News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqBlair suspects Iran's hand in Iraq attacks

Blair suspects Iran’s hand in Iraq attacks


Guardian Unlimited: Tony Blair today warned that “elements of the Iranian regime” were arming insurgents in Iraq after it was confirmed four British troops were killed in Basra last night.
Guardian Unlimited

Mark Oliver

Tony Blair today warned that “elements of the Iranian regime” were arming insurgents in Iraq after it was confirmed four British troops were killed in Basra last night.

As the BA flight carrying the 15 Royal Navy personnel freed by Iran yesterday landed at Heathrow, Mr Blair emerged from No 10 and welcomed their return but said it came as “grieving” began over the four fatalities in Basra.

The British troops were killed at around 2am local time by a roadside bomb attack that had targeted their Warrior armoured vehicle patrol in an area west of Basra city. A civilian Kuwaiti translator was also killed in the attack and a fifth British soldier was left seriously injured.

The latest deaths bring the British death toll in Iraq for the last few days to six, making it the bloodiest week for UK forces in Iraq for more than two years.

Mr Blair said it was “too early” to know if there was a direct link to Iran in the latest British fatalities but repeated claims he has made before of general Iranian involvement in arming insurgents.

He said: “Now it is far too early to say that the particular terrorist act that killed our forces was an act committed by terrorists that were backed by any elements of the Iranian regime, so I make no allegation in respect of that particular incident.

“But the general picture, as I have said before, is that there are elements of the Iranian regime that are backing, financing, arming and supporting terrorism in Iraq.”

British and US officials believe that the Quds brigade, a secretive organisation directed by the Iranian spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and part of the Iranian revolutionary guard, is helping to provide insurgents in Iraq with the training and finance to create roadside bombs.

Two months ago, the US president, George Bush, said the Quds brigade was providing networks outside Iran with devices, though he rowed back on claims by his administration that high level Iranian leadership was ordering the moves. He said he did not know who was ordering the smuggling of weapons, but added that he was going to “do something about it”.

The five Iranians captured by US forces in Irbil, northern Iraq in January, are suspected by the US of being members of the Quds brigade. Tehran insists they are diplomats; the UK yesterday denied that moves to allow the Iranians diplomatic access to these detainees had anything to do with the release of the British sailors and marines who had been captured by Iranian revolutionary guards on March 23.

Mr Blair first warned in October 2005 of concerns over improvised explosive device technology and weaponry coming from Iran. He said British forces had noticed a sudden increase in the sophistication of the devices, which were increasingly to blame for coalition fatalities.

However, no incontrovertible proof of links to Iran has been presented by the US or UK. Parts of some of the devices used against British forces are sent back to the UK for analysis.

Today’s casualties were the worst loss in a single incident since four British service personnel were killed in an attack on a coalition boat patrol last November. And the British casualties in Iraq in recent days have been the heaviest since 10 British personnel died when an RAF Hercules plane crashed outside Baghdad on January 30 2005.

Captain Katie Brown, a spokeswoman for the British military in Basra, said the patrol was attacked in the Hayaniya district, west of Basra.

In London, an MoD spokeswoman said: “It is with deep regret that we can confirm that four British soldiers and a civilian interpreter were killed in a roadside bomb attack against a Warrior patrol west of Basra this morning. Next of kin are being informed and no further details will be released until this process is complete.”

The total death toll of British service personnel in Iraq since hostilities began now stands at 140, 109 of whom died in action.

The first of the recent fatalities was Kingsman Danny John Wilson, 28, of Chindip Company, 2nd Battalion, the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, who died on Sunday after he was hit by small arms fire during a patrol in Basra city. The soldier, from Workington, Cumbria, was taken to the multinational Basra palace base, where he later died of his injuries.

The following day, Rifleman Aaron Lincoln, 18, from Durham died after coming under attack from small arms fire while on a routine patrol in the al-Ashar district of central Basra. The serviceman, of the 2nd Battalion, the Rifles, was also evacuated to Basra palace and then to the field hospital at Basra air station but died later.

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