By Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed
Paradoxically, Iran, an extremist theocratic Shiite regime with Ahmadinejad at its helm, is orchestrating and funding the activities of extremist Sunnis in the region.
The paradox is most striking in the case of Al-Qaeda, the most extremist Sunni organization, which has joined, in the full sense of the word, the Iranian apparatus. The alliance between the two enemies began in the wake of the defeat of Al-Qaeda and the organization's flight from Afghanistan to all Sunni countries. The first group of Al-Qaeda, which was led by Egyptian national Saif Al-Adel, and included Saad bin Laden, Osama bin Laden's son, fled to Iran immediately after the fall of the Taliban regime.
I do not know whether the first group of Al-Qaeda entered Iran by mistake, after its members roamed aimlessly in the rugged mountainous region on the Pakistani-Afghan border, or as a result of contacts who arranged for the Iranian hosting. We were initially puzzled by the rumours that Iran had arrested a group of fleeing Al-Qaeda members who crossed its border from Afghanistan, only to realize later that the story had far deeper implications. The investigators of the attack that Al-Qaeda carried out in Riyadh found evidence indicating that the operation came from Iran and that the perpetrators were Al-Qaeda members. This was confirmed after satellite mobile telephone recordings were discovered between Saif Al-Adel and the Saudi commander of the group. The communication clearly showed that the call originated in Iran.
Those concerned with this were surprised because Iran did not deny the call, but quickly admitted that it had a number of Al-Qaeda members in a certain prison. It justified the incident by saying that the group members perhaps broke the rules of their hosting. Crude though it was, the justification might have been deliberate. Perhaps Iran wanted to tell concerned parties that it was now in control of Al-Qaeda. In the past four years, the largest number of Al-Qaeda members have made Iran their headquarters. It has even been suggested that Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who some consider to be Al-Qaeda's actual leader, is also being hosted by Iran, as evidenced by his many relaxed audio and video statements, and especially his famous public criticism of the late Al-Qaeda agent in Iraq, Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, for attacking Shiites.
Like any other extremist Sunni organization, Al-Qaeda does not consider Shiites and other Muslim sects to be Sunnis or followers of the Prophet's family, and therefore it must fight against them. I do not want to give further evidence of Iran's pragmatism. It is an extremist, theocratic Shiite regime that holds Sunnis as infidels. Proof of this is that Iran's followers committed massacres and evicted people from their homes in a way unprecedented in Iraq's history. Iran today wants to attain its goals regardless of the weapons used. It funds and sponsors all extremist Sunni groups like the Palestinian Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other extremist Sunni groups in north Lebanon and North Africa. It was recently suggested that Iran even supports the Sudanese Justice and Equality Movement, which attempted to stage a coup against Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir's regime. I still doubt the veracity of this story.
Regrettably, in politics Shiite and Sunni extremism and differences are being used. The differences between Shiites and Sunnis were originally acceptable in an ideological framework, although I maintain that differences are fabricated. I do not rule out the possibility of a dispute erupting in the future between Iran and Iraqi Shiites, because Tehran aims to dominate Iraq. If it tries to control Iraq, Iran will clash with major forces in Iraq. Those who wager on political sectarianism had better think hard before they are shocked by the realities of political opportunism.
* Published in the London-based ASHARQ ALAWSAT on June 20, 2008. Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed, general manager of Al-Arabiya News Channel. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine, Al Majalla.
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