Five Iranians arrested in northern Iraq last week were connected to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard faction that funds and arms insurgents in Iraq, the U.S. military said Sunday.
The five were detained by U.S.-led forces Thursday in a raid on an Iranian government liaison office in Irbil, a city in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq 217 miles north of Baghdad.
“Preliminary results revealed the five detainees are connected to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Qods Force (IRGC-QF), an organization known for providing funds, weapons, improvised explosive device technology and training to extremist groups attempting to destabilize the Government of Iraq and attack Coalition forces,” the U.S. military said in a statement.
“Qods” is the Arabic name for Jerusalem, and a frequent name for political or military factions across the Muslim world.
Two days after the raid, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said President George W. Bush approved the strategy of raiding Iranian targets in Iraq as part of a broad effort to confront Tehran.
The U.S. accuses Iran of helping to provide roadside bombs that have killed American troops in Iraq, and a bitter standoff already exists over Iran’s nuclear program.
One day before the Irbil raid, Bush delivered a speech outlining a new strategy for Iraq, in which he accused Iran and Syria of not doing enough to block terrorists from entering Iraq over their borders. He specifically blamed Iran for providing material support for attacks on American troops.
“We will disrupt the attacks on our forces,” Bush said Wednesday. “We will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq.”
The U.S. State Department has said American-led forces entered the Irbil facility because information linked it to Revolutionary Guards and other Iranian elements engaging in violent activities in Iraq.
U.S.-led troops would “continue to disrupt logistical support to extremists that originate from outside Iraq,” the statement continued. “These initiatives are part of a broader plan including diplomatic efforts designed to support the Iraqi government, protect the Iraqi people, and seek assistance from neighboring nations,” it said.
There has been debate over whether the Irbil office where the men were arrested had diplomatic status, and would therefore be protected by international treaties.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, described it as a liaison office that had government approval and was in the process of being approved as an Iranian consulate. In Iran, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the U.S. raid constituted an intervention in Iranian-Iraqi affairs.
But the U.S. State Department has said no legitimate diplomatic activity was being carried out at the site, and Rice said the office was not a consulate.
“The facility in which the detention took place has been described by various Iraqi officials as an Iranian liaison office, but it did not enjoy the diplomatic status of a consulate according to Iraqi and U.S. officials,” the U.S. statement said.