militant Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi and his Tawhid wal Jihad (Unity and Holy War) group, saying such backing would be a "very, very serious matter." The State Department declined to comment on allegations of an Iran-Zarqawi link ... AFP
WASHINGTON - The United States on Monday warned Iran against providing any type of support to Al-Qaeda-linked foreign militant Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi and his Tawhid wal Jihad (Unity and Holy War) group, saying such backing would be a "very, very serious matter."
The State Department declined to comment on allegations of an Iran-Zarqawi link, first claimed last week by Iraq's interim national intelligence chief Mohammed al-Shahwani and then reported by Newsweek magazine, but said Washington remained deeply concerned about Tehran's activity in Iraq.
"All I would be able to say (about the accusations) is that we have generally been very concerned about some of the reports of Iranian activity in Iraq," spokesman Richard Boucher said.
"We have frequently discussed these in public, as well as made clear, I think, to others what our concerns were so that the Iranians would know exactly what our concerns were about possible support for different groups inside Iraq," he told reporters.
"The Iraqi interim government has also been quite vocal both directly with the Iranians and in their statements with others about the concerns about Iran so it remains an issue, a very serious concern," Boucher said.
"And were it to be found that Iran was providing particular support for this terrorist group, obviously that would be a very, very serious matter," he said, referring to the Tawhid wal Jihad, which the United States formally designated a "foreign terrorist organization" on Friday.
Shahwani, the Iraqi intelligence chief, told AFP last week that he believed Iran, through its embassy in Baghdad, was masterminding an assassination campaign that has seen nearly 20 of his agents killed since the middle of last month.
He said raids on Iranian "safe houses" in Baghdad had uncovered documents linking Iran to plots to kill members of the intelligence service and using the Badr former militia of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) as its tool.
SCIRI has vigorously denied the allegations and counter-charged that the intelligence service is full of veterans of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's military who are now renewing their vendetta against former Shiite resistance groups based out of Iran in the 1980s.
But Shahwani said that since mid-September, 18 Iraqi intelligence agents have been killed in Iraq, 10 of them by the Badr organisation on orders from Iran and the rest by Zarqawi, including two that were beheaded last week.
He said he suspected Tehran was funding the Jordanian-born Zarqawi, but lacked conclusive proof.
Newsweek on Sunday cited sources close to Jordanian intelligence as saying Zarqawi had traveled back and forth between Iraq and Iran several times since Saddam Hussein's ouster and had established a high-level relationship with at least some Iranian officials.