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Ex-Iran Guard commander visits White House with Iraq leader

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A former commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the FBI says played a role in a 1996 terrorist attack that killed 19 U.S. servicemen, accompanied Iraq's prime minister to the White House on Monday, attending an event at which President Obama trumpeted the end of the Iraq War.

Hadi Farhan al-Amiri, transportation minister in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, was part of the delegation that visited the White House to discuss Iraq's future and Iran's influence there, among other topics.

At a joint White House news conference with Mr. al-Maliki, Mr. Obama proclaimed that the U.S. is committed to being a major player in the region and that Iraq's neighbors should take heed. He did not mention Iran by name.

Critics have accused Mr. al-Maliki, a Shiite, of acting at the behest of the Shiite government in Iran. But Mr. Obama told reporters that he believes the Iraqi prime minister when he says that "his interest is maintaining Iraqi sovereignty and preventing meddling by anybody inside of Iraq."

"And he has shown himself to be willing to make very tough decisions in the interests of Iraqi nationalism, even if they cause problems with his neighbor," the president said in a thinly veiled reference to Iran.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to confirm whether Mr. al-Amiri was part of the Iraqi delegation. He referred questions to the Iraqi government.

Mr. al-Maliki's office listed Mr. al-Amiri as a member of the delegation. A spokesman for the Iraqi Embassy was unavailable to elaborate on Mr. al-Amiri's role in the White House visit.

Louis J. Freeh, who served as FBI director in the Clinton administration and the early months of the George W. Bush administration, said it was shocking that Mr. al-Maliki would include Mr. al-Amiri in his visit to Washington.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard has been involved in "countless acts of terrorism, which are acts of war against the United States," Mr. Freeh said in an interview.

Mr. al-Amiri served as a commander of the Revolutionary Guard's Badr Corps, a battalion that was tasked with operations in Iraq. He remained active in the Badr Corps during the late 1980s and 1990s, when he was working on resistance efforts against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.

The FBI linked the Revolutionary Guard to the attack on the Khobar Towers in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, on June 25, 1996. Nineteen U.S. servicemen were killed by a bomb blast at the towers, which were housing American military personnel.

"As a senior leader, [Mr. al-Amiri] would have to have known about Khobar, and he would know Gen. [Ahmad] Sherifi, who was the IRGC general that conducted the operation," Mr. Freeh said.

He added that the "FBI would love to sit down and talk to him, show him photographs and ask him questions" about the fugitives named in the Khobar Towers indictment.

The Revolutionary Guard has been linked to several acts of terrorism, including an attack on the Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires in 1994, in which 85 people were killed and hundreds wounded.

The Revolutionary Guard supported Iraqi Shiite deserters and refugees, organized them into the Badr Corps and used them against Saddam's regime in Iraq.

The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, formerly known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, was one of the groups that received financial and military support from Iran during that time. Mr. Bush met the council's leader, Sayyed Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, at the White House in 2006.

Ali Alfoneh, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said that after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and the fall of Saddam, Iran thought it was time to position pro-Iranian Shiite elements in the new Iraqi government.

"All those elements governing Iraq today have at some point been cooperating with Iran," Mr. Alfoneh said.

"That is true of the president [Jalal Talabani], the prime minister and a good number of Iraqi politicians who previous to their arrival in Iraq were refugees living in Iran," he added.

Analysts and Western officials say some of those officials still depend heavily on Iran.

U.S. officials say the Revolutionary Guard has had a role in several attacks on U.S. interests worldwide.

"In addition to the well-publicized Arbabsiar case, the IRGC has supported Shia militant groups who attack U.S. forces in Iraq," said a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Mansour Arbabsiar, a U.S. citizen and used-car salesman, has been accused of a central role in a suspected plot by the Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington. He has pleaded not guilty.

Outside the White House on Monday, a large group of protesters rallied in support of Iranian exiles at Camp Ashraf, which is located about 40 miles north of Baghdad.

The Iraqi government has set a Dec. 31 deadline to close the camp, which houses members of the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), listed by the U.S. as a terrorist group. The exiles' supporters fear the camp's unarmed residents will be massacred because of their opposition to Iran's government.

Current and former members of Congress, former officials who served in Republican and Democratic administrations, a former Iraqi official and a former senior commanding officer at Camp Ashraf spoke at the protest.

"We did not fight and die ... for you to deliver the integrity of Iraq to the mullahs in Iran," said former Sen. Robert G. Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat, in remarks directed at Mr. al-Maliki.

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who served as homeland security secretary in the George W. Bush administration, called on the Obama administration to take the MEK off the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Army Brig. Gen. David Phillips, former senior commanding officer at Camp Ashraf, said he found no evidence linking the camp's residents to terrorist acts.

"A few had unpaid parking tickets in the United States," he said. "That shows you how thoroughly we did the research on who they were."

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell suggested that U.S. Marines be left in Iraq to ensure the safety of Camp Ashraf residents.

All U.S. combat troops are scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of this month.

Mr. Freeh warned of an imminent "genocide" at Camp Ashraf.

MEK leader Maryam Rajavi addressed the rally via teleconference from France. She said the al-Maliki government had turned Iraq into the "backyard of the Iranian regime" and accused the Obama administration of obstructing a European Parliament plan to relocate the camp's residents.

"The people of Iran and the United States will judge you on the basis of what you did when you could stop a great carnage," she said.

"One day, you will severely criticize yourselves for the events unfolding these days and for wasting time," she added.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen

Ashish Kumar Sen is a reporter covering foreign policy and international developments for The Washington Times.

Prior to joining The Times, Mr. Sen worked for publications in Asia and the Middle East. His work has appeared in a number of publications and online news sites including the British Broadcasting Corp., Asia Times Online and Outlook magazine.

 

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