The belief that George Bush's troops "surge" policy in Iraq is also aimed at confronting Iran was strengthened yesterday when the White House declared that it was "going to deal" with the actions of the Tehran regime.
In a series of interviews, Vice-President Dick Cheney, the Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, and the National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, struck belligerent notes on Iranian activity inside Iraq. Mr Hadley did not rule out the possibility of US forces striking across the border.
Discord continued between America and Iraq over the arrest by US forces of five Iranians in Arbil, the Kurdish capital. The US claims they are linked to Iran's Revolutionary Guards and have been funding Iraqi insurgents. The Revolutionary Guards, said the US military was "known for providing funds, weapons, improvised explosive device technology and training to extremist groups attempting to destabilise the government of Iraq and attack coalition forces".
Tehran has protested that the men have diplomatic status and demanded their immediate release. The Iraqi Foreign Minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, called yesterday for the Iranians to be freed, stressing that they have been working with Iraqi government approval. Mr Zebari said: "We fully respect the views, policies and strategy of the United States, which is the strongest ally to Iraq, but the Iraqi government has national interests of its own. We can't change the geographical reality that Iran is our neighbour. This is a delicate balance and we are treading a very thin line."
In Washington, Mr Cheney said with typical bluntness: "Iran is fishing in troubled waters inside Iraq. We do not want them doing what they can to destabilise the situation inside Iraq." Mr Hadley said: "We are going to need to deal with what Iran is doing inside Iraq. We know also that Iran is supplying elements in Iraq that are attacking Iraqis and attacking our forces. What the President made very clear is these are activities ... that are unacceptable. They put our people at risk. He said very clearly that we will take action."
Asked whether this meant American forces would carry out "hot pursuit" operations into Iran, Mr Hadley responded: "Anytime you have questions about crossing international borders there are legal issues. We intend to deal with it by interdicting and disrupting activities in Iraq sponsored by Iran."
During a trip to the Middle East, Ms Rice repeated Washington's claim of Iranian involvement in the manufacturing of high-explosive IEDs (improvised explosives devices) "That's going to be dealt with," she said.
It emerged over the weekend that Mr Bush had signed an executive order authorising American troops to carry out wide ranging military operations against Iranian suspects inside Iraq.Reuse content