Report: Bush authorizes targeting Iranians in Iraq
US president authorizes military to kill, capture Iranian agents in Iraq, counterterrorism officials tell Washington Post, adding that move aimed at weakening Islamic Republic’s influence in region, force it to abandon nuclear program; skeptics in intelligence community fear Iranians may try to kidnap or kill US personnel in Iraq as payback, report says
The move, approved last fall, is aimed at weakening Iran's influence in the region and forcing Tehran to abandon its nuclear program that the West believes is for nuclear weapons and not energy, the newspaper said, citing the unidentified officials.
For more than a year, US forces have held dozens of Iranians for a few days, taking DNA samples from some as well as photographs and fingerprints from all those captured, the report said.
Several Iranian officials have been detained in three US raids over the last month. Outgoing US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters on Wednesday that details of accusations against them would be made public in the coming days.
He said they were "going after networks" of security agents, which he said were a mainstay of Iran's involvement in Iraq. The United States has accused Iran of helping arm, train and fund Iraqi militants, notably fellow Shi'ite Muslims.
Iran has long been at odds with the United States, pushing ahead with plans to enrich uranium as part of what Tehran calls a peaceful energy program. The West has feared that Iran instead has been trying to develop nuclear weapons.
The new policy applies to Iranian intelligence operatives and members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard thought to be working with Iraqi militias, but not civilians or diplomats, the newspaper said.
'Our forces have standing authority'
No deadly force was known to have been used by US troops against any Iranians, but administration officials have been pushing military commanders to exercise that authority, it said.
The newspaper said there were skeptics in the intelligence community, State Department and Pentagon, including CIA Director Michael Hayden who said Iranians may try to kidnap or kill US personnel in Iraq as payback.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backed the plan to help pressure Iran on the nuclear issue, but raised concerns about the risk for mistakes and demanded there be some oversight, the Post reported.
The newspaper said the Defense and State Departments referred inquiries to the White House National Security Council, which declined to comment on specifics of the plan.
But in response to questions about the "kill or capture" authorization, NSC spokesman Gordon Johndroe told the Post: "The president has made clear for sometime that we will take the steps necessary to protect Americans on the ground in Iraq and disrupt activity that could lead to their harm. Our forces have standing authority, consistent with the mandate of the UN Security Council."