AP: The U.S. ambassador said Wednesday that one of the Iranians detained by U.S. forces in Iraq during two raids over the past month was the director of operations for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Quds faction, the organization responsible for funding and arming Iraqi militants. Associated Press
By STEVEN R. HURST
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – The U.S. ambassador said Wednesday that one of the Iranians detained by U.S. forces in Iraq during two raids over the past month was the director of operations for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Quds faction, the organization responsible for funding and arming Iraqi militants.
Zalmay Khalilzad said the recent raids were part of a “new strategy” to “go after their networks that are active here.”
The United States is building up its troops in the region, beyond the additional 21,500 on their way to Iraq for a new security crackdown, in what U.S. officials say is a message to Iran. Khalilzad sought to reinforce Washington’s message that Tehran should keep its hands off Iraq, where it has enormous influence with the majority Shiite population.
Iran is ruled by a Shiite theocracy, which has confounded U.S. foreign policy for more than a quarter-century since the U.S.-allied shah was driven from power in the Islamic revolution.
At least eight Iranians have been detained in Iraq recently, including two diplomats in a Dec. 21 roundup of a group of 10 suspects. The diplomats were interrogated and released to Iranian officials eight days later.
Six others were captured Jan. 11 at an Iranian liaison office in the northern city of Irbil. One was released and five are still believed in U.S. custody.
“Some of those we’ve arrested are Quds Force operatives. One of them was director of operations for the Quds Force” who was in the country without the knowledge of Iraqi security officials, he said.
The ambassador, who has been nominated by President Bush as Washington’s envoy to the United Nations, said U.S. forces were detaining Iranians because “we’ve had a good understanding of the equipment that comes across (the border), particularly about the EFPs (explosively formed projectiles).” Those are high-tech roadside bombs capable of piercing armor on U.S. vehicles.
“And (we’re) also concerned about the training and the money and the influence” by Iran inside Iraq.
Khalilzad, who declined to say when he would leave Iraq, was expansive in his remarks about Iran in a meeting with a small group of reporters at the U.S. Embassy, which occupies one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces in what is now the heavily fortified Green Zone.
He said Iran had set its sites on becoming the dominant power in the Middle East and was taking advantage of Iraq’s “weakened state” and “throwing its weight around.”
“Iran is the rising and increasingly important issue,” said Khalilzad, a Sunni Muslim who was born in the north of Afghanistan, where many people are ethnically tied to Iranians and speak a Persian dialect.
“Those of us who have an interest in this region, who regard this region and the future of this region to be the defining challenge of our time … (must) adjust to be able to deal with that, to ensure that Iran does not miscalculate,” he said.
Iran must know that the United States will “protect their (Mideast countries’) interests and will not allow hegemony by a hostile regional power,” said the longtime conservative thinker and academician.
Khalilzad said Iranian agents were working with “a variety of groups, and there are groups that they fund and control, in my judgment, directly.”
The ambassador said U.S. officials soon would outline in detail the activities of the arrested Iranians, as demanded by Tehran’s ambassador in Baghdad.
“Since he was good enough to say we should present what we have, we will be helpful and try to do that – where we found them, what they were doing, what is coming from Iran across the border. … We will have something for you in the coming days,” he said.