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Report: Bush Authorizes Targeting Iranians in Iraq



26 January 2007

President Bush says U.S. forces in Iraq will do what is necessary to protect themselves and the Iraqi people, but he would not respond directly to a report in The Washington Post that he has issued new orders for U.S. troops to take a tougher approach to Iranian operatives in Iraq. VOA's Al Pessin reports.

After meeting with his new Iraq commander and other senior defense officials at the White House, President Bush told reporters he had made clear in the meeting what his force protection policy is.

"Our policy is going to be to protect our troops in Iraq. This makes sense, that if somebody is going to try to harm our troops or stop us from achieving our goal or killing innocent citizens in Iraq that we will stop that," he said.

The president was responding to a question about an article in The Washington Post that says there are new orders for U.S. troops in Iraq to take an aggressive new approach to weaken Iran's influence in the country. The article says troops are authorized to capture or kill Iranian operatives, if necessary. It says the past policy was to release any captured Iranians after a few days, and that will no longer be done.

The Pentagon confirmed Friday it is still holding five Iranians captured two weeks ago in the northern town of Irbil and suspected of supporting violent activities. Those detainees have claimed diplomatic immunity.

U.S. officials say they have no evidence that Iranian forces have directly attacked U.S. troops in Iraq. But they say the Iranians provide advice and material for various terrorist and militia factions that do attack both U.S. and Iraqi targets. The Washington Post says there are 150 such Iranian operatives in Iraq, and the new policy is designed to make it more difficult for them to provide support to the violent Iraqi groups.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman would not comment on any change of orders Friday, but he said U.S. forces are authorized to act against anyone who breaks the law, regardless of their nationality. He said there have been specific instances in which Iranians have been "meddlesome" and "destructive," and said any "destabilizing" action by Iraq's neighbors will be dealt with militarily or diplomatically.

President Bush said the U.S. approach to Iranian activities in Iraq will not result in any direct U.S. military action aimed at Iran.

"Some are trying to say that because we're enforcing, helping ourselves in Iraq by stopping outside influence from killing our soldiers or hurting Iraqi people that we want to expand this beyond the borders. That's a presumption that simply is not accurate. We believe that we can solve our problems with Iran diplomatically," he said.

The president said there has been good progress on that front, and that the diplomatic efforts will continue even as U.S. forces in Iraq do everything they need to do to protect themselves.

The Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said anyone threatening security in Iraq will be dealt with according to the level of threat they pose. He said even if some of the Iranian involvement in Iraq is not directly controlled by the Tehran government, that government has the power to prevent or at least discourage the activities.



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