By Carol L. Bowers
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 11, 2007 - U.S. officials are giving Iran's present role in Iraq "a hard look," U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker said during an interview on Fox News Channel last night. "Iran's role is harmful. There are no two ways about it," said Crocker, who appeared on Brit Hume's special report "Back from Iraq: A Briefing for America" with Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq. The general and the ambassador had spent the day testifying before congressional committees.
"They are supporting radical militias," Crocker said. "They are supplying the explosively formed projectiles that target our troops as well as Iraqis. And they are playing a destabilizing role."
Nonetheless, inroads are being made against Iran's influence, both Crocker and Petraeus said.
Iran is not an Arab state; it's Persian, Crocker said. Iran has a different language, culture and history. "And Iran fought a brutal, bloody, eight-year war with Iraq, in which hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shiia died," he said. "So it's simply not correct to think that, because an Iraqi is a Shiia, that he is somehow allied with Iran. It's not the case."
Crocker cited the negative reaction to a recent attack by Iranian-backed elements of the Jaysh al-Mahdi militia on shrine guards in Karbala on an Islamic holy day. "It triggered a statement from Muqtada al-Sadr calling for Jaysh al-Mahdi to stand down in its attacks on Iraqis and on coalition forces," Crocker said. "It's still a little early to gauge, but we think it has had some effect.
"So what we may be seeing is, again, not a parallel exactly, but a similar phenomenon, where Iraqi Shiia decide they have had enough of radical extremist Iranian-backed elements, just as Iraq's Sunnis decided they'd had enough of al Qaeda and its excesses."
Petraeus noted that multinational forces have determined an element of the Iranian Republican Guard's Corps known as the Quds Force has provided training, equipment, arms, funding and, in some cases, even direction to terrorists in Iraq.
"When we captured the leaders of these so-called special groups ... and the deputy commander of a Lebanese Hezbollah department that was created to support their efforts in Iraq, we've learned a great deal about how Iran has, in fact, supported these elements and how those elements have carried out violent acts against our forces, Iraqi forces and innocent civilians," Petraeus said.
In addition, he noted that rockets provided by Iran have been used in attacks on civilians and multinational forces in Baghdad's heavily fortified International Zone.
"So Iran's role in Iraq is very destructive," Petraeus said. "It is something that Iraqis certainly would hope would be much more of a normal role among countries, but one about which they have become very concerned in recent months as they, along with us, have learned the extent of Iranian involvement."
Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts with Iran are continuing, Crocker said, citing several meetings with his Iranian counterpart. "We've laid out very clearly what our concerns are and said that what they need to do is align practice on the ground with their stated policy of support for a stable, democratic Iraq," he said. "I think you see a collision in Iran between their long-term strategic interests and their narrow tactical desires."
Crocker said Iran's "narrow tactical" desire is to administer a defeat to the United States in Iraq. "The problem they've got is that, if they are able to create circumstances that cause us to reconsider our commitment, the result is going to be a chaotic Iraq that, over the long run, could potentially be dangerous for them, as well."