MEMRI translates a rather jolting interview conducted on March 26th with the leader of the Iraq chapter of Hamas, which has tried to reach out to their potential Sunni insurgent allies in the western provinces. Ahmad Salah al-Din told a Qatari newspaper that al-Qaeda in Iraq has received most of its funding, weapons, and training not from fellow Sunnis but from the Shi’ites of Iran. They have fought AQI and discovered the evidence themselves:

Salah Al-Din accused Al-Qaeda of being subservient to Iran, [claiming] that they had [extensive] evidence to that effect. He said: ‘We found Iranian [currency], toman, at an Al-Qaeda headquarters that we uncovered. We have also captured Iranian weapons, not to mention audio and video recordings containing announcements by Al-Qaeda fighters that they had received training in Iranian military camps and that Al-Qaeda wounded were being transported to Iran for medical treatment.’

This will come as a shock to those who keep believing that Shi’ites and Sunnis cannot cooperate in terrorist activities. Of course, the intelligence and military communities already know that Iran funds AQI as well as the Mahdi Army, mostly to destabilize the elected government of Iraq. They want a theocracy headed by their puppet Moqtada al-Sadr, but they’ll settle for a failed state they can control through violence and collapse.

Tehran, however, has found itself disappointed in its investment, especially since they had to rescue AQI’s leader:

Salah Al-Din claimed that Al-Qaeda’s real commander [in Iraq] was Abu Ayub Al-Masri, and that [Abu ‘Omar] Al-Baghdadi [2] was an Iraqi figure to whom many [words and deeds] are attributed solely to create the impression that [Al-Qaeda is a genuinely] Iraqi organization. He said that [Abu Ayub] Al-Masri had been rescued from arrest by an Arab intelligence apparatus using a diplomatic vehicle belonging to the Iranian Embassy… Salah Al-Din explained that as of late, Al-Qaeda in Iraq had considerably diminished in size – so much so that today it can be said to constitute 15 percent of what it was a year ago, [and that therefore, even] if Al-Qaeda has begun launching suicide operations, these [operations] are not proof of its strength…’

Hamas therefore corroborated what the American military has said ever since the beginning of the surge — that the new strategy and tactics has all but defeated AQI. They remain in Iraq, mostly north of Baghdad in Mosul, but their strength is gone. Even suicide operations won’t restore their confidence, and even if it did, they can’t afford to lose more of their personnel. Recruitment has fallen off so badly that suicide operations get left to hostages and women.

And Hamas speaks for many Arabs in the region when Din points out the real long-term threat in the region:

Salah Al-Din stated, in the name of Hamas-Iraq: ‘The U.S. is our main enemy, but a more dangerous enemy is Iran. The U.S. wants [our] oil, and possibly it wants to establish military bases [on our soil], or to remain [in Iraq] for many years to come – while Iran wants to rule, [and] to eradicate and change [our] beliefs and ideas, [and] aspires to alter the demography of the Sunni regions, particularly Baghdad.’

Not even the radicals think we want to colonize Iraq. In fact, Din manages to escape the normal conspiracy-theory thinking of Arab radicals in this analysis. Americans want oil and stability and a governing process that disarms radicalism. The Iranians want to put Sunnis under their thumb and eventually rule the entire region as a new, Persian Shi’ite caliphate. The real danger comes from Tehran and not from Washington, especially for radical Sunnis.

That’s why Din opposes AQ as well. Before Abu Musab al-Zarqawi aligned himself with Osama bin Laden, his goals mirrored those of Hamas: Sunni independence in Iraq and the ejection of the Americans. Afterwards, AQI adopted AQ’s deeply radical Islamist bent and started declaring Iraqis heretics, including most of its Sunnis. When Zarqawi reached room temperature, it only got worse, and Din said that Iraqi Sunnis and not Americans became their primary targets. An alliance with Iran under those conditions not only doesn’t sound impossible, it became completely sensible.

The next time someone suggests a connection between Iran and AQI, perhaps people will take better care not to roll their eyes. Jules Crittenden has more.