Iran's Elite Force Is Said to Use Hezbollah as 'Proxy' in Iraq

By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 3, 2007

BAGHDAD, July 2 -- An American general said on Monday that Iraqi Shiite militiamen are being trained by Iranian security forces in cooperation with Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement, offering the most specific accusations to date of Iranian involvement in specific attacks against U.S. forces.

Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, a U.S. military spokesman, asserted that Iran's elite al-Quds Force, a wing of the Revolutionary Guard, was providing armor-piercing weapons to extremist groups in Iraq, funneling them up to $3 million a month and training Iraqi militiamen at three camps near Tehran.

"The Iranian Quds Force is using Lebanese Hezbollah essentially as a proxy, as a surrogate in Iraq," Bergner said. "Our intelligence reveals that senior leadership in Iran is aware of this activity."

Officials at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad could not be reached for comment on Monday, but in response to previous assertions of this kind they have denied Iran is in any way responsible for violence in Iraq. Similar denials have been issued by Hezbollah.

The accusations against Iran occurred on a day when Iraqi health officials said U.S. airstrikes had caused civilian casualties in the southern city of Diwaniyah.

Early Monday, about 25 mortar shells struck inside the perimeter of Camp Echo, a base for Polish troops in Diwaniyah, injuring three coalition soldiers, the U.S. military said. Two U.S. F-16 fighter jets then bombed the suspected launch sites of the mortar and rocket attack.

The airstrikes killed at least 10 people and wounded 35, according to Hussein al-Jarrah, director of Diwaniyah General Hospital. In a statement about the incident, the U.S. military made no mention of civilian casualties, but said the bombing took place along a street "where insurgents persistently use urban areas from which to attack, in order to use civilians as human shields."

Angered by the violence, residents staged a protest near a government building and some threw rocks. Gunfire broke out, killing one of the demonstrators, police said. Two policemen were injured.

Also Monday, the U.S. military said a third American soldier had been charged in the deaths of three civilians near Iskandariyah. Sgt. Evan Vela, of Phoenix, Idaho, was charged Sunday with premeditated murder, wrongfully placing a weapon by the remains of a dead Iraqi, making a false statement and obstruction of justice.

Two other soldiers from the same unit -- Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley of Candler, N.C., and Spec. Jorge G. Sandoval Jr. of Laredo, Tex. -- have also been charged in the case. The alleged crimes took place over the past three months, the U.S. military said.

On Monday, the U.S. military also announced the deaths of five American soldiers and a Marine. One soldier was killed and two others were wounded by a bomb that exploded near their vehicle in Salahuddin province on Monday. The day before, a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol was hit by a roadside bomb and gunfire in western Baghdad, killing one soldier and injuring two Iraqi policemen. Another soldier was killed by gunmen in southern Baghdad. Two other soldiers and the Marine died in Anbar province in western Iraq.

In what U.S. military officials called a "deliberate ambush," insurgents early Monday opened fire with heavy machine guns on two U.S. Kiowa light attack helicopters south of Baghdad, downing one of the aircraft. The two pilots crash-landed the damaged copter, suffering only minor injuries, and were rescued by an Apache combat helicopter called to the scene.

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