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Petraeus on Iran in Iraq

General Petraeus says he’s learned a lot in the last month about Iran’s activities in Iraq. I’m glad he’s learning, but in truth the sort of thing he’s talking about–although not these specific details–have been known for years. Eli Lake and Rich Miniter heard all about it from the Kurds in recent days, too.

So here’s Petraeus at his press conference this morning:

GEN. PETRAEUS: The Iranian involvement has really become much clearer to us and brought into much more focus during the interrogation of the members — the heads of the Qazali network and some of the key members of that network that have been in detention now for a month or more. This is the head of the secret cell network, the extremist secret cells. They were provided substantial funding, training on Iranian soil, advanced explosive munitions and technologies as well as run of the mill arms and ammunition, in some cases advice and in some cases even a degree of direction. When we captured these individuals — the initial capture, and then there have been a number of others since then — we discovered, for example, a 22-page memorandum on a computer that detailed the planning, preparation, approval process and conduct of the operation that resulted in five of our soldiers being killed in Karbala. It also detailed — there are numerous documents which detailed a number of different attacks on coalition forces, and our sense is that these records were kept so that they could be handed in to whoever it is that is financing them. And there’s no question, again, that Iranian financing is taking place through the Quds force of the Iranian Republican Guards Corps. As you know, there are seven Quds Force members in detention as well. This involvement, again, we learned more about with the detention of an individual named Sheibani, who is one of the heads of the Sheibani network, which brings explosively formed projectiles into Iraq from Iran. His brother is the Iranian connection. He is — was in Iraq. And that has been the conduit that then distributes these among the extremist elements again of these secret cells and so forth. Those munitions, as you know, have been particularly lethal against some of our armored vehicles and responsible for some of the casualties, the more tragic casualties in attacks on our vehicles. So I think that’s what has taken place.


Q May I formally ask you: What is your assessment at this point? Do you believe that the central government of Iran, Ahmadinejad himself, perhaps, is, number one, aware of this, supporting it, directing it? What is the central government involvement? Could this level of activity possibly take place without the Iranian leadership knowing about it? And just as another point, do you see any involvement beyond EFPs? Are they now involved in these spectacular suicide car-bomb attacks?

GEN. PETRAEUS: I don’t think we have found a link to the spectacular car-bomb attacks, which we believe are generally al Qaeda and elements sort of connected to al Qaeda. Typically, in fact, still we believe that, oh, 80 to 90 percent of the suicide attacks are carried out by foreigners. That’s a network, again, that typically brings them in through Syria and is again a major concern and certainly a hope that Syria will crack down on the ability of people to come through their airport and so forth and then be brought into Iraq. With respect to how high does it go and, you know, what do they know and when did they know it, I honestly cannot — that is such a sensitive issue that — and that we do not — at least I do not know of anything that specifically identifies how high it goes beyond the level of the Qods Force, Commander Suleiman. Beyond that, it is very difficult to tell — we know where he is in the overall chain of command; he certainly reports to the very top — but again, nothing that would absolutely indicate, again, how high the knowledge of this actually goes. So–

There were some followups later on, in which Petraeus was pressed on the “how high up the Iranian line does this chain of command go? And he repeated that we know that some of the people we’re interrogating report to General Sulemaini, the head of the Qods Force, but beyond that we don’t know.

As I’ve said before, this is lawyer-talk, not intelligence talk. And of course the journalist’s question betrays the usual lack of knowlege of the Iranian chain of command. The Revolutionary Guards, of which Qods is the foreign arm, report to the Supreme Leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei), NOT to the president. So the reference to Ahmadinejad shows the journalist’s ignorance. But to believe that a Qods campaign is being conducted without Khamenei’s approval is as silly as the belief that a Special Forces campaign could be conducted without White House approval. No way.

Finally, notice the data he provides on suicide attacks: eighty to ninety percent are carried out by foreigners via Syria. Put that together with the knowledge that the most dangerous explosives are coming from Iran. Then ask yourself why so many people keep talking about “insurgency,” which implies a domestic reaction to the presence of coalition forces on Iraqi soil.

And the answer is: because it’s all about Vietnam.