Iran's Men in Iraq
The US, according to the New York Times, captured at least 4 Iranians, "including men the Bush administration called senior military officials, who were seized in a pair of raids late last week aimed at people suspected of conducting attacks on Iraqi security forces." One raid was on the Baghdad compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, an Iraqi theologian and politician and the leader of SCIRI, the largest political party in the Iraqi Council of Representatives. Hakim traveled to Washington three weeks ago to meet President Bush. He declined to comment on the raids. Two of the Iranians were accredited diplomats there on invitation from the Iraqi government.
In one raid, which took place around 7 p.m. that day, American forces stopped an official Iranian Embassy car carrying the two Iranian diplomats, one or two Iranian guards and an Iraqi driver. Iraqi officials said that the diplomats had been praying at the Buratha mosque and that when it was stopped, the car was in the Allawi neighborhood, a few minutes from the Iranian Embassy to the west of the Tigris River.
All in the car were detained by the Americans. The mosque’s imam, Sheik Jalal al-deen al-Sageir, a member of Parliament from Mr. Hakim’s party, said the Iranians had come to pray during the last day of mourning for his mother, who recently died. He said that after the Iranians left, the Iranian Embassy phoned to say that they had not arrived as expected. “We were afraid they were kidnapped,” Sheik Sageir said.
They were subsequently released to Iraqi authorities, then to the Iranian embassy. The nondiplomats, who may have been seized in another raid, possibly the one on Hakim's compound, remain in American custody. The New York Times says, " A Bush administration official said the Iranian military officials held in custody were suspected of being members of the Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. It has been involved in training members of Hezbollah and other groups that the Americans regard as terrorist organizations."
In other news, one thousand British soldiers raided a Basra police station's serious crimes unit, releasing hundreds of prisoners. The serious crimes unit is suspected by the British of being a murder organization aimed at liquidating unnamed enemies. According to the BBC:
Soldiers from 19 Light Brigade supported by Iraqi forces surrounded the police station before the Royal Engineers used a combat tractor to breach the walls. Then, warrior vehicles from Staffordshire Regiments entered the compound and troops stormed the buildings. A Ministry of Defence spokesman said 1,000 troops were involved and hundreds of seized files and computers have been taken as evidence.
An Iraqi security official said: "The interior minister decided to cancel the serious crimes unit in Basra city and replace it with a new one based inside the headquarters of Basra police. "The decision was made two days ago on the grounds of security violations by the serious crimes unit." The Christmas Day raid on the police station took place at about 0200 local time (2300 GMT) and was a "very significant move" according to Maj Burbridge.
The New York Times article attempts to portray the American raids as a faux pas, coming at a time when Iraq and the US are trying to "engage" Iraq. But the unconvincing outrage of key Iraqi officials, the obvious nature of the targets -- a prominent compound, a diplomatic vehicle and a police station -- and the simultaneity of the raids by British and American forces, leave little doubt that the raids are all deliberate. This does not necessarily mean that America has decided to confront Iran instead of talk. But it does suggest that America has decided to pressure Iran in addition to talking.