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Iran’s Role in Iraq, Nuclear Ambitions Cloud U.S. Policy

Six-nation talks over Iran's nuclear ambitions ended Wednesday in stalemate, though President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he was open to continued talks. Amid allegations of an Iranian role in Iraqi violence, analysts consider the state of U.S.-Iranian relations.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, the increasing debate over Iran's role in Iraq, and to Margaret Warner.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    During hearings last week on Capitol Hill, both General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker made clear they hold Iran responsible for some of the mayhem in Iraq.

    They highlighted Iran's support for what they called "special groups," small militia units specially selected, trained, armed and paid by Iran.

    Petraeus said these special units played a major role in the fierce intra-Shia fighting that broke out in southern Iraq and Baghdad last month.

    The fighting, which included rocket attacks on the Green Zone in Baghdad, came in response to the Iraqi army's offensive against numerous Shia militia and gangs in the oil port city of Basra.

    Connecticut Independent Democrat Joseph Lieberman said the special groups have proved a formidable foe to American forces, too.

    SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), Connecticut: Is it fair to say that the Iranian-backed special groups in Iraq are responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands — excuse me, hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians?

    GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, Commander, U.S. Forces in Iraq: It certainly is; I do believe that is correct. Again, some of that also is militia elements who have been — subsequently have been trained by these individuals.

  • SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN:

    Right.

  • GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS:

    But there's no question about the threat that they pose and, again, about the way that has been revealed more fully in recent weeks.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Iran's motives are murky, but Crocker said Tehran's blueprint is becoming clearer.

    RYAN CROCKER, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq: Because the general level of violence is down, we could see, I think, much more sharply defined what Iran's role is in the arming and equipping of these extremist militia groups.

    And what it tells me is that Iran is pursuing, as it were, a Lebanonization strategy, using the same techniques they used in Lebanon to co-opt elements of the local Shia community and use them as basically instruments of Iranian force.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The Basra-Baghdad fighting ended only after Iran brokered a cease-fire.

    Iranian President Ahmadinejad made a high-profile state visit to Baghdad last month, but Tehran has never publicly confirmed whatever role it's playing with the special groups in Iraq.

    Late last week, President Bush also blamed Iran for continued instability in Iraq and said the Tehran regime faced a stark choice.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: It can live in peace with its neighbor, enjoy strong economic and cultural and religious ties, or it can continue to arm and train and fund illegal militant groups which are terrorizing the Iraqi people and turning them against Iran.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    The administration says it is still open to talks with Iran about Iraq. Ambassador Crocker has met with Iranian diplomats in Baghdad, but the talks have been sporadic and inconclusive.

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