U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has accused Iran of sending members of an elite military force into Iraq to stir up trouble. Defense secretary held a news conference at the Pentagon.
U.S. officials have long accused Iran of allowing insurgents and their supporters to cross its border with Iraq. And some media reports have indicated that Iran is sending in specially trained soldiers. But this is the first time Secretary Rumsfeld has made such an accusation.
"They are currently putting people into Iraq to do things that are harmful to the future of Iraq," said Donald Rumsfeld. "And we know it. And it is something that they, I think, will look back on as having been an error in judgment."
Secretary Rumsfeld said the people being sent are part of what is called the "Quds" Force, an elite unit of Iran's Republican Guards.
"They're putting Iranian 'Quds' Force type people into the country," he said. "I don't think we could consider them religious pilgrims."
Secretary Rumsfeld and the top U.S. military officer, General Peter Pace, indicated that some of the Iranian soldiers have been intercepted recently. But they could not say how long such forces have been operating in Iraq. General Pace said he has an idea how many are there, but he would not share that information. He noted that in the past, the U.S. military has found weapons and bombs in Iraq that it believes had come from Iran. But he said the latest reports refer to what he called "individuals crossing the border."
Secretary Rumsfeld said he does not have specific evidence that the Iranian government is behind the deployment of the "Quds" operatives, but he indicated he believes it is a reasonable assumption.
"Of course, 'Quds' Force, the Revolutionary Guard, doesn't go milling around willy nilly, one would think," stated Donald Rumsfeld.
Secretary Rumsfeld called the development a threat to Iraqi security, which could result in the deaths of more Iraqis. And he said the alleged Iranian operation stems from concerns about the effort to establish democracy in Iraq.
"It's certainly not to be in support of placing on their border a country that's democratic and notably unlike the regime in Iran," said U.S. defense secretary.
The allegation that Iran is sending the specially trained forces into Iraq comes as Iraqi leaders are trying to maintain order in spite of anger generated by the bombing of an important Shiite mosque two weeks ago. Secretary Rumsfeld said the attack and its aftermath have delayed the formation of a new Iraqi government. But he praised the Iraqi security forces, officials and political party leaders for preventing the outbreak of a civil war. And he accused the media of exaggerating the violence that followed the mosque bombing.