Thu, Dec 28, 2006 - Page 7 News List

US military says it has proof of Iraqi militia link to Iran

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , BAGHDAD

Iraqi militia detained in a joint US and Iraqi army raid sit blindfolded in the back of an army truck in Baqubah, Iraq, on Tuesday. Fifteen suspected terrorists were held in the raid.

PHOTO: AP

The US military said on Tuesday that it had credible evidence linking Iranians and Iraqi militiamen, detained here in raids last week, to criminal activities, including attacks against US forces. Evidence also emerged that some of the detainees were 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 that three of them had since been released.

The Bush administration has described the two Iranians still being held late on Tuesday night as senior military officials.

Major General William Caldwell, the chief spokesman for the US command, said that 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."

Caldwell made his remarks by e-mail in response to a query about the raids, first reported on Monday in the New York Times.

"Some of that specific intelligence dealt explicitly with force-protection issues, including attacks on MNF-I [Multinational Force-Iraq] forces," he said via e-mail.

US officials have long said that the Iranian government interferes in Iraq, but the arrests, in the compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, one of Iraq's most powerful Shiite political leaders, were the first in which officials were offering evidence of the link.

The raids threaten to upset the delicate balance of the three-way relationship between the US, Iran and Iraq. The Iraqi government has made extensive efforts to engage Iran in security matters in recent months and the arrests of the Iranians could scuttle those efforts.

The Iraqi government has kept silent on the arrests, but on Tuesday night officials spoke of intense behind-the-scenes negotiations by Iraq's government and its fractured political elite over how to handle the situation.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani had invited the two Iranians during his visit to Tehran, his spokesman said on Sunday, but by Tuesday, some Iraqi officials began to question if Talabani had in fact made the invitation.

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