Reuters: Senior Iranian leaders know about the operations of Iran’s Qods Force in fomenting violence in Iraq, the U.S. military said on Monday, in some of the most direct accusations yet against Tehran over the chaos in Iraq. By Alister Bull and Dean Yates
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Senior Iranian leaders know about the operations of Iran’s Qods Force in fomenting violence in Iraq, the U.S. military said on Monday, in some of the most direct accusations yet against Tehran over the chaos in Iraq.
The U.S. military has long accused the Qods Force of arming and training Iraqi Shi’ite militants who attack U.S. and Iraqi soldiers. Iran has repeatedly denied involvement in violence in Iraq and blames the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 for the bloodshed.
“Our intelligence reveals that senior leadership in Iran is aware of this activity,” military spokesman Brigadier-General Kevin Bergner told a news conference in Baghdad.
“We also understand that senior Iraqi leaders have expressed their concerns to the Iranian government about the activities.”
Iran does not officially acknowledge the existence of the Qods Force. Military experts and some exiled Iranians say it is a wing of Iran’s ideologically driven Revolutionary Guards that operates abroad. They say it reports directly to Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Revolutionary Guards have a separate command structure to Iran’s regular military.
Asked if it was possible that Qods Force support was being provided without the knowledge of Khamenei, Bergner said: “That would be hard to imagine.”
Bergner also said the Qods Force was working with the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite militia group Hezbollah to carry out acts of violence in Iraq.
He said the United States had discovered the existence of three relatively small camps located close to Tehran where Iraqi Shi’ite militants were being trained. Between 20-60 militants were receiving training at any given time, he said.
Iran’s Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar dismissed on Sunday as a “sheer lie” U.S. accusations that Iran was militarily intervening in Iraq and supported Iraqi militants, the official IRNA news agency reported.
He said such charges were part of a U.S.-led psychological war, IRNA said.
The latest U.S. accusations come at a sensitive time.
On Sunday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters he was pressing the United States and Iran to hold a second round of talks in Baghdad to follow up a landmark meeting on May 28, but that no date has been set.
That meeting between U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Kazemi-Qomi was the most high-profile meeting of the two enemies in almost three decades.
Both envoys described the talks as positive.
Iraq has invited both sides to meet again but neither have publicly said they would accept.
Bergner said Iran’s government had done little to help improve security in Iraq.
“We have not seen the demonstrable improvement or anything that could be accounted for as a change in behavior on the part of the government of Iran in reducing these threats and reducing the levels of violence,” Bergner said.
The U.S. military has previously displayed what it says are Iranian-made rockets, mortars and roadside bombs seized in Iraq. The military says the bombs have killed scores of U.S. soldiers.
(Additional reporting by Tehran bureau)