- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 7, 2006

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday directly accused the Iranian government of inserting into Iraq elements of the Revolutionary Guard — the security arm that enforces strict adherence to Tehran’s harsh Islamic regime and fosters terrorism abroad.

“I will say this about Iran,” Mr. Rumsfeld told a Pentagon press conference, “they are currently putting people into Iraq to do things that are harmful to the future of Iraq. And we know it, and it is something that they, I think, will look back on as having been an error in judgment.”

The defense secretary added, “They’re putting Iranian Qods Force-type people into the country. … I don’t think we could consider them religious pilgrims.”

Asked whether the Revolutionary Guard incursion was backed by Tehran’s central government, Mr. Rumsfeld answered, “Well, of course. The Revolutionary Guard doesn’t go milling around willy-nilly.”

It marked the first time Mr. Rumsfeld has specifically accused Iran’s radical regime of infiltrating Iraq to stir up anti-U.S. sentiment and aid the insurgency.

The United States says the Qods units within the Revolutionary Guard are responsible for setting up training camps and spying on potential terror targets.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s remarks came as the Bush administration is using increasingly blunt warnings against Iran developing nuclear weapons. Vice President Dick Cheney said yesterday that Iran faces “meaningful consequences” if it continues the pursuit.

Speculation has appeared in the press on whether President Bush will order air strikes to destroy Iran’s network of about 30 nuclear facilities. Gen. Peter Pace, Joint Chiefs chairman, dampened such talk during a National Press Club appearance last month, saying, “We are a long way away from needing the military option.”

Iran has announced it has begun enriching uranium, a key step toward making a nuclear weapon. The U.S. thinks Iran has the know-how to build nuclear weapons once it produces weapons-grade uranium. At the same time, Iran, a U.S.-designated state-sponsor of terrorism, is developing ballistic missiles that can reach Israel, already a nuclear power, as well as Europe.

Mr. Rumsfeld has spoken previously of Iran’s meddling in Iraq. He told The Washington Times in 2004 that Iran was putting people and money into Iraq, but stopped short of calling it a state-sponsored incursion.

U.S. officials told The Times in 2004 that the Revolutionary Guard was bankrolling Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand cleric who commands a sizable personal army. Twice in 2004, the sheik ordered his Mahdi Army to attack U.S. forces in southern Iraq. In both cases, U.S. Marines and Army units crushed the attackers.

U.S. officials say Iran aims to shift the Shi’ite-dominated southern Iraq from a generally pro-U.S. region to a more radicalized Islamic territory closely aligned with Tehran. Mr. Rumsfeld said he is concerned for the Shi’ites in that region. “I think that they’re not going to be enamored of having help from across their border. So it is clearly a problem,” he said.

Last summer, U.S. officials in the coalition had intercepted large improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that had been assembled in Iran. The devices are a main weapon used to kill coalition troops, as well as innocent civilians.

“There have been some IEDs and some weapons that we believe are traceable back to Iran,” Gen. Pace said yesterday.

On Iraq, in the wake of 10 days of violence after the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shi’ite mosque in Samarra, Mr. Rumsfeld said, “I do not believe they’re in a civil war today. There’s always been a potential for civil war.”

He became the third senior military official in the past five days to criticize press reporting of the war on terror. Army Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, said Friday that the reports on the violence were “exaggerated.” Marine Corps Gen. James Jones, NATO’s supreme allied commander, said Monday the press was overstating the re-emergence of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan.

Of recent Iraq reporting, Mr. Rumsfeld said, “Interestingly, all of the exaggerations seem to be on one side. … [T]he steady stream of errors all seem to be of a nature to inflame the situation and to give heart to the terrorists and to discourage those who hope for success in Iraq.”

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