Details on Iran’s activity pledged
The top U.S. envoy to Iraq said Wednesday that he would soon reveal details he asserted would show Iranian interference in the country, in the latest round of diplomatic jousting between Washington and Tehran.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told a group of Western journalists that American officials would provide details “in the coming days” about Iranian officials detained and interrogated in Baghdad and the Kurdish city of Irbil within the last month.
The U.S. military detained five Iranian diplomats in Irbil on Jan. 11, and had detained several others in late December in Baghdad, touching off diplomatic rows and creating tensions with the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.
The presentation, Khalilzad said, would include details about who the detained Iranians are and what they were doing in Iraq, as well as information about alleged contraband coming across the Iran-Iraq border.
“We are working to put something together and we will have something for you in the coming days,” he said.
The upcoming presentation, he said, is a response to public comments by Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, who this week publicly challenged Americans to show “any shred of evidence that Iran is working to destabilize Iraq,” according to Iranian news agencies.
Khalilzad said the U.S. would take up the challenge.
“I know the Iranian ambassador said the Americans do not have anything and if they have something why don’t they come up and share it,” Khalilzad said. “We’re going to oblige him.”
Khalilzad said Iranian diplomatic missions and offices in Iraq were providing diplomatic cover for members of the Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, an elite intelligence and paramilitary organization that answers to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
One of those arrested in a pair of December raids in Baghdad and later released has been identified as a Quds Force “director of operations,” he said.
Iran’s complicated government includes ordinary state functions such as the Foreign Ministry and the presidency in addition to powerful institutions that grew out of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. The Revolutionary Guard, one of the latter organizations, operates as a parallel army and controls Iran’s borders as well as its foreign policy toward neighboring countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Khalilzad said it was time for Iran to change the people who conduct its relations with Iraq.
“Iran has not adapted to the changed situation in that it uses the security instrument as the channel, diplomatically,” he said. “Many of the officials that represent Iran diplomatically are Quds Force operatives.”
The U.S. has alleged that Iran has been funneling money and weapons to and providing training for armed groups in Iraq. Khalilzad said Wednesday that Iranian elements associated with the Quds Force had infiltrated Iraq’s political parties.
He said the Bush administration had made a decision to aggressively confront Iranian networks operating in Iraq, as laid out by President Bush in a Jan. 10 speech on the Iraq troop buildup.
“Operations are aimed at making it harder for them, to make [it] difficult for them to do things they used to do more easily, in the expectation that would change their behavior,” Khalilzad said.
“Those [Iraqis] who associate with them also risk being caught, targeted in these operations,” he added.