In the contretemps over John McCain’s assertion that Iran provides assistance to al-Qaeda in Iraq, perhaps a retrospective might be in order. McCain immediately corrected himself to say that Iran supported extremists, but as Eli Lake at the New York Sun reported in January 2007, American intel essentially made the same accusation based on captured documents (via the Weekly Standard):
Iran is supporting both Sunni and Shiite terrorists in the Iraqi civil war, according to secret Iranian documents captured by Americans in Iraq.
The news that American forces had captured Iranians in Iraq was widely reported last month, but less well known is that the Iranians were carrying documents that offered Americans insight into Iranian activities in Iraq.
An American intelligence official said the new material, which has been authenticated within the intelligence community, confirms “that Iran is working closely with both the Shiite militias and Sunni Jihadist groups.” The source was careful to stress that the Iranian plans do not extend to cooperation with Baathist groups fighting the government in Baghdad, and said the documents rather show how the Quds Force — the arm of Iran’s revolutionary guard that supports Shiite Hezbollah, Sunni Hamas, and Shiite death squads — is working with individuals affiliated with Al Qaeda in Iraq and Ansar al-Sunna.
Another American official who has seen the summaries of the reporting affiliated with the arrests said it comprised a “smoking gun.” “We found plans for attacks, phone numbers affiliated with Sunni bad guys, a lot of things that filled in the blanks on what these guys are up to,” the official said.
Citing testimony from detainees in U.S. custody, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Iranian intelligence operatives were backing the Sunni militants inside Iraq while at the same time training Shiite extremists in Iran.
“We have, in fact, found some cases recently where Iranian intelligence services have provided to some Sunni insurgent groups some support,” Caldwell told reporters, adding that he was aware of only Shiite extremists being trained inside Iran.
The issue hardly shows McCain as uninformed on the situation in Iraq. He perhaps walked the statement back for other reasons — maybe it wasn’t the specific point he wanted to make — but we have had evidence and testimony for months that Tehran has acted to support at least certain individuals in AQI, if not the entire organization as a whole. McCain didn’t make a “gaffe” in this assertion; he reiterated what American military intelligence has known for over a year.
Those arguing that Iran would never cooperate with Sunni terrorists appear to be the same people who insisted that Saddam Hussein would never work with radical Islamist jihadis, either. That has been proven false, especially with the review of the Harmony documents. This is just as false.