Iranian agents operating in Iraq: US commander

Date: 03-28-06

AMMAN (AFP) - The commander of US forces in the Middle East, General John Abizaid, told AFP, Iranian agents were operating inside Iraq but that there was no concrete proof Tehran was authorising the anti-government activities.

"There are clearly Iranian intelligence agents operating inside Iraq and Iranian-produced explosives have found their way across the border," Abizaid said in an interview in Amman.

"But I wouldn't go so far as to say that I could clearly point to the Iranian government as being complicit in anti-government activity," he added.

The White House and Pentagon have accused elements from Iran's security apparatus of arming Iraqi insurgent groups, but they concede they have no clear proof that the Iranian government is sponsoring the activities.

"Inside Iraq, it is clear that Iranian intelligence people, especially from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, the Qods Force people, are working with people that are at times working against the government and certainly working against coalition forces, especially in the south," Abizaid said.

"On the one hand it is clear that there are certain places within the Iranian government where they are trying to work with the Iraqi authorities to move forward in a positive way," he said.

The commander also reiterated Washington's concerns that Iran's nuclear activities were of great concern to the United States and countries in the region.

"It is clear that a nuclear-armed Iran in the view of the United States and most of the regional powers is not good for the region. It creates an imbalance of power. It creates greater instability," he said.

Abizaid also said he expected Washington to continue a troop drawdown in Iraq, where he said local security forces were gradually taking more control.

"We went from 160,000 plus forces down to 130,000 forces in the past three months. We have taken three combat brigades out of Iraq already," Abizaid said.

"We have turned over an awful lot of what we call battle space, which is military operating areas, where Iraqi military units are in the lead, not coalition military units.

"Well over over 30 or 40 percent of certain areas of the country are under their control.

"Nearly half of Baghdad is under Iraqi military control, not multinational force," Abizaid added.

But the US officer insisted that stability in Iraq hinged on the emergence of a unified government, which is still not in place more than three months after a landmark Iraqi election.

"The most important thing now is that a government of national unity emerge and if that happens, Iraq will begin to stabilise in a way that people in the region will see is good for the region," he said.

Asked to define who is the enemy in Iraq, Abizaid singled out groups such as the Shiite "Sadr militia that is of concern to us (because) it does not seem to be working towards the stability of Iraq."

Iran is thought to have great influence with Shiite radical cleric Moqtada Sadr and his Madhi Army militia.

On the Sunni side, Abizaid named "extremist groups such as Al-Qaida ... remnants of the Baath party and people that have long ago fallen from power, but can't admit that they have fallen from power."

Abizaid said, however, it was "essential" for the United States to talk to the various parties involved "except for Al-Qaida".

"We certainly won't talk to a terrorist group," he said.

He described US-Jordanian relations as "very important for regional stability", particularly within the global war on terrorism.

"It is difficult, this fight that we are in but it is one that we have to stand together in. It is difficult sometimes for Arabs and Americans to stand together but where we have to, we have," Abizaid said.


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