debkafile: Washington reveals evidence of Iranian meddling in Iraq just two days after UN passes mild sanctions against Tehran

The New York Times of Dec. 24 disclosed the capture of a group of Iranians in Baghdad. This, according to our military sources, is an opening shot in the Baghdad salvation operation at the center of the revised strategy for Iraq which President George W. Bush promised to unveil in the New Year.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly 283, reporting on this operation on Dec. 22, disclosed that two of its key elements are a crackdown on Shiite militias and death squads and cleansing the capital of Iran’s military and intelligence presence.
According to The New York Times, the American military in Baghdad is holding at least four Iranians, including senior military officials, seized in two raids last week in central Baghdad, in circumstances highly embarrassing to top Iraqi leaders. Two Iranian diplomats in the group were turned over to the Iraqi authorities and released to the Iranian embassy; a number of suspected members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards al Quds force remain in custody and under US interrogation. They were captured with people involved in terrorist attacks.
Al Quds is responsible for Tehran’s training projects for Hizballah and other terrorists groups.
One of the US raids took place in the Baghdad compound of the powerful Shiite SCIRI leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who visited the White House three weeks ago. At least two of the captured Iranians were invited by Iraqi president the Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani during a visit to Tehran earlier this month.
An official in Washington said the US military, acting on information that the people detained in Baghdad had been involved in attacks on Iraqi security and coalition forces, did not know what they were going to find. The arrests in Hakim’s compound were made inside the house of Hadi al-Ameri, chairman of the Iraqi parliament’s security committee and leader of SCIRI’s armed wing, the Badr Organization.
debkafile‘s military sources report that these were not the first Iranian RG and intelligencer officers caught by US forces in Iraq – only the first time that such detentions have been published. This indicates that the Bush administration has decided finally to crack down on years of Iranian subversion in Baghdad.
According to our Iranian sources, officials in Tehran were so preoccupied with firing off derisive comments on the UN Security Council sanctions against their nuclear program that they were caught unawares. The ayatollahs had not bargained on a swift US second-strike action in Baghdad. Now, they must now decide whether to pick up the American gauntlet or let it ride until an opportunity presents itself in Iraq or elsewhere in the Middle East.
Our Washington sources reveal too that the White House has changed Iraqi partners for its new strategy. Instead of the present political incumbents in Baghdad, the US has brought on board the most influential Shiite and Sunni religious leaders for the effort to stabilize the capital and end sectarian warfare. The White House’s hopes rest now with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani in Najef, and more controversially with the noted Sunni authority, Sheik Harith al-Dari, head of the Association of Muslim Scholars (also called the Muslim Ulema Council), from which the Sunni insurgency derives its religious legitimacy.
With backing of this caliber, US forces finally staged a raid – previously unthinkable – on the SCIRI leader’s compound in Baghdad.
According to the latest information reaching debkafile from Iraq, US forces are in intensive preparations for the Baghdad offensive. Military sources report Iraqi forces are in the process of rotation: two divisions of 20,000 men are being brought into the capital from other parts of the country, to replace the military and police which are heavily infiltrated by Shiite militias. American reinforcements are also streaming into Baghdad. Altogether, an extra 50,000 Iraqi and US troops are planned for the Baghdad clean-up operation.

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