Monday, December 25, 2006

It's About Time

According to today's edition of The New York Times, U.S. military forces in Baghdad have captured at least four Iranians who have aided in attacks against Iraqi security forces. Sources tell the Times that two of the men are high-ranking military officials. The Iranians were captured in a series of raids last week, aimed at insurgents who have conducted recent attacks against Iraqi security personnel.

The fact that Iran has been aiding insurgents in Iraq is hardly a secret. Recently, U.S. military spokesmen reported that Iranian-made weapons had been seized in raids around Baghdad, providing hard evidence of Tehran's complicity in the insurgency. But last week's raids mark the first time that Iranian personnel have been captured by coalition forces, and their detention has been leaked to the press.

The names of the Iranian detainees have not been released, and details on the raids remain sketchy. Iraqi officials told the Times that two of the captured Iranians were in Iraq at the invitation of the county's president. One of the raids took place at the compound of a senior Shiite politician, who met with President Bush in Washington three weeks ago. Elements of the Iraqi government are reportedly trying to secure the Iranians' release, as is Tehran's ambassador in Baghdad.

We certainly hope that the Bush Administration and our military commanders in Iraq will not cave to pressure and free the Iranians. Tehran's handiwork is evident on the streets of Baghdad every day, and there is little doubt that Iran is using a variety of organizations, including its Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Qods force and diplomatic personnel to funnel money, material and expertise to the insurgents.

The arrest of those Iranian officials will put a dent in the support network, at least for a while. More importantly, the detention will give the administration some needed leverage with Tehran in reducing assistance for the terrorists in Iraq, and give us better insights into how the support system functions. I'm guessing there are some nervous Iranians in Baghdad right about now, wondering if that next knock at the door is one of their Iraqi contacts, or a U.S. military raid. Rounding up Iranian facilitators and agitators in Iraq is something that is long, long overdue. Kudos to our intel personnel for developing the leads that identified the Iranian agents, and to our commanders for pulling the trigger, with less concern for the political ramifications.

If these raids are an early indication of a "new approach" in Iraq, we're all for it. Iran has been killing Americans in Iraq for years, and paying no price for its actions. More arrests, some videotape confessions and a public trial in the U.S. (if the Iranians can be linked to attacks that killed American soldiers) would be welcome developments in the New Year. It would be nice to see Tehran sweat a little bit over its continued adventurism in Iraq.

8 comments:

Marlin said...

The Washington Post is reporting that all of the Iranians were released by the Americans on Monday, 12/26. I wish I had a better understanding of why.

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Separately on Monday, U.S. and Iraqi officials announced that they had released a group of Iranians that American forces had detained last week on suspicion of planning attacks in Iraq. Three or four of those detained were Iranians who had diplomatic immunity, said a State Department spokesperson who spoke on condition of anonymity. They were turned over to the Iraqi government, which in turn transferred them to Iran.

A White House spokesman, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said only two Iranians had diplomatic immunity. He said that the event could validate U.S. claims that Iran was meddling in the affairs of Iraq but that the United States wanted to complete the investigation "before characterizing their activities."

It was unclear Monday what evidence of planned attacks the Americans had for detaining the Iranians. Also unclear was why the Iranians would have been released if they were seen as dangerous to U.S. interests in Iraq.

Washington Post: British Troops Raid, Raze Station House In Southern Iraq

Consul-At-Arms said...

Excellent summation and commentary. I've linked to you here: http://consul-at-arms.blogspot.com/2006/12/re-its-about-time.html

Marlin said...

The New York Times clarifies (at least for me) the situation some this morning.

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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 been released.

[...]

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.

[...]

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.

The New York Times: U.S. Says Captured Iranians Can Be Linked to Attacks

Ikez said...

I say trade them for ALL the al Qaeda members they have in "custody".

Sound like a deal?

Marlin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Marlin said...

More information is available on 12/28 about the Iranian arrests.

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Another developing story concerns the Iranian ‘diplomats' who were arrested by the American forces in Baghdad. According to Az-Zaman and al-Mada, the American Army has released maps showing that the Iranians were arrested in the residential compound of `Abdul `azeez al-Hakeem, chairman of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). The American Army said that those Iranians were accused of illicit activities and arms smuggling into Baghdad; Iraqi MP Mohammad al-Dayni said that one of the Iranian captives is a high-ranking officer in the Iranian Intelligence Services, and is in charge of the ‘Iraqi operations' dossier'. As-Sabah newspaper reported that the Iranian government has been calling for the release of the ‘diplomats' and calling their arrest a ‘violation of International norms and laws'.

