BAGHDAD — The commander of the foreign operations wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard met with Sunni Kurdish jihadist leaders in April 2005 to encourage them to launch attacks in Iraq.
News of the meeting was disclosed Tuesday in an interview with Osman Ali Mustapha, a former Kurdish police officer who was recruited by Iranian intelligence in 2004 to spy on American bases and eventually help facilitate the assassination of a Kurdish police chief in Halabja.
The meeting between the Iranian general, Qassem Suleimani, and the leaders of Kurdish Sunni jihadist groups was confirmed by two Kurdish counterterrorism officials and by an American intelligence officer contacted after the interview.
Mr. Mustapha, whose story appeared in The New York Sun on Thursday, said the commander of the Quds Force, General Suleimani, “spoke on behalf of Ali Khamenei,” Iran’s supreme leader, at a summit in the Iranian city of Kermanshah. Mr. Mustapha continued, “He said, ‘Ali Khamenei told us that any group of Islamists, Tawhid and Jihad, Ansar al Sunna, any group can go across the border to Iraq.” (Tawhid and Jihad is the original organization founded by the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.)
The account of Mr. Mustapha would settle the question of whether the commander of Iran’s Quds Force was acting on his own. Yesterday in Washington, General Petraeus, the commander of multinational forces in Iraq, would not answer questions from journalists as to whether the support from the Quds Force for terrorism in Iraq was the official policy of the regime.
“With respect to how high does it go and, you know, what do they know and when did they know it, I honestly cannot — that is such a sensitive issue,” he said.
The general continued, “At least I do not know of anything that specifically identifies how high it goes beyond the level of the Quds Force, Commander Suleimani. Beyond that, it is very difficult to tell — we know where he is in the overall chain of command; he certainly reports to the very top — but again, nothing that would absolutely indicate, again, how high the knowledge of this actually goes.”
He also said that coalition forces had received a 22-page memorandum on a computer that disclosed the details of a terror operation in Karbala that killed five American soldiers in January. He said the memo was an accounting of the operation to Iranian backers.
The Iranian role in Iraq is still hotly debated in Washington. As the New York Sun reported in a series of stories in January, the CIA and State Department have said the Iranian hand is less prevalent in Iraqi terrorism than the military commanders overseeing the war here.
WASHINGTON, April 26 (UPI) — Iran’s role in fomenting violence in Iraq is greater than the U.S. military understood even a month ago, Gen. David Petraeus said Thursday.
Iraqi Shiite militia members — a secret cell of the Jaysh al-Mahdi, which is loyal to cleric Muqtada Sadr — have received funding, advanced explosives and training on Iranian soil, and “in some cases advice and … even a degree of direction,” Petraeus, the commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq, said.
“There’s no question … that Iranian financing is taking place through the Quds force of the Iranian Republican Guards Corps,” he said.
The U.S. military is holding the leaders of the Khazali cell that in January attacked a U.S. Army team in Karbala, kidnapping four and killing five.
“The Iranian involvement has really become much clearer to us and brought into much more focus during the interrogation of … the heads of the Khazali network, and some of the key members of that network that have been in detention now for a month or more,” Petraeus said.
“We think that records are kept so that the individuals that carry out these attacks can demonstrate what they’re doing to those who are providing the resources to them, providing the additional funding, training, arms, ammunition, advanced technologies and so forth,” Petraeus said.
However, Petraeus said there was no evidence of a direct link between Iran and the Karbala operation. “I can’t say it wasn’t there either, but we did not find, if you will, a direct fingerprint to it,” he said.