Friday, June 23, 2006

U.S. Says Iran Is Aiding Iraq Rebels

Peter Spiegel, Los Angeles Times:
Army Gen. George W. Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, accused the Iranian government Thursday of training, equipping and directing Shiite Muslim insurgents operating in Iraq.

Bush administration officials previously have complained about Iranian interference in Iraq, but Casey's accusations were the most specific leveled against the government in Tehran by a senior U.S. military commander and came as a sign of growing concern among American commanders that violence between Iraq's two primary Muslim groups is on the rise.

Iranian officials have denied previous charges of meddling, saying they have not supplied or assisted Iraqi insurgents. Iran wants foreign forces to leave Iraq.

Casey said there had been a "noticeable increase" in Iranian-backed attacks this year and implicated Al Quds Army, a covert special operations force within Iran's Republican Guard, as the unit orchestrating the campaign. He said the unit's participation also was a signal that the activity was being directed by the central government in Iran.

"They are using surrogates to conduct terrorist operations in Iraq, both against us and against the Iraqi people," Casey said. READ MORE

Specifically, he said he had seen an increase in the use of shaped charges, which focus the force of an explosion to penetrate armor. U.S. and British intelligence say Iranians are providing the shaped charges and other weapons to Iraqi insurgents. Casey said there also were signs that Iraqi insurgents were being trained in Iran and in Lebanon by Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants.

He would not specify which Shiite groups were believed to be receiving assistance from Iran, saying only that it was "a wide variety of groups across southern Iraq."

British forces in the region have been most concerned about the growing influence of militias loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr, whose Al Mahdi Army has infiltrated Iraqi police forces in the south and tightened its control of poor Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad.

Casey said there was no evidence that Iranian units were in Iraq directing the attacks.