Iran wants to weaken the burgeoning Sunni political movement in Iraq while also breathing new life into Al Qaeda? Go figure.

The US military claims to have proof that armed groups supported by Tehran are trying to sabotage Iraq’s US-backed Awakening Councils, the armed neighbourhood groups that have successfully driven al-Qaeda out of many districts of Baghdad and elsewhere.

In an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI), US military spokesman Adm Gregory Smith said that “the American military recently obtained confessions from detainees who are members of the Al-Quds Brigade and other Shia group who have been arrested in various parts of Iraq, who said that they were assigned to carry out armed operations to kill the leaders and the members of the Awakening Councils, in order to destroy this experiment.”

Smith said that “the American forces have arrested 14 Iranians who represented a danger to the security of Iraq,” without giving any other details.

The head of Iraqi intelligence, Muhammad Abdallah al-Shahwani declared a few days ago that elements of Iranian secret services planned to sabotage the Awakening Council project.

Not the first time we’ve heard of Iran giving aid and comfort to Sunni “militants”, although the assistance in this case is less direct than in the past. The more chaos in Iraq there is, the tougher it is for the U.S. to maintain a presence, the more it redounds to the Shiites’ advantage given their numerical advantage in the event of civil war. Bump off the leaders of the Awakening, breed resentment among the Sunnis about a campaign of terror against their leaders by their sectarian rivals, and goad them into a fight that way. Clockwork. Exit question: Any news on the wires that might explain why this story’s being released right now?

Update: Why Iran’s worried — a case study.