Iraqi Shiite extremists are being trained by members of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in camps near Tehran, a U.S. military spokesman said Monday.
Iraqis are receiving the training at camps operated by the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps that has been accused of training and funneling weapons to Shiite extremists in Iraq, Air Force Col. Donald Bacon, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, told The Associated Press.
“We have multiple detainees who state Lebanese Hezbollah are providing training to Iraqis in Iranian IRGC-QF training camps near Tehran,” Bacon said.
The Quds Force is also known as the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps-Quds Force, or IRGC-QF. Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem.
The Quds Force is believed to operate overseas, helping to create the militant Shiite Hezbollah group in 1982 in Lebanon and to arm Bosnian Muslims during the Balkan wars.
The first reports of Hezbollah training of Shiite extremists emerged in March 2007, when U.S. forces captured Qais Khazali, the senior Special Groups leader for Iraq, and Ali Mussa Daqduq, a senior Lebanese Hezbollah commander captured along with him. The arrests took place in the Shiite holy city of Karbala.
“Ali Mussa Daqduq confirmed Lebanese Hezbollah were providing training to Iraqi Special Group members in Iran and that his role was to assess the quality of training and make recommendations on how the training could be improved,” Bacon told The AP in an e-mail.
Since then, Bacon said, “we have captured other Iraqis who have discussed their training in Iran and who state many of their instructors were Lebanese Hezbollah.”
The U.S. has accused Iran of supporting Shiite militias in Iraq. But Iran, which is predominantly Shiite like Iraq, has blamed violence in the war-torn country on the U.S. presence.
U.S. and Iraqi forces have for the past six weeks battled Shiite extremists in Baghdad and the southern city of Basra. Hundreds of people have been killed in the fighting against the so-called “special groups” that have broken away from anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia.
Iran said Monday it would not hold a new round of talks with the U.S. on security in Iraq until American forces end their assault against Shiite militias.
Iraq’s government spokesman said Sunday that the crackdown will continue even if Iran pulls out of the talks.
A five-member Iraqi delegation was sent to Tehran last week to try to choke off suspected Iranian aid to militiamen. They met with Gen. Ghassem Soleimani, commander of the Quds Force, but no clear details emerged from the meeting.
Damien McElroy – Telegraph.co.uk May 6, 2008
Mr Bolton said that striking Iran would represent a major step towards victory in Iraq. While he acknowledged that the risk of a hostile Iranian response harming American’s overseas interests existed, he said the damage inflicted by Tehran would be “far higher” if Washington took no action.
“This is a case where the use of military force against a training camp to show the Iranians we’re not going to tolerate this is really the most prudent thing to do,” he said. “Then the ball would be in Iran’s court to draw the appropriate lesson to stop harming our troops.”
Mr Bolton, an influential former member of President George W Bush’s inner circle, dismissed as “dead wrong” reported British intelligence conclusions that the US military had overstated the support that Iran was providing to Iraqi fighters.
A US military spokesman revealed last week that the elite Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had drafted in personnel from Lebanon’s Hizbollah to train fighters from Iraq’s Shia militias.
Colonel Donald Bacon, a spokesman for the coalition in Baghdad, said captured fighters had told interrogators that thousands of Iraqi fighters were undergoing training in the Islamic Republic.
The main camp is located near the town of Jalil Azad, near Tehran, according to coalition officials.
The capture of Qais Khazali, a major figure in the Shia insurgency alongside Ali Mussa Daqduq, a senior Lebanese Hizbollah guerilla, last year yielded a treasure trove of information on Hizbollah’s activities in Iraq.
“Ali Mussa Daqduq confirmed Lebanese Hizbollah were providing training to Iraqi Special Group members in Iran and that his role was to assess the quality of training and make recommendations on how the training could be improved,” said Col Bacon. “In this role, he travelled to Iraq on four occasions and was captured on his fourth trip.”
Five Britons kidnapped in Iraq are believed to have been put under the control of Quds Force agents after failed attempts to barter the men for Khazali and Daqduq’s freedom.
The importance of the Quds Force to stability in Iraq was demonstrated last week when a five-member Iraqi delegation was sent to Tehran to meet with its commander, General Ghassem Soleimani. The delegation was despatched by the Iraqi government to plead for an end to Iranian meddling in its enfeebled neighbour