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State Department counterterrorism officials warned in late April that Iran had “trained, funded, and provided guidance” to ethnic Iraqi terror groups bent on destabilizing the country.
The April warning appears to directly contradict and undermine comments last week by a State Department spokeswoman claiming that the United States and Iran have a “shared interest.”
As Iraqi militants continue to wage attacks and seize territory, the State Department has signaled that it is willing to work with neighboring Iran to stabilize the country. They have even raised the idea of discussing Iraq on the sidelines of the ongoing nuclear discussions taking place in Vienna.
However, the recent outreach to Iran runs counter to the State Department’s own Country Report on Terrorism issued just six weeks ago.
That report warned that Iran is building a terror network across the globe and that it was specifically seeking to undermine U.S. goals in Iraq by fostering terror groups on both sides of the ethnic Arab divide in Iraq.
“Despite its pledge to support Iraq’s stabilization, Iran trained, funded, and provided guidance to Iraqi Shia militant groups,” the report stated.
Iran also has sought to protect and bolster al Qaeda, a Sunni Muslim group that has ties to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (also known as ISIS, or the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham), the extremist terror group that is currently seeking to violently depose the Iraqi government.
“Iran remained unwilling to bring to justice senior al Qaeda (AQ) members it continued to detain, and refused to publicly identify those senior members in its custody,” the State Department determined in its April report.
“Iran allowed AQ facilitators Muhsin al-Fadhli and Adel Radi Saqr al-Wahabi al-Harbi to operate a core facilitation pipeline through Iran, enabling AQ to move funds and fighters to South Asia and also to Syria,” according to the report.
Iran’s efforts to inflame ethnic tensions in Iraq and elsewhere appear to run counter to the State Department’s more recent claims that the United States and Iran have a “shared interest” in Iraq.
The United States and Iran “certainly have a shared interest" in combating ISIL, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters on Friday.
Secretary of State John Kerry also has signaled a willingness to talk with Iran about Iraq. State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said Monday that U.S. officials are open to a “political conversation” with Tehran.
Iran has a long and well-documented history of stoking ethnic tensions in Iraq.
Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has worked with the terror group Hezbollah and “provided training outside of Iraq as well as advisers inside Iraq for Shia militants in the construction and use of sophisticated improvised explosive device technology and other advanced weaponry,” according to the April counterterrorism report.
“Similar to Hezbollah fighters, many of these trained Shia militants then use these skills to fight for [embattled President Bashar al-Assad] in Syria, often at the behest of Iran,” the report continued.
On the other side of the coin, Iran has worked with senior al Qaeda officials, permitting them to move freely around the region.
Al Qaeda facilitator Al-Fadhli “began working with the Iran-based AQ facilitation network in 2009 and was later arrested by Iranian authorities,” according to the counterterrorism report. “He was released in 2011 and assumed leadership of the Iran-based AQ facilitation network.”
Iran also has sent military advisers and assets to Iraq in recent days to help prevent ISIL from overtaking Baghdad, according to multiple reports. Up to 2,000 Iranian troops have already been sent by Iran, according to the Guardian.
As far back as 2007, Iran was accused by U.S. military officials of “training Iraqi insurgents to attack coalition forces in Iraq,” according to reports at the time.
This led former President George W. Bush to single out Iran as a “destabilizing force” vis-a-vis Iraq and a “very troubling nation,” Reuters reported.
Iran was then caught in June 2008 facilitating the passage of grenade launchers and bomb-making material to Iraqi insurgents.
That same year the Justice Department indicted a cohort of foreign nationals for funneling weapons to Iran. These arms were traced to deadly attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq.
In May 2009, a large weapons stockpile was discovered along the Iran-Iraq border. The weapons cache, which included explosives and rocket launchers, was tied a Shiite militia purportedly trained and armed by Iran.
As ISIL continues its violent rampage across Iraq, the United States has said that it is not willing to send American troops into the region.
ISIL is committed to establishing a radical Islamic state in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere in the region.