Experts: Iranian unit not arming Iraq militias
Iran's secretive Quds Force, accused by the United States of arming Iraqi militants with deadly bomb-making material, has built an extensive network in the war-torn country, recruiting Iraqis and supporting not only Shiite militias but also Shiites allied with Washington.
Still unclear, however, is how closely Iran's top leadership is directing the Quds Force's operations and whether Iran has intended for its help to Shiite militias to be turned against U.S. forces.
Iran likely does not want a direct confrontation with American troops in Iraq but is backing militiamen to ensure Shiites win any future civil war with Iraqi Sunnis after the Americans leave, several experts said Thursday.
The Quds Force's role underlines how deeply enmeshed Iran is in its neighbor and how the U.S. could face resistance even from its allies in Iraq if it tries to uproot Iran's influence in the country.
At most, Iran's entire Quds Force probably numbers only about 2,000, only about 800 of whom are core operatives, according to Abedin, the expert at the London-based [Center for the Study of Terrorism] think tank.
Abedin doubted the Quds Force was directly giving militias weapons, arguing that militias have their own domestic networks for building and obtaining weapons. But he said Quds undoubtedly was providing intelligence and other organizational help.
"It would be very incriminating and dangerous for Iran to directly supply weapons to the militias, and it's not a part of Iranian policy to directly confront the Americans," he said.
Instead, the goal is likely "to enable these armed formations ... to gain an advantage over their Sunni rivals" in the battle for power that Iran expects could erupt later.
"They are looking to beyond, when the Americans withdraw," he said. "They see the Shiite militias as natural allies."
This is considered thinking ahead or looking at the big picture, two things Bush finds impossible to do.