IraqSlogger: Iraqi Papers Thursday: U.S.-Sadr Tension

Marlin said...

The AFP has a report today (12/29) that I interpret to mean that the last two Iranians have been released.

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Two Iranians being held by US forces in Iraq were released early Friday and handed over to Iranian officials in Baghdad, the Iranian envoy to Iraq was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.

‘Fortunately with the effort exerted by the Iraqi officials, the US forces who firstly denied their arrest were obliged to admit it and under pressure from the Iraqi government to release them,’ Ambassador Hasan Kazemi Qomi was quoted as saying.

The handover took place in the presence of Iraqi National Security Advisor Mowaffaq Al Rubaie, Iranian state television reported.

‘The arrest of these diplomats was carried out contrary to the international laws and the Geneva convention,’ Kazemi Qomi said.

[...]

On Wednesday, military spokesman General William Caldwell said US forces were holding two Iranian nationals detained last week in the Iraqi capital on suspicion of weapons smuggling.

‘There was an operation on the morning of December 21 based on intelligence. We conducted a raid on a site in Baghdad,’ Caldwell told reporters.

Ten people were arrested in the raid and ‘documents, maps, photographs and videos’ were seized which, he said, linked them to ‘illegal activities’. After interrogation it was discovered that two of the 10 were Iranians.

‘Debriefing of the detainees and investigation of the seized materials has yielded intelligence linking some of the individuals being detained to weapons shipments to illegal armed groups in Iraq,’ said a US military statement.

President Jalal Talabani, who invited the two Iranians to Iraq as part of an agreement between the newly forged allies to improve security, was said earlier this week by his office to be ‘unhappy with the arrests’.

Khaleej Times: Two Iranians held by US in Iraq freed

Marlin said...

On 12/30 Iraq expelled the two Iranians, much to the displeasure of the U.S. military, although much crucial intelligence was gathered as a result of their capture.

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Two senior Iranian operatives who were detained by U.S. forces in Iraq and were strongly suspected of planning attacks against American military forces and Iraqi targets were expelled to Iran on Friday, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.

The decision to free the men was made by the Iraqi government and has angered U.S. military officials who say the operatives were seeking to foment instability here.

"These are really serious people," said one U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "They were the target of a very focused raid based on intelligence, and it would be hard for one to believe that their activities weren't endorsed by the Iranian government. It's a situation that is obviously troubling."

One of the commanders, identified by officials simply as Chizari, was the third-highest-ranking official of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' al-Quds Brigade, the unit most active in aiding, arming and training groups outside Iran, including Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, U.S. officials said. The other commander was described as equally significant to Iran's support of foreign militaries but not as high-ranking.

[...]

U.S. defense officials familiar with the raids said the captured Iranians had detailed weapons lists, documents pertaining to shipments of weapons into Iraq, organizational charts, telephone records and maps, among other sensitive intelligence information. Officials were particularly concerned by the fact that the Iranians had information about importing modern, specially shaped explosive charges into Iraq, weapons that have been used in roadside bombs to target U.S. military armored vehicles.

Shaped charges focus the energy of a blast, allowing shrapnel to burst through vehicles, sometimes even if they are heavily armored. U.S. military officials have long said they believed Iran was responsible for sending such weapons -- along with others, such as advanced sniper rifles -- into Iraq to help insurgents and militia groups.

"The evidence shows that they were exactly up to the things our suspicions indicated," said one U.S. defense official.

Adding to the political sensitivity of the situation, the two men were detained while inside the compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, one of the most powerful Shiite leaders in Iraq.

[...]

The Iraqi government decided to honor Tehran's claims that the two detainees had diplomatic immunity. U.S. officials had argued that although the men had diplomatic passports, they were operating under aliases and therefore not immune.

Despite their frustration at the release of the Iranians, U.S. officials said a strong message has been sent to Iran that its operatives will be tracked down and that it will be held accountable for its activities in Iraq.

"Iranians have been pushing the envelope in Iraq and elsewhere, and it's a good thing they learn there are consequences," a U.S. official said, on condition of anonymity.

U.S. officials said they now had a treasure trove of data from computers and documents and the lists of weaponry recently shipped to Iraq.

"The materials they had will factor into additional planning for operations and will likely be very helpful," said a U.S. defense official. "But with weapons and advanced IEDs [improvised explosive devices] coming into the country, we've identified a major problem."

[...]

Although the men were captured in Hakim's compound, U.S. officials said Hakim cooperated with the American military operation.

Washington Post: Iraq Expels 2 Iranians Detained by U.S.