WASHINGTON (AFP) — The top US commander in Iraq said Wednesday there was hard evidence of Iranian involvement in attacks on US soldiers but demurred on whether US forces should respond with operations inside Iran.
General David Petraeus said the evidence included captured hard drives that contained digitized items taken from the wallet of a US soldier killed in an assault in January in Karbala along with four other US soldiers.
"The evidence is very, very clear," Petraeus told a news conference here. "We captured it when we captured Qais Khazali, the Lebanese Hezbollah deputy commander and others. And it's in black and white."
Khazali is alleged to be an Iraqi member of the Iranian backed cell that stormed a security station in Karbala January 20, killing a visiting US soldier and kidnapping four others, who were later found dead.
The US military in July announced the capture in Basra of a senior Hezbollah militant, Ali Musa Daqduq, who it accused of training "special groups" of Shiite militants at camps near Tehran under the auspices of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Quds Force.
Iran has denied the charges.
Petraeus said video-taped interrogations of the captured operatives have been shown to senior Iraqis, some of whom then confronted the Iranians with the evidence.
"Qais Khazali, himself, when asked, 'Could you have done what you have done without Iranian support?' he literally throws up his hands and laughs and says, 'Of course not.'"
"So they told us about the amounts of money that they have received. They told us about the training that they received. They told us about the ammunition and sophisticated weaponry and all of that that they received," he said.
"And so, this is evidentiary. It is not just intelligence. It rises to the level of evidence, particularly what we captured when we got the hard drives of the computers from the individuals that we picked up in Basra," he said.
In testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Petraeus was asked whether he needed the authority to pursue Quds force operatives into Iran.
The general said he was focused on Iraq, and any military operations outside the country were the responsibility of Admiral William Fallon, the commander of the US Central Command.
"There is a regional combatant commander, Admiral Fox Fallon. And that is his province. Outside Iraq would be his area," Petraeus said Wednesday, expanding on his testimony.
"And so I'm literally trying to avoid starting to talk about something that would extend beyond the borders of Iraq."
He said the Iranian activity was "a huge concern to Iraqis, not to mention the Multi-National Force and our effort to achieve the objectives outlined by Iraq and in our joint campaign plan."
"But that doesn't mean that it's something for which I should have the authority to pursue, anymore than we should have that with respect to Syria or elsewhere," he said.
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