By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Iran has been directing assassination operations in Iraq using trained snipers, in some cases killing Iraqi officials opposed to Iran, according to an officer who has recently served as a senior adviser to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.
Army Col. H.R. McMaster, who has served multiple tours in Iraq, yesterday described Iran's activities as part of an unofficial talk on the evolution of the Iraq war he delivered at the American Enterprise Institute here. Although he emphasized that "Iraq's communities have largely stopped shooting at each other" and that the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq "is on its way to defeat," he said Iraq remains a "weak state," and that Iranian involvement was intended to keep it so.
Iran's activities are "obvious to anyone who bothers to look into it," and should no longer be "alleged," he said in response to a question. Senior American military officials said last month that the U.S. military in Iraq has compiled a briefing with detailed evidence of Iran's involvement in Iraq violence, but the briefing has yet to be made public.
McMaster, who led a successful campaign in the northern Iraqi city of Tall Afar in 2005, said Iran has trained Iraqi militia members as snipers and organized them in "assassination cells" to kill certain people opposed to Iranian influence.
Iran has also armed large numbers of militia members in Iraqi cities such as Basra, Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah and Sadr City, in Baghdad, training many in the use of the "most effective" Iranian weapons, including long-range rockets and a lethal form of roadside bomb known as an explosively formed projectile, or EFP, McMaster said. Iran has denied playing such a role in Iraq.
He also said Iran has tried to "Arabize" its effort by using Lebanese Hezbollah members to conduct some of the training.
McMaster said it was unrealistic to expect "linear progress" in the war in Iraq. He cautioned that recent improvements in security could be compromised if the U.S. military withdraws too quickly. "The war in Iraq doesn't end if we leave prematurely, it gets worse," he said.