U.S. troops conduct 2 raids on Iranians in Iraq
The U.S. is trying to target Iranian influences in Iraq.
WASHINGTON -- U.S. troops launched two raids on Iranian targets in Iraq on Thursday, following through on President Bush's vow to confront and break up Tehran's networks inside Iraq. Five Iranians were detained, and vast amounts of documents and computer data were confiscated, according to U.S., Iraqi and Iranian officials.
The two raids are part of a new U.S. intelligence and military operation launched last month against Iran, U.S. officials said. The United States is trying to identify and detain top officials of the Revolutionary Guards' al-Quds Brigade operating in Iraq. The al-Quds Brigade is active in arming, training and funding militant movements, such as Lebanon's Hezbollah, throughout the Middle East.
"Throughout Iraq, operations are currently ongoing against individuals suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraqi and Coalition forces," the headquarters of the U.S.-led Multinational Force said Thursday.
While the public focus is on Iraq, the administration is now devoting as much time on plans to contain Iran as on a strategy to end Iraq's violence, U.S. officials said.
Last month, U.S. forces nabbed two senior Iranians -- Brig. Gen. Mohsen Chirazi and Col. Abu Amad Davari -- in the first round of raids. Chirazi is the No. 3 in the al-Quds Brigade and the highest-ranking Iranian ever held by the United States.
Raids in Kurdish city
Both of Thursday's raids were in Irbil, a northern Kurdish city. One was carried out at 3 a.m. on the Iranian Liaison Office, which is used by Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a local headquarters, U.S. officials said. Kurdish officials said U.S. troops landed by helicopters. Then they disarmed the security guards, broke through the gate, entered the building and detained six men, Iranian officials told the Iranian News Agency. One was later released.
The other raid was at the Irbil airport, where U.S. forces tried to detain people until local Kurdish troops intervened -- and almost ended up in a confrontation with U.S. troops, said Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. "A massacre was avoided at the last minute," he said. A U.S. official confirmed that the incident nearly resulted in U.S. and Kurdish allies' firing at one another.
But the new U.S. policy to confront Iranians in Iraq has already sparked divisions within the administration. The Pentagon wanted to hold the two top al-Quds officials for questioning, but the State Department backed an Iraqi request to deport them. They were sent home in a week.
The Kurdish government had approved the Iranian Liaison Office, which provided consular services and which Iran wants to upgrade to a formal consulate, the Iraqi foreign minister said. U.S. forces did not consult in advance with the Iraqi government, which is now trying to establish procedures and agreements for future operations, he said. "This is a very, very dangerous thing," he said.