US funds terror groups to
sow chaos in Iran
By William Lowther in Washington DC and Colin
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
The operations are controversial because they involve dealing with movements
that resort to terrorist methods in pursuit of their grievances against the
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
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
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
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
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 of damage."
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
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 possibility.
"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