WASHINGTON — The Bush administration said Friday it intends to present evidence that Iranian operatives in Iraq are targeting U.S. troops. The announcement came shortly after word that President Bush had authorized U.S. forces in Iraq to fire on or capture any Iranian agents deemed a threat to American troops or the Iraqi public at large.
“It makes sense that if somebody’s trying to harm our troops, or stop us from achieving our goal, or killing innocent citizens in Iraq, that we will stop them,” Bush said when asked about the aggressive new policy, first reported by the Washington Post. “It’s an obligation we all have ... to protect our folks and achieve our goal.”
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack was asked by reporters whether the administration would release any evidence of Iranian subversion. "It's our intention to do so, we're working on it," he said.
McCormack cautioned that the declassification process is ongoing and that once it is complete U.S. officials will have to make a judgement on whether that information should be disclosed.
Several Iranian officials have been detained in three U.S. raids over the last month. The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, told reporters Wednesday that details of accusations against them would be made public in the coming days.
Bombmaking info cited
The policy came in response to intelligence that Iran is supporting terrorists inside Iraq and is providing bombs — known as improvised explosive devices — and other equipment to anti-U.S. insurgents.
"The president and his national security team over the last several months have continued to receive information that Iranians were supplying IED equipment and or training that was being used to harm American soldiers," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
"As a result American forces, when they receive actionable information, may take the steps necessary to protect themselves as well as the population," Johndroe said.
The Post said there were skeptics to the policy in the intelligence community, State Department and Pentagon — including CIA Director Michael Hayden who said Iranians may try to kidnap or kill U.S. personnel in Iraq as payback.
U.S. won’t cross border
Bush referred to the new policy in his Jan. 10 address to the nation in which he announced a buildup of 21,500 troops in Iraq. He said the United States would confront Iran and Syria more vigorously.
Video: Iran policy in Iraq "These two regimes are allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq," Bush said in his address. "Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops. We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We'll interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."
While promising tougher action, the White House said the United States does not intend to cross the Iraq-Iran border to attack Iranians.
Five Iranians were detained by U.S.-led forces earlier this month after a raid on an Iranian government liaison office in northern Iraq. The move further frayed relations between the two countries, already tense because of U.S.-led efforts to force Tehran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program.
The administration said at the time that U.S. forces entered an Iranian building in Kurdish-controlled Irbil because information linked it to Revolutionary Guards and other Iranian elements engaging in violent activities in Iraq.
But Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, contended the Iranians were working in a liaison office that had government approval and was in the process of being approved as a consulate. In Iran, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the U.S. raid constituted an intervention in Iranian-Iraqi affairs.
NBC News producer Libby Leist, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.