WASHINGTON, (AP) – President Bush has authorized U.S. forces in Iraq to take whatever actions are necessary to counter Iranian agents deemed a threat to American troops or the public at large, the White House said Friday.
“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. “It’s an obligation we all have … to protect our folks and achieve our goal.”
The aggressive new 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.
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.
While promising tougher action, the White House said the United States does not intend to cross the Iraq-Iran border to attack Iranians.
During a picture-taking session Friday with Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, newly confirmed by the Senate to command U.S. troops in Iraq, Bush was asked about stepped-up activities in Iraq against Iranian activities thought to be fueling the violence.
He defended the policy, but said it is no indication that the United States intends to expand the confrontation beyond Iraq’s borders.
“That’s a presumption that’s simply not accurate,” Bush said.
But added: “Our policy is going to be to protect our troops. It makes sense.”
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.
“We believe that we can solve our problem with Iran diplomatically and are working to do that,” Bush said. “As a matter of fact, we’re making pretty good progress on that front.”
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 that the office 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.