By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 15, 2007 – The U.S. military's goal in laying out the case against Iranians helping U.S. enemies in Iraq is to "stop these people from killing our troops, period," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today. Gates and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke during a Pentagon news conference.
The Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps that carries out terrorist attacks outside Iran and trains fundamentalist Islam terrorist groups outside the country, is believed to be in Iraq, supplying insurgents with weapons and training.
The secretary gave his strongest denial to date that the United States is seeking a fight with Iran. "For the umpteenth time, we are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran," he said. "We are not planning on a war with Iran. What we are trying to do is, inside Iraq, disrupt the networks that put these weapons in the hands of those who kill our troops. That's it."
Gates and Pace addressed the issue following a Baghdad briefing Feb. 11 that was unclear about Iranian government involvement in shipping improvised explosive devices - especially the very deadly weapons called explosively shaped projectiles - into Iraq.
Pace commented on the situation this week while on a visit to Australia, saying he wanted the briefing to be very precise in separating what is fact and what are assumptions or conclusions based on those facts.
"We know there are explosives and weapons being used inside Iraq that were manufactured in Iran," Pace said in Australia. "We know that on two occasions, while aggressively attacking the IED network, that we have policed up Iranians. Those Iranians are Quds Force members."
At the Pentagon today, Pace said confusion over whether the United States believes the highest levels of the Iranian government are involved may have resulted from unclear differentiation between fact and analysis at the Baghdad briefing.
Gates said his guidance for the briefing was to focus on facts. "I think it was ... very important to present the facts as we know them," Gates said. "To the degree I had any involvement, it was to say I want factual statements. I don't want adjectives, I don't want adverbs, I want declarative sentences, and make it exactly clear what we know and what we don't know."
Gates said no one knows how high up in the Iranian government the knowledge of these activities goes.
"We assume that the leadership of the IRGC knows about this," Gates said. "Whether or not senior leaders in Iran know about it, we don't know."
Gates said that regardless of the level of involvement in the Iranian government, the situation is cause for worry. It's a problem, he said, if senior Iranian leaders know about the IED operations in Iraq. But if Iran's leaders don't know, he explained, it's still a problem.
"Either they do know and have approved it, or they don't know and the IRGC may be acting on their own in Iraq," Gates said. "So the honest answer is basically the same answer I gave you a couple of weeks ago. We don't know how high it is."
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