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The New Enemy?

Bush blames Iran’s Quds Force for a spike in anti-American violence in Iraq. Who are they, and how tight are their ties with Tehran?

Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps march in remembrance of the Iran-Iraq War
Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps march in remembrance of the Iran-Iraq War
Vahid Salemi / AP

Web exclusive
By Michael Hirsh, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Mark Hosenball
Updated: 6:46 p.m. ET Feb. 15, 2007

Feb. 15, 2007 - President Bush officially anointed a new enemy of the United States on Wednesday: the “Quds Force.” After a week in which his administration contradicted itself repeatedly over the threat from Iran, Bush settled on what he said were the known facts. The sophisticated weapons being used against U.S. troops in Iraq “were provided by the Quds Force,” a paramilitary arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the president said at a news conference in the East Room. “We know that. And we also know that the Quds Force is a part of the Iranian government. That’s a known. What we don’t know is whether or not head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds Force to do what they did.”

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Just who are the Quds Force? And how good is the intelligence on them, really? A NEWSWEEK investigation shows that the evidence against the Quds Force is still questionable, and that some of the key Iraqi politicians Washington is relying on most, such as Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, have had close relations with the Iranian group. The United States found itself on the same side as the Quds Force after 9/11 in the fight against the Taliban, when Quds supported the leader of the Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Masoud.

The Quds Force was created by the IRGC—the powerful institution created to defend Iran’s 1979 Islamist revolution—toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Its purpose: to conduct operations inside Iraqi territory, especially the Kurdish region that operated somewhat autonomously from Saddam Hussein’s government. “Quds” means “Jerusalem” in Arabic, and the goal of the Islamist revolutionaries who started the group was to take over Jerusalem after capturing Baghdad. Even after the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988, the Quds Force, or Quds Brigade as it is also called, maintained three major foreign operations: supporting the Kurds in Iraq against Saddam, backing the Muslim Bosnians against the Serbs and working with Masoud and his Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. After Masoud was assassinated by Al Qaeda operatives on Sept. 9., 2001, Quds Force members helped the U.S.-assisted Northern Alliance cross the Kokcha River between Tajikistan and Afghanistan and advance toward Kabul to oust the Taliban, according to Iranian officials.

Perhaps no one has benefited from the Quds Force’s patronage more than the current president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani, who is also a close U.S. ally. Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party was Iran’s main ally in northern Iraq during the 1980s. When fighting broke out between rival Kurdish groups in the mid-'90s, the Quds Force fought on Talabani’s side against Massoud Barzani, whose Kurdish party had asked for Saddam Hussein’s help.

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