- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2007

U.S. Special Forces are intensifying their efforts to root out Iranian agents who are said to be working in Iraq to further destabilize the fractured nation, a leading U.S. analyst and a top Iraqi diplomat said.

Gen. Jack Keane, a retired four-star general who advises senior U.S. defense officials on Iraq, said Iran is so intent on pushing the United States out of the country that it is now aiding all enemy factions.

“They are assisting all of our opponents — the Shi’ite militia, the Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda,” Gen. Keane, who travels regularly to Iraq, said Monday during a conference at the American Enterprise Institute.

“We do not approach it with anywhere near the degree of intensity we have to,” said the former acting Army chief of staff. He did say that because of the nature of the operations and forces the Iranians are using, “we are considerably more aggressive than we have been in the past.”

Iraq’s ambassador to Washington, Samir Sumaidaie, confirmed to The Washington Times that U.S. operations against Iranian operatives have been stepped up but did not say whether his government was taking part.

“The American position now is that they are taking a more active role in intervening where they feel there is Iranian interference, particularly in security,” the ambassador said.

The clandestine fight against Iranian agents is taking place in the midst of the more widely publicized U.S. and Iraqi troop “surge” against terrorists, insurgents and militia death squads — all of which are thought to be getting Iranian help.

Iran’s notorious al Quds Force, a highly trained offshoot of the Revolutionary Guards close to Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon, is thought to be spearheading efforts to smuggle weapons into Iraq and train Iraqis in guerrilla warfare.

The Americans are particularly concerned about delivering to Iraqi factions materials for explosively formed projectiles — EFPs for short — that are capable of penetrating U.S. armored vehicles.

In what appeared to be a reference to the al Quds Force, President Bush in February threatened unspecified action against those who provide such materials to networks in Iraq.

“When we find the networks that are enabling these weapons to end up in Iraq, we will deal with them. If we find agents who are moving these devices into Iraq, we will deal with them,” he said.

The U.S. military in January detained five Iranians in Irbil, accusing them of being linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. Iran has said the five are diplomats and demanded their immediate release.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack repeated last week that U.S. forces are “going to act against any individuals who are seeking to do them harm.”

“And if that means rolling up some of these EFP networks, that’s what they’re going to do. … We’ve seen various people arrested, various people detained. And I would expect that if Iran continues in supporting these networks, then we’re going to continue to go after them.”

Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said there was a lot more to the operation than has been made public.

“It is a priority for U.S. intelligence collection,” he said, and “it obviously is an effort that is more than a matter of simply chasing down operatives.”

In a report released in January, the insurgent organization People’s Mujahedin of Iran (PMOI) — which first described Iran’s nuclear program — described in detail how the al Quds network had permeated Iraq.

According to that report, the al Quds agents often work under the cover of cultural institutes in Iraq.

The PMOI is considered a terrorist organization by the United States because of its attacks in Iran against the since-deposed government of Shah Reza Pahlavi. But its members, living at a camp in Iraq about 60 miles west of the Iranian border, have the protection of coalition forces.

Mr. Cordesman said the Iranian threat in Iraq had to be placed in perspective.

“The real problem is that if you see Iraq splinter or Iraq Shi’ite parties become dependent on Iran, then Iranian intervention in Iraq could grow much more serious,” he said. Or, if the U.S. were to withdraw too soon, “you could potentially leave a power vacuum that Iran could exploit.”

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