possibilities. America and the West's lifeline depends this region's oil." He then added that "the annihilation of Israel" had always been an objective of his.

- by Yossef Bodansky & Vaughn S. Forrest

(This paper may not necessarily reflect the views of all the Members of the Republican Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. It is intended to provoke discussion and debate.)