Pressuring Iran on Iraq
Another raid & detention of Iranian diplomats
Following President Bush's speech on a change in strategy and tactics in Iraq, which contained unusually harsh language with respect to Iran and its involvement in the Iraqi insurgency, the United States wasted no time in firing its first shot across the bow of the Islamic Republic of Iran. U.S. forces raided the Iranian consulate in Irbil in northern Iraq, and detained five Iranians, along with computers, documents and other evidence the Iranians were colluding with the Sunni insurgency and Shia death squads. Irbil is in the Kurdish north, which is largely Sunni, and home of Ansar al-Islam, which was founded "with funding and logistical support from al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden" and is responsible for multiple terrorist attacks in Iraq.
Iran has "demanded an explanation" for the detention of their citizens, and summoned the Iraqi and Swiss envoys to Tehran." The Swiss represent the U.S. in Iran. While Russia decried the raid on the consulate as "a flagrant violation of the Vienna convention on consular relations," Iran admitted "the office did not have formal diplomatic status." The Iraqi and local Kurdish government are pressing for the release of the Iranians, however.
The latest arrest of Iranian diplomats follows the raid on a SCIRI compound, where two Iranians were detained but subsequently released. One of the Iranians was "the third-highest-ranking official of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' al-Qods Brigade." Among the material seized were "weapons lists, documents pertaining to shipments of weapons into Iraq, organizational charts, telephone records and maps, among other sensitive intelligence information... [and] information about importing modern, specially shaped explosive charges into Iraq."
Michael Yon, who is currently embedded in Sunni dominated Anbar province, reports that Iranians are involved with moving the deadly shape-charged mines (or Explosively Formed Projectile - EFPs) capable of destroying American armor into Iraq. And Iranian agents are being captured on the battefield. "Apparently many of the EFPs are being factory-made in Iran, and shipped to Iraq. During 2005, I asked many American and Iraqi commanders if they were capturing Iranians. They were capturing foreigners, surely, but what about Iranians? Not a single commander, Iraqi or American, told me that his people were catching Iranians. Times have changed. Today, American commanders talk about capturing Iranians. Not rumored Iranians, but real ones; some of whom are believed to be involved in importing EFP technology into Iraq."
The U.S. is applying additional political pressure on Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical, Iranian backed cleric whose Mahdi Army comprises of a large portion of the Shia death Squads. Military intelligence officers report Sadr is conducting his own 'surge' of fighters, weapons and EFPs. The United States and Iraqi government have received backing for its security plan from Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the powerful Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), and competitor of Sadr. "The government should strike with an iron fist against those who endanger the safety of people," said Hakim on Wednesday. "The great march of reconstruction will begin after guaranteeing security and then all justification for the presence of multinational forces will be removed."
"We call all groups, parties and political institutions - especially Islamic ones that follow Shiite leaders that sacrificed for the sake of God and the peoples - to support the government's efforts in this field and especially the Baghdad plan... We affirm our maximum support for the government in its attempts to build state institutions and implement the law by carrying out its plans to guarantee security, on top of them the Baghdad security plan."
Richard Fernandez notes that all Shia are not automatically loyal to the Iranians. Irbil hosts the only Iranian Consulate in Iraq. There used to be two, with another in the Shia-dominated southern city of Basra. In a little publicized event over the summer, Shiites burned the Iranian consulate in Basra to the ground. "Followers of Ayatollah Mahmoud al-Hassani al-Sarkhi were protesting against the Iranian interference in Iraq's internal affairs and a program shown on Iranian television that accused their cleric leader of being an Israeli agent, media reports from Basra said."