A joint operation in Iraq between army intelligence field agents and MI6 has revealed that a cell within the Iranian
Revolutionary Guard is intent on bringing bloodshed to Iraq. Sunday Times
Adam Nathan, Basra
BRITISH intelligence has identified a group of Iranian warlords as the main source of funding and training for the Shiite insurgency in southern Iraq.
A joint operation in Iraq between army intelligence field agents and MI6 has revealed that a cell within the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is intent on bringing bloodshed to Iraq.
Its members are believed to want to hamper British-led reconstruction efforts in southern Iraq and have smuggled thousands of American dollars into the regional capital of Basra as well as providing Shiite militiamen with weapons and training in tactics.
The Iranian-backed operation peaked last month when more than 600 militiamen loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, the radical cleric, seized control of the centre of Basra.
As the violence against British soldiers escalated, bases used by the Cheshire Regiment battle group came under persistent mortar and rocket attack for more than three weeks with their soldiers hemmed inside.
Reluctant to use military force in order to avoid further inflaming the situation, British force commanders turned to the intelligence agencies.
It became an intelligence war, said a senior military intelligence officer last week. Our agents continued to operate with great courage around the city and were able to penetrate into the heart of Moqtada al-Sadrs operation.
Military intelligence officers in Basra said they had discovered that militia members, many of them as young as 16, were paid up to $300 (£170) from a huge stash of fresh bills to attack the British.
Some were issued with rocket-propelled grenades with a double warhead that were capable of penetrating the armys Warrior fighting vehicles.
Yesterday three people were reported to have died in sporadic clashes with al-Sadrs followers after British troops took control of his offices in Basra on Friday and confiscated weapons discovered there. One British soldier was wounded.
Earlier last week the Tactical Support Unit (TSU), Iraqs elite force of paramilitary police, uncovered a cache of weapons during a raid on a suspected warehouse of al-Sadrs Mahdi army on the eastern side of the Shatt al-Arab waterway after a tip-off from a member of the public.
Sources close to the investigation said that the seizure had only scratched the surface of weapons believed to have been supplied to the Mahdi militia from Iran. British diplomats are determined that Basra, whose population is largely Shiite, should not be bullied by fundamentalist warlords into becoming a hardline Islamic region closer to Tehran than Baghdad.
Simon Collis, the British consul-general in Basra, said that he was concerned about a generation X of disillusioned 16 to 30-year-olds lured by the militias promises of money and employment.
The crucial thing right now is for us to help the economy and infrastructure in the south to get to a stage when it can snowball into wealth, he said.
Senior Foreign Office officials said that pressure had been put on the Iranian government to restrain the cell and prevent further funding of the Mahdi army in Basra.
Washington is also watching Irans role in the Iraqi insurgency with mounting concern. I dont think theres any doubt that the Iranians are involved and are providing support, said Colin Powell, the US secretary of state, last week.