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February 7, 2007
Iran Not Exactly Denying Accusations

The US has accused Iran of fomenting the Shi'ite insurgencies and supplying materiel and weapons to an even broader range of terrorists in Iraq. Recently, the US has captured five Iranian agents in Irbil as part of the wider rules of engagement for the pacification of Baghdad and Anbar, an action protested by both Iran and Iraq. Newsweek interviewed Iran's ambassador to Baghdad, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, and asked him to respond to these American accusations, among other topics -- and he didn't exactly deny them:

American military officials have accused Iranian agents of supplying technology for "shaped charge" explosives to militants in Iraq. This was an explosive that Hizbullah used in Lebanon.

If this was the case it would have become known. I pointed out before, that we suffer if there's insecurity in Iraq. The Islamic Republic of Iran plays a protective role. After the fall of the regime, Iran was the first country to recognize the Iraqi government. Many people criticized us and said this is an American government. We said no, these are the same leaders from the opposition. We want security and stability. We want a popular and strong government.

What is the relationship of the Iranian government or its representatives with [Shiite leader Moqtada al-Sadr’s] Mahdi Army? American officials say Iran is passing weapons to militant groups.

We have repeatedly said: give us the proof. With regard to the accusations that Iran is supplying weapons or supporting armed groups, if there is any evidence then show this evidence. Why do they keep repeating these accusations? The government of America has 150,000 troops here. It has its security and intelligence services in Iraq. And there are other services who are helping them. If Iran was involved in actions against Americans, they should have discovered the evidence. We're against any action that adds to insecurity here, whether in Baghdad or Basra.

Note the odd construction here. Qomi, responding to accusations that Iran supplies shape charges to insurgents, says, "If this was the case it would have become known." He doesn't deny the charge directly, as he does when asked about the supposed Iranian involvement in the Karbala attacks. When Newsweek asked him about that, the first words out of his mouth were, "We don't have a role in any of these kinds of actions."

The same careful parsing of language comes in the last answer, too. When prodded about the connections between the Iranians and the Mahdi militia, Qomi again plays word games. Instead of denying the existence of any connections, Qomi demands to see the proof from the American government. That doesn't sound like a denial at all, but a challenge to the Bush administration to expose its intel sources. It sounds like guilty knowledge, like a bluff intended to attempt to bully the US into either taking action or backing away from the accusations.

Qomi does make an interesting admission early in the interview. When asked about the two Iranian agents arrested last month that the Iraqis protested were diplomats, Qomi clarified their status. The two agents, he said, are "diplomats from the security branch" -- in other words, spies. The US made that same accusation at the time but released the pair under pressure from the Maliki government. Apparently, Qomi is now admitting that the US had it right from the start.

One cannot dismiss the cautious answers given by the Iranian to Newsweek. He has no problem directly denying certain accusations, but tiptoes away from direct answers on others. For a man who makes a living out of choosing the right words, this seems very significant indeed.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 7, 2007 4:50 AM

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