America’s military chiefs are at loggerheads with the country’s diplomats and spies over tactics for confronting Iranian agents in Iraq over their role in lethal attacks on US forces.
The rift has spilled over into a dispute about how and when to publish alleged evidence of Iranian backing for Iraqi militias and Iran’s provision of supplies and technology for roadside bombs, the biggest killer of American soldiers in Iraq, a White House adviser revealed…
Angered by the mounting toll of troops killed by ever-more sophisticated devices, US commanders insisted last month that the White House give them authority to target and kill Iranian operatives in Iraq as part of the new 21,500-troop “surge” strategy ordered by Mr Bush.
But the State Department, headed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and the CIA had argued against openly targeting Iranian agents, most of whom claim to be diplomats based at Teheran’s network of consulates, liaison offices and cultural offices in Iraq.
They contended that this approach could escalate into direct armed conflict with Iran, which is under intense international pressure to give up its nuclear programme.
The State Department and the CIA, which both objected to the way the Bush administration used pre-war intelligence on Iraq, also wanted to publicise clear evidence of Iranian interference in Iraq as a way of justifying the US stance.
“The military’s highest echelons really do not want the release of details of what Iran is up to as they don’t want the Iranians to know what’s working and what’s not,” the administration adviser said.
“The military and the State Department and CIA are coming at this from very different approaches. State and the CIA believe we should respect the supposed diplomatic immunity of these Iranians. But the military has had enough and they say ‘to hell with their fake diplomatic immunity’.”
The splits within the administration come as reports emerge of new variants of “explosively formed projectiles” allegedly made with Iranian help.
The Pentagon said the first soldier was killed by one of the devices on Jan 22, but it is refusing to give further details of their use because it wants to limit the information available to its enemies.
The US has also suggested that Iranian operatives may have been involved in the abduction and killing of five soldiers in Kerbala (reported here), a potentially explosive accusation. But Stephen Hadley, Mr Bush’s national security adviser, acknowledged on Friday that the intelligence briefing on Iranian interference in Iraq – publication of which has been delayed twice – was still being refined.
Clearly we need to vanquish America’s adversaries in Langley and Foggy Bottom before we have any hope of successfully taking on Teheran.