News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqIran blamed for deaths of eight Britons in south...

Iran blamed for deaths of eight Britons in south Iraq

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The Times: Britain has accused Iran of helping to kill British soldiers in southern Iraq.
Six soldiers and two security guards have died in the past three months, all victims of a new explosives technique supplied via Iran, a senior British official said yesterday. The Times

By Michael Evans and Richard Beeston

Britain has accused Iran of helping to kill British soldiers in southern Iraq.

Six soldiers and two security guards have died in the past three months, all victims of a new explosives technique supplied via Iran, a senior British official said yesterday.

It is the first time that the long-suspected link between the Iraqi insurgents and their neighbours has been declared officially by Britain. The United States has for some time been openly accusing Tehran of supporting and influencing the insurgents’ attacks on coalition troops in Iraq.

Until yesterday the British Government had raised its concerns about Iranian links with the Iraqi insurgents “behind the scenes”. One British diplomatic source said this was the chosen method, not least because of continuing moves by Britain and two other European Union partners to persuade Iran to stop its nuclear uranium-enrichment programme.

However, the senior official, speaking anonymously yesterday, blamed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard for supplying the advanced technology that had helped Iraqi insurgents to kill British soldiers with the more lethal roadside bombs.

The most recent death was that of Major Matthew Bacon, of the Intelligence Corps, who died when a roadside bomb was detonated in Basra on September 11, destroying the armoured Land Rover in which he was travelling.

“We think it [the new technology”> has come from Lebanese Hezbollah via Iran,” the official said.

He said the Iranian action could be an attempt to warn off Britain over its demands that Tehran abandon its controversial nuclear programme.

“It would be entirely natural that they would want to send a message, ‘don’t mess with us’. It would not be outside the policy parameters of Tehran,” the official said.

The accusation brought a sharp response from the Iranian Embassy in London, which denied it had anything to do with smuggling arms into Iraq. “We categorically reject such accusations,” Hamid Babaei, a spokesman, said.

He then accused British Forces of being behind “terrorism” in southern Iran, supporting cross-border incursions.

Mr Babaei added: “The stability of Iraq is of paramount importance to Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran has always taken a position against the insurgency and violence in Iraq.”

Foreign Office sources denied that Washington had put London under pressure to come out into the open about Iranian links to the Iraqi insurgency. However, the senior official who spoke yesterday said there was evidence that elements in Tehran had been in contact with Sunni Muslim insurgent groups in Iraq.

Although Iran’s natural allies in Iraq would be the Shias, the official said he believed it would suit Iranian interests to work with Sunni insurgents.

“If part of the aim was to tie down the coalition in Iraq, it would be entirely consistent with supporting those groups,” the official said.

Earlier this year it was disclosed that British diplomats had protested to the Iranian Government after the seizure of arms being smuggled across the border into Iraq. Both London and Washington have also been urging the Iraqi Government to raise concerns with Tehran about suspected links with the insurgents.

The British official refused to be drawn on whether the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had been acting on the orders of the Tehran Government or operating independently.

Yesterday’s accusations provided further evidence of a steady deterioration of ties between London and Tehran, strained over Britain’s role in Iraq and Iran’s nuclear programme.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, has devoted years of diplomacy to engage the regime in Iran. But relations have worsened since the surprise victory of President Ahmadinejad in elections this summer. The hardliner has challenged efforts by the international community to contain Iran’s drive to convert and enrich uranium, which the West fears could be diverted to build atomic weapons.

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