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Report: US Troops Authorized to Kill Iranian Operatives in Iraq
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The Bush administration has authorized the US military to kill or capture Iranian operatives in Iraq as part of an aggressive new strategy to weaken Tehran's influence across the Middle East and compel it to give up its nuclear program, The Washington Post reported Friday.

The new "kill or capture" program was authorized by President George W. Bush in a meeting with his most senior advisers last fall, along with other measures meant to curtail Iranian influence from Kabul to Beirut and, ultimately, to shake Iran's commitment to its nuclear efforts, the report said.

In Iraq, US troops now have the authority to target any member of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, as well as officers of its intelligence services believed to be working with Iraqi militias. The policy does not extend to Iranian civilians or diplomats. 

US President George W. Bush (R) speaks after meeting with incoming Commander of Multi-National Force Iraq Lt. Gen. David Petraeus(L) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC. US forces in Iraq are targeting Iranian agents there for capture or killing under a tough new policy aimed at starving sectarian violence of outside support, US and Iraqi officials said. 

Though US forces are not known to have used lethal force against any Iranian to date, Bush administration officials have been urging top military commanders to exercise the authority, the report said.

The wide-ranging plan has several influential skeptics in the intelligence community, at the State Department and at the Defense Department. They warned that it could push the growing conflict between Tehran and Washington into the center of a chaotic Iraq war.

For more than one year, US forces in Iraq have secretly detained dozens of suspected Iranian agents, holding them for three to four days at a time, the newspaper quoted government and counter-terrorism officials with direct knowledge of the effort assaying.

The "catch and release" policy was designed to avoid escalating tensions with Iran and yet intimidate its emissaries.

US forces collected DNA samples from some of the Iranians without their knowledge, subjected others to retina scans, and fingerprinted and photographed all of them before letting them go, the report said.

Last summer, senior US officials decided that a more confrontational approach was necessary, as Iran's regional influence had grown and US efforts to isolate Tehran appeared to be failing, according to The Washington Post.

Three officials were quoted as saying that about 150 Iranian intelligence officers, plus members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Command, were believed to be active inside Iraq at any given time.

However, there is no evidence that the Iranians have directly attacked US troops in Iraq, intelligence officials said.

(Xinhua News Agency January 27, 2007)

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