By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 13, 2007
The Bush administration has begun mobilizing support for a third U.N. resolution that would impose tougher sanctions against Iran, as the top U.S. military and diplomatic officials in Baghdad said yesterday that one of the biggest and still unfolding surprises in Iraq has been the depth of Iran's intervention.
Iran is increasingly the backdrop in discussions about the future of Iraq, evident in congressional testimony this week by Gen. David H. Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker and in warnings from senior administration officials. In his speech to the nation tonight, President Bush is also expected to cite Iran's role in the region as justification for continued U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq.
In an interview yesterday with Washington Post editors and reporters, Crocker said Tehran now has a "fairly aggressive strategy" on the ground in Iraq. Its stepped-up support of extremist militias contributed to the near unraveling of Iraq last year, he said. Tehran is now trying to create a force like Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite force in Lebanon, to advance its long-term interests in Iraq, Crocker added.
In his new dialogue with his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad, Crocker said his main message was: "We know what you're doing in Iraq. It needs to stop." Continuing U.S. investigations into the scope of Iran's supplying of weapons and the training of extremists were boosted by the capture this year of two Shiite militant leaders and a top Hezbollah official, who all confessed to ties with Iran, Crocker said.
In a briefing at the National Press Club, Petraeus said arms supplies from Iran, including 240mm rockets and explosively formed projectiles, "contributed to a sophistication of attacks that would by no means be possible without Iranian support. . . . The evidence is very, very clear." The evidence included items from the wallet of one of the five U.S. soldiers killed in an attack by Iranian allies in January in Karbala. The wallet items had been digitized on a computer belonging to one of the captured men, Petraeus said.
"Iran is a very troublesome neighbor, and I would note that President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad said that if the United States leaves Iraq, Iran is prepared to fill the vacuum," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on NBC's "Today" show yesterday. "That is what is at stake here."
In part because of Iran's role in Iraq, Washington is preparing to sanction Iran's Quds Force, an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guards in charge of Iran's covert operations abroad, U.S. officials said. The Quds Force "seeks to turn these Shia militia extremists into a Hezbollah-like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq," Petraeus said in congressional testimony.
In a further reflection of the tensions between the two countries, the United States will host top officials from Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany on Sept. 21 for talks on punitive measures in a new U.N. resolution following Tehran's failure to suspend uranium enrichment. The fuel cycle can be used to produce both peaceful energy and the world's deadliest weapon.
So far, however, the United States has met resistance from China, Russia and Germany to sweeping new measures against Iran, said diplomats familiar with the debate. A meeting in Berlin of Iran experts from the six governments last week was described by Western envoys as "chilly" and "a disaster" because Germany balked. As a result, they now expect any new U.N. resolution to be only slightly tougher than the ones passed in December and March.
Iran dismissed the U.S. allegations yesterday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said in a written statement that the Petraeus-Crocker reports "will not save America from Iraq's swamp." Ali Larijani, Iran's national security adviser, said during a news conference, "We think that it is in the interest of Iraq and America that they leave Iraq."
In an interview, a senior Iranian diplomat said the United States "is scapegoating its failure by blaming the Iranian side." He said the Bush administration should instead be answering questions about its support for the Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan, whose leader, Rahman Haji-Ahmadi, was in Washington last month.
The Iranian separatist faction -- popularly known as PJAK -- is based in northern Iraq and has reportedly attacked Iranian targets. It also allegedly has links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, which has attacked Turkish government targets and is considered a terrorist group by the United States.