Iraqi Shia assassination teams are being trained in at least four locations in Iran by Tehran's elite Quds force and Lebanese Hezbollah and are planning to return to Iraq in the next few months to kill specific Iraqi officials as well as US and Iraqi troops, according to intelligence gleaned from captured militia fighters and other sources in Iraq.
A senior US military intelligence officer in Baghdad described the information Thursday in an interview with The Associated Press. He spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence.
The officer on Wednesday provided Iraq's national security adviser with several lists of the assassination teams' expected targets. He said the targets include many judges but would not otherwise identify them. Iraq's intelligence service is preparing operations to determine where and when the special group fighters will enter the country and is to provide an assessment to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The US official acknowledged disclosing the information in an attempt to pressure Iran to suspend the training and prevent the militia fighters from returning to Iraq. The US military also wants the Iraqi government to take steps to protect the targets. "Wanted" posters picturing men believed to be heading the special groups are being posted around Baghdad, the military officer said.
The US also is encouraging the Iraqi government to confront Iran with the information in diplomatic channels, and it wants Iraq to continue pumping money into its own reconstruction. By building stability and Iraqis' confidence in their government, internal support for militia groups should decline, making it more difficult for them to operate.
The fighters are expected to return to Iraq between now and October, but the officer said there's no intelligence suggesting they are actually in Iraq yet. The information came from militia fighters captured in Iraq and other sources in the country that the officer would not describe.