Britain accused Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday of supplying weapons to Shi’ite militia in Iraq used to attack British troops.
Washington and London have long accused Iran of fomenting unrest in Iraq, but the allegations, made by British officials under condition of anonymity, were more detailed than previous public remarks.
An official told Reuters that recent attacks on British troops in southern Iraq appeared to have been carried out by a splinter group from the militia of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
The attackers “were using technically advanced equipment that had previously been used by Lebanese Hezbollah, and they are linked with Iran. Therefore there was some indication that Iran was linked to those attacks,” he said.
Attacks in Iraq were carried out using armour-piercing explosives and infrared control mechanisms “which basically you would need specific expertise to use” and were similar to devices used by Hezbollah, the official said.
While Iran’s government has publicly denied it supports Iraqi militia, “there was some suggestion that this could be elements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that were involved.”
British forces patrol the area around Basra in southern Iraq, territory that is overwhelmingly Shi’ite, where militia with historical ties to Shi’ite Iran have been powerful.
British troops have come under attack several times in recent weeks, most notably in a riot after British forces attacked a jail to free undercover soldiers they said had been turned over to a Shi’ite militia by police.
The official said Britain suspects that Shi’ite Iran has also backed “Sunni elements” in Iraq, as well as the Shi’ite militia with which it has sectarian ties.
“There was evidence that there were links to certain Sunni groups that were part and parcel of Iranian efforts to destabilise Iraq,” he said.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “Iranian links to militant groups are unacceptable and undermine Iran’s long-term interest in a secure, stable and democratic Iraq. Iran has given public undertakings on a number of occasions not to intervene in Iraq’s internal affairs.”