Feb. 14, 2007— -- The United States has proof that the al Quds unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is involved in arming Shiite militias in Iraq, President Bush told reporters today. The president added, however, that he did not know whether Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was giving direct orders to the al Quds unit.
The name Quds is a direct reference to the city of Jerusalem, which is one of the holiest sites in Islam and is often referenced by Muslim militant groups now that the city is under Israeli control.
The al Quds force is a secretive, highly effective core Iranian military operation entrusted with only the most high level and sensitive of operations. Qassim Suleimani is thought to be their current leader. The force is believed to have come into existence soon after Islamic Revolutionary forces took control of Iran on Jan. 16, 1979. The unit was the intelligence arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and is now thought to be very much a part of the Iranian government and very close to the conservative mullahs that make up Iran's governing council.
There is no definite sense of how large this force is. ABC News consultant Fawaz Gerges points out that the effectiveness "of an underground operation cannot be judged by its size. This is exactly the mistake the United States made with al Qaeda."
Former CIA Case Officer Robert Baer says that Ahmadinejad is very close to the al Quds force.
Baer, who has followed the movements of the al Quds as part of his work for the CIA, says it is very difficult to track the forces' movements and gather any information on them. This unit avoids traditional means of communication, shunning the use of telephones, and instead relies only on couriers to carry out orders.
The al Quds force is also known to have been closely aligned with Hezbollah in Lebanon until the 1980s and is believed to have assisted or commissioned many terrorist operations there.
Baer describes the al Quds forces as the "bad guys … who 100 percent have American blood on their hands." Baer points out that al Quds were involved in numerous terrorist actions until the 1990s. He believes that they scaled back their terrorist activities under the somewhat moderate Iranian leader Mohammad Khatami.
The al Quds force is thought to have gained its notoriety and great influence during the Iran-Iraq War, which lasted from 1980 to 1988. It was during this war that al Quds operatives are believed to have infiltrated Iraq.
Baer says he met with al Quds operatives in Iraq during the 1990s when they were involved in commissioning assassinations of Iranian dissidents, who Saddam Hussein supported at the time. Baer adds that al Quds forces have been involved in a string of terrorist attacks through the years. If they are operating in Iraq, he adds, this is very bad news for the Americans.
As for the al Quds arming Shiite militias in Iraq, Gerges says, "It is possible and probable that the Quds is training and helping some of the Shiite militias." However, he adds, the U.S. administration still needs to prove that Shiite militias and not the Sunni insurgency are responsible for the attacks against coalition forces.