Guess what the Iraqis and Americans found when they captured a number of Shi’ite militia fighters in Baquba?
Iraqi and U.S. troops battled Shi’ite militiamen in a village northeast of Baghdad on Thursday, and witnesses and police said U.S. helicopters bombed orchards to flush out gunmen hiding there.
Iraqi security officials said Iranian fighters had been captured in the fighting, in which a sniper shot dead the commander of an Iraqi quick reaction force and two of his men. They did not say how the Iranians had been identified. …
“We captured a number of militants and were surprised to see that some of them were Iranian fighters,” the police intelligence captain said.
An Interior Ministry official, who did not want to be named, also said Iranian gunmen had been captured. Baquba lies 90 km (60 miles) from the Iranian border.
The United States and Britain have accused Shi’ite Iran of meddling in Iraq’s affairs and providing military assistance to Iraq’s pro-government Shi’ite militias. However, there have been few instances of Iranians actually being captured inside Iraq.
Surprise! The mullahcracy has been caught with its pants down. The Iranians have long wanted to exercise control over Iraq through the large Shi’ite population in the south. It has contested for power with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who wants to see Najafian Shi’ism come to the fore over the Iranian activist form based on Qom’s scholarship. Their hopes rest on Moqtada al-Sadr, and the militia movement serves their interests in dividing Iraq and undermining their democracy.
The report states that the method used to identify these Iranian agents was not known, but as Dafydd at Big Lizards notes, it would not be difficult for Iraqis to identify Persian accents. Iranians do not speak Arabic as a native language but Farsi. Having lived in the area, they can differentiate between the accents easily enough, even if Westerners cannot.
What does this mean for the international situation? The Iranians will have to explain their presence in Iraq. This may not cause the angst some of us would like, however, as the Iranians have their own gripe about outside infiltrators in the Kurdish unrest in their own country. Unlike the Iraqis, though, the Iranians have not yet captured any of these outside infiltrators, and so they have little but secondhand information to use for their own PR purposes.
And let’s face it: if we’re not willing to press the issue on nuclear weapons any harder than we already have, then a handful of Iranian mercenaries will not push us into a confrontation with the mullahcracy.
However, it does provide some context for the difficulties facing the Iranians. The unrest does not spring entirely from an impulse to be rid of foreign troops of occupation. The Iranians have acted as provocateurs in the southern regions, and the absence of foreign troops at this point would only make that worse. This will also remind the Sunnis who do object to foreign troops that an early exit by the Coalition will make it that much easier for Iran to push the Shi’ite militias towards annihilation of the Sunni minority, at least until the Iraqi security forces can stand up to them.
The ultimate effect of these arrests may be a renewed push for a peaceful end to the Sunni-based native insurgencies.