The United States has formally warned Iran against
interference in Iraq.
U.S. officials said the warning came in wake of intelligence reports
that thousands of Iranian agents are organizing the Shi'ite majority in Iraq
to oppose the U.S. military presence in that Arab country. The officials
said Iran, with the help of Hizbullah insurgents who arrived from Lebanon,
is suspected of playing a leading role in the huge anti-U.S. demonstrations
by Iraqi Shi'ites over the last week.
"We have some concerns about outside interference in Iraq's road to
democracy, and we have acted on those concerns and conveyed a message,"
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Wednesday. "I want to stress
that people should not over-interpret the capability of the Shiite Iranians
to influence the Shia Iraqis. They are not one and the same."
Officials said the Bush administration has been taken aback by the huge
anti-U.S. demonstrations and the calls for an Islamic regime in Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported. They
said these calls have not been supported by the traditional Shi'ite
leadership, which opposes the Iranian Shi'ite school in Qom.
U.S. officials said the flow of Iranian agents into Iraq began several
months prior to the start of the U.S.-led war against Iraq. They said the
agents were mostly Shi'ites who held Iraqi citizenship and infiltrated
Shi'ite communities in Baghdad, Karbala and Najaf.
Iran, the officials said, was suspected of having ordered the
assassination of Abdul Majid Al Khoei on April 10 in Najaf. They said Al
Khoei, a pro-Western cleric who returned from exile in London a week
earlier, was killed by a rival Iranian-backed Shi'ite group that has formed
a large militia to control both Karbala and Najaf.
Fleischer stressed that Iraq would be reconstructed in accordance with
the principles of a democratic society. He said this rules out the formation
of a government modeled after neighboring Iran or Syria. Iran is a Shi'ite
country and Iraq's population is said to be 60 percent Shi'ite.
"The interests of Syria and the interests of Iran have not always proved
to be the interest of peace or stability or freedom or democracy," Fleischer
said. "And we have always said that one of the principles of the liberation
and the government that would follow would be a government that is based not
on an Iranian model or a Syrian model, but based on a model of freedom,
democracy, tolerance, openness, rule of law."
"There is no love lost between the Iraqi people and the Iranian people,"
Fleischer said. "The Iraqi Shiite community is a very capable community, a
very large community and a very diverse community. And I think that any
efforts or anybody outside of Iraq to try to create an outsider's version of
what should take place for the Iraqi people, by the Iraqi people, will not
have much chance of success."
So far, officials said, Iran has not succeeded in controlling the
Shi'ite majority in Iraq. The officials said U.S. Central Command has
deployed marines to patrol the Iraqi border with Iran to prevent the entry
of Iranian agents.
"Right now, the Shia and any Iranian-influenced Shia actions are not an
overt threat," Gen. David McKiernan, commander of U.S. ground forces in