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Top Iranian General Hit With Sanctions

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Iranian state TV aired video Thursday purporting to show a weekend standoff between small Iranian boats and U.S. naval ships in the Persian Gulf. Video by APRELATED VIDEO: U.S. Navy Video of Incident

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By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 10, 2008

The United States yesterday slapped sanctions on a top Iranian general and three exiled Iraqis based in Iran and Syria for fomenting violence in Iraq, as President Bush lashed out again at Tehran for last weekend's showdown between U.S. and Iranian naval vessels.

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In a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Bush called Iran a "threat to world peace" and warned that it would face "serious consequences" if it tried to attack U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf. All options remain on the table, Bush said, a statement that some diplomatic and military officials in Washington said inflated the significance of the brief incident Sunday between five small Iranian speedboats and three U.S. warships.

Iran countered yesterday that a four-minute video of the encounter released by the United States on Tuesday was compiled from file pictures and fabricated audio. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman called the allegation "absurd" and said that "explanations of this nature reflect an inherent disregard for the seriousness of this incident."

The rising tensions led France and Saudi Arabia to call on Washington and Tehran to show caution. "We hope this incident will not be repeated. We face a constant danger of escalation, so self-restraint is necessary for all players in the region," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said at a news conference on the eve of Bush's visit to the kingdom.

He also appeared to rebuff U.S. efforts to raise the stakes over Iran. "We're a neighbor to Iran in the Gulf, which is a small area, so we're keen for harmony and peace among countries in the region," Faisal said. "We have relations with Iran and we talk with them, and if we felt any danger we have relations that allow us to talk about it."

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner warned Iran about taking dangerous action, but cautioned the two nations to show "moderation."

The United States and Iran have been competing for influence in the Persian Gulf area. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was expected to visit Iraq this month, and Tehran angled for him to be in Baghdad during Bush's eight-day Middle East tour, U.S. officials said. Iraqi officials then reconsidered the visit's timing. "The Iraqis were wise enough to see that that would not be the best move," said a senior U.S. official familiar with the diplomacy.

Ahmadinejad traveled to Abu Dhabi two days after Vice President Cheney's visit in May.

Shortly after Bush's comments in Israel yesterday, the Treasury Department announced the new economic sanctions on the four individuals and a television station in Syria.

"Iran and Syria are fueling violence and destruction in Iraq," said a statement by Stuart A. Levey, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence. "Today's action brings to light the lethal action of these individuals and we call on the international community to stand with us in isolating them from the global economy."

Treasury imposed the sanctions under Executive Order 13438, which targets insurgents and militia groups. It freezes any assets -- such as property or financial holdings -- under U.S. jurisdiction or any transactions with U.S. citizens or entities.

The administration named Brig. Gen. Ahmed Foruzandeh, leader of Iran's Quds Force operations in Iraq, for allegedly directing the assassinations of Iraqis and ordering Iranian intelligence to provoke deeper sectarian violence in Iraq by targeting Shiites and Sunnis. The Quds Force is the elite foreign operations branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

Foruzandeh also financed operations by both Shiite and Sunni extremist groups against U.S. forces in Iraq, the Treasury said. He drove explosives and other war materiel into Iraq for use in suicide bombings, and organized training courses for Iraqi militants in Iranian camps, it added.

Foruzandeh, who operates out of the Revolutionary Guard Headquarters in the old U.S. Embassy compound in Tehran, allegedly met with Shiite militias in July, calling on them to "continue liquidating all enemies of the Islamic revolution, including security and intelligence personnel, tribal chiefs, and religious clerics," Treasury said.

It also named Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani and Ismail Hafez al-Lami, both alleged to be leaders of Shiite extremist groups based in Iran. Sheibani's network includes hundreds of members in several pro-Iranian insurgent groups in southern Iraq that have conducted roadside bomb attacks against Americans and sabotaged British forces operating in the south, Treasury said.

Lami, known as Abu Dura, leads another pro-Iranian group that has targeted Iraqi officials, Sunni leaders and others, Treasury said. His group kidnapped, tortured and killed Sunnis in Iraq's Ministry of Higher Education in 2006.

The administration also sanctioned Mish'an al-Jaburi, a former member of Iraq's parliament who fled to Syria after allegedly embezzling government funds and supports Iraqi insurgents, Treasury said. He owns al-Zawra, a television station critical of the U.S. military presence in Iraq that has reportedly aired recruitment videos for al-Qaeda of Iraq. Treasury included al-Zawra in the sanctions order.


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