UK commanders dismiss allegations of Iranian interference in Iraq

All British commanders in Basra, Iraq are dismissive of accusations of Iranian involvement in the Iraqi insurgency, according to a British journalist who has just returned from southern Iraq.

“There is no firm evidence that the Iranian government is involved” in supplying weaponry, a defense ministry source told Ammar al-Jundi, diplomatic correspondent of the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.

Jundi spent four days this week traveling in Basra and southern Iraq with other journalists, who were accompanied by Chief-of-Staff General Sir Michael Jackson, Britain’s most senior army officer.

During his visit, several British newspapers, led by the Sun, Mirror and Independent, stepped up direct accusations against Iran, including sensational allegations that Revolutionary Guards were training insurgents.

“British officers were skeptical about the reports” that quoted defense sources in Basra, the diplomatic editor told IRNA. There was suspicion about the untraceable sources and even suggestions that the allegations may have been half-fabricated. One senior commander referred to local Iraqi authorities not listening to the central government but to other elements. When questioned by Jundi to clarify this, he said these were not external influences but were “listening to people in Iraq.”

British officials in London have also expressed private reservations about some of the language used by political leaders in endorsing some of the allegations against Iran, despite Prime Minister Tony Blair emphasizing that there was no firm evidence.

Particular concern has been raised about Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells’ telling parliament on Tuesday that “there is no question that there has been at least Revolutionary Guard involvement” in southern Iraq. Blair’s attempts to politicize the accusations and link them with the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program was also said to be “unhelpful.”

Analysts further believed that Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made a blunder in not ruling out military action but suggesting British troops could be ordered into Iran by commanders on the ground in Iraq. The opposition Conservatives have demanded that Blair intervene over the “profound implications” of Straw’s comments, with the prime minister’s spokesman insisting that “people should wait for a considered reply.”