Three weeks ago the Iranian armed forces command in Teheran lost contact with a senior officer who had been serving in Iraq with the al-Quds unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, according to a senior Iranian official cited in the Wednesday edition of the London-based Arabic daily al-Sharq al-Awsat.
The Iranian source said that it is still unclear why contact with the officer, Colonel Amir Muhammad Shirazi, was lost. "It is possible that the American forces in Iraq arrested him along with a group of 13 Iranian military and intelligence officials," he said, adding that this is just one of the scenarios being investigated by Tehran.
Former Iranian defense minister's fate still unclear
The lack of word from the al-Quds officer is attracting heightened interest because of the mysterious disappearance - or perhaps defection - of Iran's former Deputy Defense Minister, General Ali Reza Asgari, a week ago.
An Iranian source denied reports circulating in Iran that Asgari was being held prisoner by the Americans and is being tortured. "The people investigating the affair have no new information about him. Such reports are part of a propaganda campaign intended to … prevent other high-ranking Iranian officials who may be thinking of defecting from doing so," the source told the Iranian news agency FARS.
Dozens of officers have defected
Al-Sharq al-Awsat reported that a Tehran military court sentenced to death a colonel in Iranian military intelligence who recently returned from service in Iraq. The officer was accused of collaborating with American forces and providing them with details on the deployment and activities of the al-Quds unit and Iranian military intelligence operatives. He was also accused of providing the Americans with classified documents, photographs and maps related to Iran's nuclear program and armed forces.
The newspaper reported that over the past three years, dozens of members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and military intelligence units have defected to the American forces in Iraq.
Officers from various branches of Iran's armed forces operate in Iraq in both covert and overt roles. The United States accuses Iranian agents of aiding Shiite militias in Iraq with training, weapons and funding. Over the past few months, American forces in Iraq have arrested a number of Iranian officers.