U.S. military officials in Iraq are publicly pointing to an alleged Iranian role in the training of radical Iraqi Shiites, escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran that reports suggest could lead to a military conflict. In effect, the United States is blaming Iran for providing not only weapons but also training and encouragement for Iraqi Shiite extremists to kill American soldiers in Iraq.
On Monday, a U.S. military spokesman charged that Iraqi Shiite extremists are being trained by members of the Lebanese militant Shiite group Hezbollah in camps near Tehran. Hezbollah itself gets funding, arms, and training from Iran's Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Iraqis are receiving the training at camps operated by the Quds Force, Air Force Col. Donald Bacon told the Associated Press. "We have multiple detainees who state Lebanese Hezbollah are providing training to Iraqis in Iranian IRGC-QF training camps near Tehran," said Bacon, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad. (The Quds Force is also known as the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force, or IRGC-QF. Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem.)
The Sunday Times of London, citing western intelligence sources, reported that the United States is drawing up plans for a "surgical strike" against an insurgent training camp inside Iran if Republican Guards continue with attempts to destabilize Iraq. CBS News reported last week that the Pentagon ordered military commanders to develop new options for attacking Iran.
While military officials publicly downplay that prospect, U.S. officials are laying the rhetorical groundwork for exercising a military option. For instance, Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden last week bluntly accused Iranian leaders of policies to "facilitate the killing of Americans in Iraq."
U.S. military officials and some analysts have cited Iran's involvement for some time. Military officials say that the United States will soon make public more evidence that Iran continues to send weapons into Iraq, including the armor-piercing munitions that have proven particularly deadly for American forces. Complicating matters, though, a top Iraqi official said Sunday that there was no conclusive evidence that Shiite extremists have been directly supplied with Iranian arms as alleged by the United States. Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Iraq does not want trouble with any country, "especially Iran." Asked about reports that some rockets made in 2007 or 2008 and seized in raids against militias were directly supplied by Iran, al-Dabbagh replied: "There is no conclusive evidence."
On Monday, Iran said it would not hold a new round of talks with the United States on security in Iraq until U.S. forces end their current assault against Shiite militias. U.S. and Iraqi forces have been battling supporters of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who receives support from Iran. "We believe the talks will not be held given the current situation [in Iraq]," Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters during his weekly press briefing Monday.
Iran and the United States have held three rounds of ambassador-level talks on security in Iraq since last May.