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US Envoy To Iraq Warns Of Growing Iranian Influence January 24, 2007

Posted by notapundit in US News, World News.
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BAGHDAD (AP)–The U.S. ambassador said Wednesday that one of the Iranians detained by U.S. forces in Iraq during two raids over the past month was the director of operations for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Quds faction – the organization responsible for funding and arming Iraqi militants.

Zalmay Khalilzad the recent raids were part of a “new strategy” to “go after their networks that are active here.”

The U.S. is building up its troops in the region, beyond the additional 21,500 on their way to Iraq for a new security crackdown. Khalilzad sought to reinforce Washington’s message that Tehran should keep hands off Iraq, where it has enormous influence with the majority Shiite population.

Iran is ruled by a Shiite theocracy, which has confounded U.S. foreign policy for the more-than quarter century since the U.S.-allied shah was driven from power by the Islamic revolution that swept the country.

At least eight Iranians have been detained, including two diplomats, in a Dec. 21 round up of a group of 10 suspects. The diplomats were interrogated and released to Iranian officials on eight days later.

Six others were captured Jan. 11 at an Iranian liaison office in the northern city of Irbil. One was released and five are still believed in U.S. custody.

“Some of those we’ve arrested are Quds Force operatives. One of them was director of operations for the Quds Force” who was in the country without the knowledge of Iraqi security officials, he said.

The ambassador, who has been nominated by U.S. President George W. Bush as Washington’s envoy to the United Nations, said Iranians were being snatched by U.S. forces because “we’ve had a good understanding of the equipment that comes across (the border), particularly about the EFPs (explosively formed projectiles).” Those are high-tech roadside bombs that are capable of piercing armor on U.S. vehicles.

“And (we’re) also concerned about the training and the money and the influence” by Iran inside Iraq.

Khalilzad, who declined to say when he would leave ambassadorial duties in Iraq, was expansive in his remarks about Iran in a meeting with a small group of reporters at the U.S. Embassy.

He said Iran had set its sites on becoming the dominant power in the Middle East and was taking advantage of Iraq’s “weakened state” and “throwing its weight around.”

“Iran is the rising and increasingly important issue,” said Khalilzad, a Sunni Muslim who was born in the north of Afghanistan, where many of the people are ethnically tied to Iranians and speak a Persian dialect.

“Those of us who have an interest in this region, who regard this region and the future of this region to be the defining challenge of our time

.. (must) adjust to be able to deal with that, to ensure that Iran does not miscalculate,” he said.

Iran must know that the U.S. will “protect their (Mideast countries’) interests and will not allow hegemony by a hostile regional power,” said the ambassador.

Khalilzad said Iranian agents were working with “a variety of groups, and there are groups that they fund and control, in my judgment, directly.”

The ambassador said U.S. officials soon would outline in detail the activities of the arrested Iranians as demanded by Tehran’s ambassador in Baghdad.

“Since he was good enough to say we should present what we have, we will be helpful and try to do that. Where we found them, what they were doing, what is coming from Iran across the border… We will have something for you in the coming days,” he said.

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