U.S. accuses Iran military of plotting in Iraq

Posted in Iraq | 28-Dec-06 | Author: Sabrina Tavernise| Source: International Herald Tribune

A US soldier secures the site where a suicide bomber blew himself up next to a police station near the northern oil city of Kirkuk.

BAGHDAD: The U.S. military says it has evidence linking a group of Iranians and some Iraqi associates, detained in raids last week, to attacks against U.S. forces. The military also said that some of those detained had been involved in shipments of weapons to groups in Iraq.

In its first official confirmation of the raids last week, the military said Tuesday that it had confiscated maps, videos, photographs and documents in a raid on a site in Baghdad. The military said that it had arrested five Iranians and that three of them had been released.

The Bush administration has described the two Iranians still being held as senior military officials. Major General William Caldwell, the spokesman for the U.S. command here, said in an e-mail that the military had "gathered specific intelligence from highly credible sources that linked individuals and locations with criminal activities against Iraqi civilians, security forces and coalition force personnel."

"Some of that specific intelligence," Caldwell said in the e-mail, "dealt explicitly with force-protection issues, including attacks on MNF-I forces." MNF-I stands for Multinational Force- Iraq, the official name of the U.S.-led foreign forces there.

Washington has asserted before that Iran has been "interfering" in Iraq, but the arrests — in the Baghdad compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, one of the country's most powerful Shiite leaders — were the first since the U.S. invasion in which it has offered evidence of a link.

The Iraqi government has made extensive efforts to engage Iran in security matters in recent months and the arrests of the Iranians could scuttle those efforts. Some Iraqis questioned the timing of the arrests, saying that the Bush administration had political motives. The arrests came days before the UN Security Council passed a resolution imposing sanctions against Iran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.

The Bush administration has rejected domestic and foreign pressure to open negotiations with Tehran on Iraq.

The Iraqi government has been silent about the arrests, but some officials spoke Tuesday night of intense behind- the-scenes talks by its political elite over how to handle the situation.

During a visit to Tehran, President Jalal Talabani had invited the two Iranians to Baghdad to discuss the security situation there, his spokesman said Sunday. But by Tuesday, other Iraqi officials were questioning whether Talabani had in fact made such an invitation.

Some Iraqis speculated that the arrests were intended to derail efforts by Iraq to deal with Iran on their own by making the government look weak.

Before dawn on Dec. 21, U.S. forces raided "a site in Baghdad," but declined to release further details. Iraqi leaders said last week that the site was the compound of Hakim, who met with President George W. Bush in Washington three weeks ago. But a spokesman for Hakim said he had not heard of a raid on the compound.

Caldwell's statement indicated that the location itself was of central importance. The military gathered "specific intelligence from highly credible sources that linked individuals and locations with criminal activities," it said. The crimes were committed against Iraqi civilians, security forces and Americans.

The allegations, if true, would mark the first time since the U.S. invasion that Iranian officials were discovered in the act of planning military action inside Iraq. Tehran has denied the Iranians were doing anything illegal in Iraq.

James Glanz contributed from Baghdad and Michael R. Gordon contributed from Washington.