Iran exile says Tehran steps up efforts in Iraq

WASHINGTON Fri Jan 5, 2007 7:55pm GMT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iran has sharply increased its efforts to fan sectarian violence in Iraq in recent months, easily transferring money and arms across the Iraqi border, an opponent of the Tehran government said on Friday.

Alireza Jafarzadeh, who accurately disclosed key details about Iran's nuclear program in 2002, gave names, locations and logistics he said were associated with Iranian operations in neighbouring Iraq, which includes providing roadside bombs that have killed U.S. forces.

Jafarzadeh spoke at a news conference organised by the Iran Policy Committee, a U.S. group pushing to change in Iran's Islamic fundamentalist government system.

He said his information came from Iran-based members of the People's Mujahideen, which seeks to topple Iran's government and is on the U.S. list of extremist organisations.

Iran denies it is fuelling sectarian violence or the anti-U.S. insurgency in Iraq.

However, retired U.S. Air Force General Thomas McInerney, a policy-committee member, said Jafarzadeh's presentation was "powerful evidence" that Iran has become the primary killer of U.S. forces in Iraq.

He said it should force U.S. President George W. Bush, who is preparing to announce changes in his Iraq policy next week, to confront Iran's role directly if he wants to stabilise Iraq.

"Just sending more troops to Iraq doesn't solve the problem unless you attack this problem (of Iran's involvement) and it must be attacked in a covert way in Iran. We're going against a very formidable enemy that thinks we will not respond," McInerney said.

Since 2003, Iran has spent billions of dollars in Iraq, mobilised vast government resources and unleashed the Qods force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard "to impose its authority in Iraq," Jafarzadeh said.

But recently, there has been a "sharp increase in Iran's sponsorship of terrorism and sectarian violence," he said.

McInerney said the most sophisticated roadside bombs killing U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians in Iraq are from Iran, and Jafarzadeh said a major front organisation used by the Qods force to deliver arms and ammunition into Iraq is called the "Headquarters for Reconstruction of Iraq's Holy Sites."

The organisation "has reached agreements with local authorities in different Iraqi provinces so that containers of goods arriving from Iran are not inspected at the border and are delivered sealed to Najaf, Karbala and Baghdad," Jafarzadeh said.

"The Qods force hides arms and ammunitions in these containers," he said.

Jafarzadeh also said committees linked up with the Qods force to plan assassinations, operated out of Iraq's Interior Ministry, when Iraq had an interim government.

The Iranian base for the Qods operations in Iraq is Fajr Base in Ahwaz, southwestern Iran, and it is headed by Iranian Brigadier Gen. Abtahi, he said. No first name was given for Abtahi.

In Iraq, the Qods network is based in the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf under the guise of a cultural institution, located within 100 yards (metres) of the office of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's top Shi'ite cleric. The commander of Iran's Iraq network is Jamal Ebrahimi, who has been wanted by Interpol since 1984, Jafarzadeh said.

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