The New York Times : Baghdad, Aug. 11 Iran is pressing Shiite militias here to step up attacks against the American-led forces in retaliation for the Israeli assault on Lebanon, the American ambassador to Iraq said Friday. Iran may foment even more violence as it faces off with the United States and United Nations over its nuclear program in the coming weeks, he added. The New York Times
By EDWARD WONG
Baghdad, Iraq – Iran is pressing Shiite militias here to step up attacks against the American-led forces in retaliation for the Israeli assault on Lebanon, the American ambassador to Iraq said Friday. Iran may foment even more violence as it faces off with the United States and United Nations over its nuclear program in the coming weeks, he added.
The Iranian incitement has led to a surge in mortar and rocket attacks on the fortified Green Zone, said the ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad.
The four-square-mile Green Zone, protected by layers of concrete blast walls and concertina wire on the west bank of the Tigris River here, encloses baroque palaces built by Saddam Hussein that now house the seat of the Iraqi government and the American Embassy.
The Shiite guerrillas behind the recent attacks are members of splinter groups of the Mahdi Army, the powerful militia created by the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, Mr. Khalilzad said.
The splinter groups have ties to Iran, which is governed by Shiite Persians, and to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite Arab militia in Lebanon that has been battling Israel for a month, the ambassador added.
There is evidence that Iran is pushing for more attacks, he said, without offering any specifics. But he acknowledged that there was no proof that Iran was directing any particular operations by militias here.
Iran is seeking to put more pressure, encourage more pressure on the coalition from the forces that they are allied with here, and the same is maybe true of Hezbollah, Mr. Khalilzad said in an interview Friday in his home inside the Green Zone.
His remarks are the first public statements by a senior Bush administration official directly linking violence in Iraq to American support of Israels military campaign in Lebanon, and to growing pressure by the United States over Irans nuclear program. Until now, American officials have not publicly drawn a direct connection between Shiite militant groups here and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Mr. Khalilzads comments also reinforce the observations of some analysts that the rise of the majority Shiites in Iraq, long oppressed by Sunni Arab rulers, is fueling the creation of a Shiite crescent across the Middle East, with groups in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon working together against common enemies, whether they be the United States, Israel or Sunni Arab nations.
Despite the recent attacks by the splinter groups, Mr. Khalilzad insisted that the most powerful Shiite leaders in Iraq had not yet pushed for more violence against the Americans, even though Iran would like them to. That includes Mr. Sadr, he said.
Generally the Shia leadership here have behaved more as Iraqi patriots and have not reacted in the way that perhaps the Iranians and Hezbollah might want them to, Mr. Khalilzad said.
Iran and Hezbollah want the Iraqi Shiite leaders to behave by mobilizing against the coalition or taking actions against the coalition, he added.
In their public addresses, the top Shiite leaders in Iraq have forcefully condemned the Israeli assault on Lebanon, much more so than senior officials in Sunni Arab countries. Denunciations have come from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered Shiite cleric here, from Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and from Parliament, which called the Israeli airstrikes criminal aggression.
When Mr. Maliki visited Washington last month, Congressional leaders pressed him to denounce Hezbollah as a terrorist group, but he dodged the request.
The mercurial Mr. Sadr has come closest of the Shiite leaders in hinting that Iraqis might take up arms in support of Hezbollah. He said in late July that Iraqis would not sit by with folded hands while Lebanon burned, and on Aug. 4 he summoned up to 100,000 followers to an anti-Israeli and anti-American rally in Baghdad.
Most of those who showed up were angry young men, many swathed in white cloths symbolizing funeral shrouds and some toting Kalashnikov rifles.
On Friday a senior cleric in Mr. Sadrs movement, Sheik Asad al-Nasiri, told worshipers at Mr. Sadrs main mosque in Kufa that the Zionist entitys power has been broken and has been weakened in the battle. He asserted that the resistance has given the best examples of bravery and sacrifice.
Sympathy with Hezbollah is not limited to the radical fringe. As images of the destruction in Lebanon continue flickering across the Arab television networks, many ordinary Iraqis say they would join what they call a holy war against American-backed Israel.
Mr. Khalilzad said Iran could stoke more violence among the Shiite militias as the end of the month draws nearer. That is expected to be a time of high tension between Iran and the United States, because a United Nations Security Council resolution gives Iran until Aug. 31 to suspend its uranium enrichment activities or face the threat of economic and diplomatic sanctions. Irans president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has insisted that Iran will pursue its nuclear program.
Mr. Khalilzad said, The concern that we have is that Iran and Hezbollah would use those contacts that they have with groups and the situation here, use those to cause more difficulties or cause difficulties for the coalition.
If the United Nations adopts another resolution against Iran after the Aug. 31 deadline, he said, that could increase the pressure on Iran, and Iran could respond to it by further pressing its supporters or people that it has ties with, or people that it controls, to increase the pressure on the coalition, not only in Iraq but elsewhere as well.
Some military analysts cast the Israel-Hezbollah war as a proxy struggle between the United States and Iran, and prominent conservatives in Washington have called for American military action against Iran.
William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, said on Fox News last month that the Bush administration had been coddling Iran and that the war in Lebanon and Israel represented a great opportunity to begin resuming the offensive against militant Islamists.
Here in Iraq, the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army rose up twice against the Americans in 2004, and American and British forces have stepped up operations recently against elements of it, raiding hideouts and engaging in pitched battles in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad and in the area around Basra, the southern port city.
On Monday, American forces called in an air attack during a raid in Sadr City. Prime Minister Maliki, who depends on Mr. Sadr for political support against rival Shiites, denounced the raid, saying he had never approved it and that the Americans had used excessive force.
American military officials have given few details about ties between Shiite militias here and Iran or Hezbollah, except to say they believe that Iran has given technology for lethal shaped-charge explosives to Iraqi militias. Iran may have passed on the technology via Hezbollah, some officials have said.
Western security advisers confirmed Friday that there had been a recent spate of mortar and rocket attacks on the Green Zone, known to some as the International Zone. It is unclear whether anyone was wounded or killed by the strikes. A spokesman for the American military, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, declined to give details.
We arent interested in discussing attacks on the International Zone, their effectiveness or who may be responsible, he said in an e-mail message.
Leaders in the Sadr Organization say parts of the Mahdi Army are not under their control. Those rogue elements, they say, carry out attacks without guidance from Mr. Sadr or his top commanders.
Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi contributed reportingfor this article.