|US funds terror groups to sow chaos in Iran
By William Lowther in Washington DC and Colin Freeman
Telegraph" -- -- America is secretly funding
militant ethnic separatist groups in Iran in an attempt to pile
pressure on the Islamic regime to give up its nuclear programme.
In a move that reflects Washington's growing concern with the
failure of diplomatic initiatives, CIA officials are understood
to be helping opposition militias among the numerous ethnic
minority groups clustered in Iran's border regions.
The operations are controversial because they involve dealing
with movements that resort to terrorist methods in pursuit of
their grievances against the Iranian regime.
In the past year there has been a wave of unrest in ethnic
minority border areas of Iran, with bombing and assassination
campaigns against soldiers and government officials.
Such incidents have been carried out by the Kurds in the west,
the Azeris in the north-west, the Ahwazi Arabs in the
south-west, and the Baluchis in the south-east. Non-Persians
make up nearly 40 per cent of Iran's 69 million population, with
around 16 million Azeris, seven million Kurds, five million
Ahwazis and one million Baluchis. Most Baluchis live over the
border in Pakistan.
Funding for their separatist causes comes directly from the
CIA's classified budget but is now "no great secret", according
to one former high-ranking CIA official in Washington who spoke
anonymously to The Sunday Telegraph.
His claims were backed by Fred Burton, a former US state
department counter-terrorism agent, who said: "The latest
attacks inside Iran fall in line with US efforts to supply and
train Iran's ethnic minorities to destabilise the Iranian
Although Washington officially denies involvement in such
activity, Teheran has long claimed to detect the hand of both
America and Britain in attacks by guerrilla groups on its
internal security forces. Last Monday, Iran publicly hanged a
man, Nasrollah Shanbe Zehi, for his involvement in a bomb attack
that killed 11 Revolutionary Guards in the city of Zahedan in
Sistan-Baluchistan. An unnamed local official told the
semi-official Fars news agency that weapons used in the attack
were British and US-made.
Yesterday, Iranian forces also claimed to have killed 17 rebels
described as "mercenary elements" in clashes near the Turkish
border, which is a stronghold of the Pejak, a Kurdish militant
party linked to Turkey's outlawed PKK Kurdistan Workers' Party.
John Pike, the head of the influential Global Security think
tank in Washington, said: "The activities of the ethnic groups
have hotted up over the last two years and it would be a scandal
if that was not at least in part the result of CIA activity."
Such a policy is fraught with risk, however. Many of the groups
share little common cause with Washington other than their
opposition to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose regime they
accuse of stepping up repression of minority rights and culture.
The Baluchistan-based Brigade of God group, which last year
kidnapped and killed eight Iranian soldiers, is a volatile Sunni
organisation that many fear could easily turn against Washington
after taking its money.
A row has also broken out in Washington over whether to
"unleash" the military wing of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), an
Iraq-based Iranian opposition group with a long and bloody
history of armed opposition to the Iranian regime.
The group is currently listed by the US state department as
terrorist organisation, but Mr Pike said: "A faction in the
Defence Department wants to unleash them. They could never
overthrow the current Iranian regime but they might cause a lot
At present, none of the opposition groups are much more than
irritants to Teheran, but US analysts believe that they could
become emboldened if the regime was attacked by America or
Israel. Such a prospect began to look more likely last week, as
the UN Security Council deadline passed for Iran to stop its
uranium enrichment programme, and a second American aircraft
carrier joined the build up of US naval power off Iran's
southern coastal waters.
The US has also moved six heavy bombers from a British base on
the Pacific island of Diego Garcia to the Al Udeid Air Base in
Qatar, which could allow them to carry out strikes on Iran
without seeking permission from Downing Street.
While Tony Blair reiterated last week that Britain still wanted
a diplomatic solution to the crisis, US Vice-President Dick
Cheney yesterday insisted that military force was a real
"It would be a serious mistake if a nation like Iran were to
become a nuclear power," Mr Cheney warned during a visit to
Australia. "All options are still on the table."
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus
Germany will meet in London tomorrow to discuss further punitive
measures against Iran. Sanctions barring the transfer of nuclear
technology and know-how were imposed in December. Additional
penalties might include a travel ban on senior Iranian officials
and restrictions on non-nuclear business.
Additional reporting by Gethin Chamberlain.
© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2007
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