An update on this story. By Sabrina Tavernise for the New York Times:
BAGHDAD, Dec. 26 — The American military said Tuesday that it had credible evidence linking Iranians and their Iraqi associates, detained here in raids last week, to criminal activities, including attacks against American forces. Evidence also emerged that
some detainees had been involved in shipments of weapons to illegal armed groups in Iraq.
In its first official confirmation of last week’s raids, the military said it had confiscated maps, videos, photographs and documents in one of the raids on a site in Baghdad. The military confirmed the arrests of five Iranians, and said three of them had
The Bush administration has described the two Iranians still being held Tuesday night as senior military officials. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell IV, the chief spokesman for the American command, said the military, in the raid, had “gathered specific intelligence from highly credible sources that linked individuals and locations with criminal activities against Iraqi civilians, security forces and coalition force personnel.”
General Caldwell made his remarks by e-mail in response to a query about the raids, first reported Monday in The New York Times. “Some of that specific intelligence,” he said via e-mail, “dealt explicitly with force-protection issues, including attacks on MNF-I forces.”
MNF-I stands for Multinational Force-Iraq, the official name of the American-led foreign forces there.
American officials have long said that the Iranian government interferes in Iraq, but the arrests, in the compound of one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite political leaders, were the first since the American invasion in which officials were offering evidence of the link.
Iraq’s president, Jalal Talabani, had invited the two Iranians during his visit to Tehran, his spokesman said Sunday, but by Tuesday, some Iraqi officials began to question if Mr. Talabani had in fact made the invitation. His office was unavailable for comment Tuesday night.
“We know when they caught them they were doing something,” said one Iraqi official, who added that the Iranians did not appear to have formally registered with the government.
Some political leaders speculated that the arrests had been intended to derail efforts by Iraqis to deal with Iran on their own by making Iraqis look weak.
But the military seemed sure of what and whom it had found.
At about 7 p.m. on Wednesday, the military stopped a car in Baghdad and detained four people — three Iranians and an Iraqi. The military released two of them on Friday and the other two on Sunday night, General Caldwell said. The Iranian Embassy confirmed the releases.
But the more significant raid occurred before dawn the next morning, when American forces raided a second location, the general said. The military described it as “a site in Baghdad,” but declined to release further details about the location.
Iraqi leaders said last week that the site was the compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite political leaders, who met with President Bush in Washington three weeks ago. A spokesman for Mr. Hakim said he had not heard of a raid on the compound.
A careful reading of General Caldwell’s statement makes it clear, however, that the location itself was of central importance. The military gathered “specific intelligence from highly credible sources that linked individuals and locations with criminal
activities,” it said. The crimes were against Iraqi civilians, security forces and Americans.
In that raid, American forces detained 10 men, 2 of them Iranians. They seized documents, maps, photographs and videos at the location, the military said. The military declined to say precisely what the items showed, nor did it specify if the Iranians themselves were suspected of attacking Americans, or if the Iraqis arrested with them were suspected, or both.
One Iraqi politician suggested that the tip for the raid had come from a source within Mr. Hakim’s own party, known by the acronym Sciri, in an effort to weaken or unseat him.
However it had been led there, the military said it had found evidence of wrongdoing. By questioning the detainees and investigating the materials, the military found evidence that connected some of those detained “to weapons shipments to armed groups in Iraq,” General Caldwell said.
The military did not specify the types of weapons.
The allegation, if true, would make this the first incident since the American invasion in which Iranian military officials were discovered in the act of planning military action inside Iraq. American officials have long accused them of supplying arms and money from Iran, but never of traveling to Iraq and taking part in plotting violent acts here.
American officials accused Iran of designing and shipping new powerful, armor-piercing bombs to Iraq as early as summer 2005.
American officials have on occasion offered evidence of Iranian involvement: A weapons shipment bearing serial numbers believed to belong to an official Iranian manufacturer was intercepted last year. The most recent allegations, if true, would
appear to draw a line back to Tehran more directly than ever.