Thousands of Iranian agents organizing anti-U.S. rallies in Iraq

Friday, April 25, 2003

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 Iraq, said.

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