A U.S. military official is charging that Iran is using the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah as a "proxy" to arm Shiite militants in Iraq and that the Quds force — an elite military force in Iran — had prior knowledge of a January attack in Karbala in which five Americans died.
These extremist Shiite militia groups are behind much of Iraq's violence, and although the U.S. army has long accused Iran of funding them, today it went further then ever, pointing a finger directly at the Iranian government, reports CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan.
"Our intelligence reveals that senior leadership in Iran is aware of this activity," said U.S. military spokesman Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner.
Bergner said a senior Lebanese Hezbollah operative, Ali Mussa Dakdouk, was captured March 20 in southern Iraq. Bergner said Dakdouk served for 24 years in Hezbollah and was "working in Iraq as a surrogate for the Iranian Quds force."
The general also said that Dakdouk was a liaison between the Iranians and a breakaway Shiite group led by Qais al-Kazaali, a former spokesman for cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Bergner said al-Kazaali's group carried out the January attack against a provincial government building in Karbala and that the Iranians assisted in preparations.
These charges will not improve already frosty relations between the United States and Iran, and they come at a time when the U.S. military is under heavy pressure at home to produce results in Iraq, adds Logan.
In other recent developments:
Two Iraqi policemen were killed Sunday when a roadside bomb exploded near their patrol in eastern Baghdad, police said. After the blast, gunmen sped by in a car and showered the policemen with machine gun fire, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media. Three policemen and three civilians in the area were wounded, the officer said.
Also Sunday, the bullet-riddled body of a senior police commander was discovered in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city about 340 miles southeast of Baghdad, police said. Col. Nasser Hamoud, who was in charge of the city's prisons, had been kidnapped along with three of his guards the day before, another officer said on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals. The guards were released a few hours later, he said. Hamoud's hands and legs were bound, and his body showed signs of torture, the officer said. He was a member of the Shiite Fadhila party, an influential Shiite group that controls Basra's provincial government.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Sunday that provincial elections will be held before the end of the year — a key demand from the United States, which hopes to give Sunnis another chance to take part. The last provincial elections were held on Jan. 30, 2005, and were largely boycotted by the Sunni minority, resulting in a Shiite sweep even in areas of the country with substantial Sunni populations.
The U.S. military says two American soldiers have been charged with premeditated murder for allegedly killing three Iraqis and then planting weapons on their bodies to portray them as combatants. The three Iraqis were killed in separate incidents between April and June near Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of Baghdad, the military said in a statement released on Saturday. It says the deaths were investigated after authorities were tipped off by other soldiers.
The U.S. military also announced Saturday that a command sergeant major, Edward Ramsdell, was convicted in a court martial, demoted and sentenced to four months in prison for engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a female soldier in his unit, maltreating a soldier and possessing a "large quantity" of alcohol and pornography.
Al-Maliki condemned a U.S. raid Saturday in Baghdad's Shiite Sadr City slum — a politically sensitive district for him —in which American troops searching for Iranian-linked militants sparked a firefight the U.S. said left 26 Iraqis dead. The U.S. military said all those killed in the fighting were gunmen, some of them firing from behind civilian cars. But an Iraqi official put the death toll lower, at eight, and said they were civilians. Residents also said eight civilians were killed in their homes, angrily accusing American troops of firing wildly during the pre-dawn assault.
Sadr City is the Iraqi capital's largest Shiite neighborhood — home to some 2.5 million people — making U.S. raids there potentially embarrassing for al-Maliki's Shiite-led government. The district is also the stronghold of the Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who was once al-Maliki's ally.
One U.S. soldier was killed and three wounded when an explosively-formed penetrator (EFP) hit their combat patrol in southern Baghdad, the military said Saturday. The soldiers' unit had just detained nine men suspected of making roadside bombs, when they were hit by an EFP on Friday, the U.S. military said in a statement. The victims' names were withheld pending family notification.
A suicide bomber exploded himself in a crowd of police recruits Saturday in a market area northeast of Baghdad, killing at least 16 people, police said. The bomber detonated his explosives belt in a market area outside a police station in Muqdadiyah, 60 miles north of the Iraqi capital, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. All of the victims were new police recruits, the officer said.
The military says U.S. troops uncovered a mass grave with as many as 40 bodies at a site south of Fallujah. It says a tip from a local resident led forces to the location. Between 35 and 40 bodies were found with gunshot wounds and limbs bound.
Reports of 20 beheaded bodies found south of Baghdad earlier this week were untrue and may have been fabricated by insurgents aiming to incite violence and revenge killings, the U.S. military said Saturday.
On Thursday, many Iraqi and international media outlets aired news of the bodies, quoting unnamed Iraqi police. The decapitated bodies had allegedly turned up on the banks of the Tigris River near Salman Pak, 15 miles southeast of Baghdad.
At the time, the Interior Ministry tried to send troops to the area to confirm the discovery, but the visit was called off because the area was too dangerous. On Saturday, the U.S. military issued a statement saying it had investigated the reports of the bodies and ultimately found them to be false. "Anti-Iraqi Forces are known for purposely providing false information to the media to incite violence and revenge killings, and they may well have been the source of this misinformation," the statement said.