- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 28, 2007

Four terrorists linked to an Iranian smuggling operation — responsible for targeting coalition forces with powerful bombs — were captured yesterday in Iraq, according to Defense Department officials.

The announcement came as U.S. officials continue to investigate links between Iran and insurgents seeking to destabilize the region and who target U.S. forces on the ground.

“I would say that it’s clear to us that there are networks that are smuggling weapons, both explosive-formed projectiles, IEDs, as well as mortar and other capabilities from Iran into Iraq,” said Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the day-to-day commander in Iraq.

“And in fact, we believe some training is also going on inside of Iran. We have seen in the last three months a significant improvement in the capability of mortarmen and rocketeers to provide accurate fires into the [coalition] Green Zone and other places. We think this is directly related to training that was conducted in Iran.”

Terrorists are suspected of facilitating the transport of weapons and personnel from Iran into Iraq, specifically the deadly Explosively Formed Projectiles (EFPs). The warhead-style weapons can pierce armor and cause significant damage and casualties to coalition forces.

The suspects were captured after U.S. forces conducted a raid in Qasarin, a small village north of Baqouba, in the Diyala province near the border with Iran.

Opponents of the Iraq war criticize the administration for pointing the finger at Iran, suggesting there is not sufficient evidence of their involvement in Iraq.

Rep. John P. Murtha, Pennsylvania Democrat and chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, said he will introduce a measure next week that would begin pulling out troops within 60 days after its introduction.

But Peter Brookes, senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation and a national security authority, warns that a withdrawal of troops from Iraq would put the region at risk as Iran continues to pursue its objective to obtain nuclear power.

Iran could potentially hold the United States at risk with its nuclear and space programs,” Mr. Brookes said. “Their foreign policy is to destroy the U.S. and Israel and that’s what they are aiming to do.”

Earlier this week, American and Iranian ambassadors to Iraq met in Baghdad and agreed to set up a security subcommittee to carry forward talks on restoring stability in the war-torn nation.

During the groundbreaking talks, U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker accused Iran of spurring the violence in Iraq by arming and training Shi’ite militias. He warned that no progress can be made unless Iranian behavior changes.

Iranian Ambassador Hassan Kazemi Qomi countered that Tehran is trying to help Iraq deal with the security situation, but Iraqis are “victimized by terror and the presence of foreign forces” in their country.

Iran holds considerable sway in Iraq, where the majority of the population is also Shi’ite Muslim and where many Shi’ite political parties are seen as having ties to Tehran.

The United States broke off diplomatic ties with the Islamic republic after the 1979 storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and holding of American hostages for 444 days.

Mr. Brookes cites Iran’s current involvement and support for Taliban groups in Afghanistan as an example of Iran’s flip-flop foreign policy when it comes to defeating the U.S.

“In the past the Iranians would have never given financial support to the Taliban,” he said. “The evidence now suggests that Iran is offering them assistance in an effort to push U.S. forces out of the region.”

Iran and Syria are doing the same in Iraq, he added.

In February, senior defense officials at a press briefing in Baghdad outlined what they thought to be Iran and Syria’s involvement in region.

Officials said the deadly arsenal of weapons used against coalition forces by Iraqi Shi’ite groups was provided by an elite Iranian military force — known as the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iran is a significant contributor to attacks on coalition forces, and also supports violence against the Iraqi Security Force and innocent Iraqis,” military officials stated in a presentation to reporters.

Further evidence presented at the briefing noted Iran’s participation in providing training and other forms of weaponry to extremist groups.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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