U.S. Launches Armed Force to
Block Iranian Influence in Iraq
By Anna Mulrine
01/18/07 "USNWR" -- -- The U.S. military has launched a
special operations task force to break up Iranian
influence in Iraq, according to U.S. News sources. The
special operations mission, known as Task Force 16, was
created late last year to target Iranians trafficking
arms and training Shiite militia forces. The operation
is modeled on Task Force 15, a clandestine cadre of Navy SEALs, Army Delta Force soldiers, and CIA operatives
with a mission to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives
and Baathist insurgents in Iraq.
Task Force 15 killed al Qaeda's leader in Iraq, Abu
Musab Zarqawi, last June.
The new classified directive is part of an escalation of
military countermeasures against Iran, authorized by
President Bush, to strike back at what military
officials describe as a widespread web of Iranian
influence in Iraq that includes providing weapons,
training, and money to Shiite militias.
"It's present, and the issue is how do you deal with
it," says a senior U.S. military official. "That's the
question of the day. Those networks are something you've
got to deal with. You've got to figure out, bottom line,
who plans them, who finances them, who brings stuff
across the borders."
Bush signaled the new get-tough stance toward Iraq in
his recent televised address on Iraq policy.
"We will disrupt the attacks on our forces," Bush said
in his speech to the nation last week. "We'll interrupt
the flow of support from Iran and Syria. We will seek
out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry
and training to our enemies in Iraq."
But the details have been sketchy on how that is being
U.S. Troops Grabbed Five Iranians
On the heels of Bush's speech, U.S. forces grabbed five
Iranians with alleged ties to the Iranian Revolutionary
Guards Corps in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil,
reportedly using stun bombs, seizing computers, and
taking down an Iranian flag from the raided building's
roof. Iran claimed the building was a consulate and the
men were diplomats. One of Iraq's most powerful Shiite
politicians condemned the raid, calling it an attack on
Iran's efforts to foment chaos in Iraq are primarily
carried out by the Iranian intelligence service and the
Revolutionary Guards' al-Quds (Jerusalem) Brigade, the
foreign operations arm of the Iranian military, which
also supports Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the
Palestinian territories. The most visible Iranian
political and militia involvement has been in
predominantly Shiite southern Iraq, especially in and
around the oil export city of Basra. Iran is also seen
as a major backer of anti-American Iraqi Shiite leader
Moqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army militia, blamed for
abducting and killing Iraqi Sunnis.
The United States is trying to counteract the impression
of being overtaxed by its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The Iranians clearly believe that we are tied down in
Iraq, that they have the initiative, that they are able
to press us in many ways," Secretary of Defense Robert
Gates said in Brussels on Monday.
To show otherwise and to present a powerful military
face, the U.S. Navy will be stationing a second
aircraft-carrier group in the Persian Gulf for the first
time since the 2003 Iraq invasion. The Pentagon also
said it is sending additional Patriot antimissile
batteries to defend friendly gulf Arab states that are
within range of Iranian missiles.
U.S. officials see Iranian fingerprints in violent
attacks throughout Iraq and all but blame Iran for
complicity in the deaths of American soldiers.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter
Pace, voiced such concerns in Senate testimony last
week, saying that "we know that Iranian-supplied and
-made weapons are on the streets of Baghdad killing our
troops." U.S. officials, including the president, have
stopped just sort of directly blaming Iranian government
leaders for American deaths in Iraq–a claim that, if
made, could lead to pressure for U.S. military action
against Iran itself.
Military Cites Iranian-Made Roadside Bombs
U.S. military officials have been tracing the growth of
Iranian influence through the increased use of
Iranian-made explosively formed projectiles (or EFPs) as
roadside bombs. When this particularly deadly and
distinct variation on the improvised explosive device
detonates, it melts and reshapes metal, turning it into
what is essentially a deadly dart that punches through a
humvee's armor plates.
"When the EFPs start popping up, we know, oh, that's
Iran, that's Shia," says one U.S. special operations
officer who served in Iraq. A senior American commander
in Baghdad adds that the military has been able to trace
numbers and manufacture dates back to Iran.
And the use of weapons like EFPs, say soldiers on the
ground in Iraq, is spreading.
"They were initially used just down south, where Iran
has a lot of influence," says the officer. Now they are
moving into Baghdad and areas north of the city as well.
"That is a change. If you follow the track of them, it
also follows the track of Iranian influence."
In the restive province of Diyala, what has long been a
transit point for goods and trafficked arms flowing
across the border with Iran, U.S. military operatives
have intercepted donkeys carrying Russian antitank mines
and other weapons. Iran uses "a certain type of mortar,"
adds the special operations officer. "We can look at it
and say, 'This comes from Iran.' "
In Baghdad neighborhoods like Karrada, south of Sadr
City, U.S. soldiers confiscate Iranian cellphones in
Shiite militia strongholds and have arrested suspects
who speak only Iran's Farsi language. A U.S. soldier
south of Sadr City adds that he is increasingly told by
locals that Iranians are coming to live in certain
"Iranians are moving in," he says, adding that there is
evidence that they train Mahdi Army snipers and help
direct militia activity.
But it can often be unclear whether, for instance,
munitions are coming at the direction of the Iranian
government or are being provided by arms dealers or
others who may be acting on their own. And U.S.
officials sound a note of caution.
"A lot of people say there are Iranians here, there, and
everywhere," says one U.S. military officer. "Lots are
Shiites that fled [Iraq] during the Iran-Iraq War, went
over to Iran for 20 years, and are now infiltrating back
into Iraq," he says. "Are they are Iraqi or Iranian?"
U.S. military officials in Baghdad emphasize that in
addition to military measures, the United States needs
to pursue diplomatic tracks and emphasize the importance
of trying to open a dialogue with Iran. Says a senior
U.S. military official in Baghdad: "Not dialoguing, not
engaging, is not going to solve this problem."
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