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US not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran: Gates

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AFP: The United States is not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday, seeking to dispel suspicions aroused by US charges of Iranian meddling in Iraq. by Jim Mannion

WASHINGTON, Feb 15, 2007 (AFP) – The United States is not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday, seeking to dispel suspicions aroused by US charges of Iranian meddling in Iraq.

Gates said US assertions that the Qods Force, an elite branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, is training Iraqi extremists and supplying them with armor piercing bombs and other weapons are based on “hard fact.”

But he said, “For the umpteenth time, we are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran. We are not planning a war with Iran.”

“What we are trying to do is inside Iraq disrupt the networks that put these weapons in the hands of those who kill our troops. That’s it,” he said.

Questions about the US evidence arose after a US military briefing in Baghdad in which an anonymous official said that support for attacks on US forces had been sanctioned at the “highest levels” of the Iranian regime.

Since then senior administration officials, from President George W. Bush on down, have backed away from the claim while trying to allay suspicions that it was using unverified intelligence to prepare the ground for a strike on Iran.

“We’re sensitive to that skepticism,” said Gates.

“And it’s one of the reasons why we were so concerned that the briefing on these materiels be factual and be able to be substantiated by evidence, so it wasn’t hypothesis, it wasn’t assumption, it wasn’t assessment,” he said.

Gates said he assumed that Iranian Revolutionary Guards leaders knew of the activities but did not know how high in the Iranian leadership knowledge of what the Qods Force was doing in Iraq went.

“And, frankly, for me, either way it’s a worry. Either they do know and have approved it, or they don’t know, and the IRGC may be acting on their own in Iraq,” Gates said.

General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the first to raise doubts about the allegation that Iranian leaders were involved, telling reporters the role of the Iranian leadership was unclear.

Pace joined Gates at a press conference at the Pentagon and was asked to explain.

“I think it’s very important to be extremely precise when we’re talking about what we know are facts and then what conclusions or assessments we make based on those facts,” he said.

“We do not have proof that the senior leadership in Iran is directing these activities in Iraq,” he said.

Bush on Wednesday said suggestions that the United States was manufacturing the allegations against Iran were “preposterous.”

There was no doubt that the elite Al-Qods Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps was behind powerful, new improvised explosive devices (IEDS) killing US soldiers in Iraq, Bush said, vowing he would “do something about it.”

But he backed off from the earlier suggestions by the military in Baghdad that the attacks were being ordered by top Iranian leaders.

“Whether (Iranian President Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad ordered the Qods Force to do this, I don’t think we know. But we do know that they’re there,” Bush said.

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