American forces in Iraq are holding at least four Iranian officials after a series of raids last week led to the detention of several individuals suspected of conducting attacks on Iraqi security forces, the White House confirmed Monday.
A White House official said that the arrests demonstrate Tehran's effort to insinuate itself in Iraqi domestic affairs.
"We suspect this event validates our claims about Iranian meddling, but we want to finish our investigation of the detained Iranians before characterizing their activities," White House spokesman Alex Conant said. "We will be better able to explain what this means about the larger picture after we finish our investigation."
Monday's New York Times first reported the arrests and identified at least two initial detainees as Iranian diplomats. They were turned over to Iraqi authorities and released. Other men were described as senior military officers who are still in custody.
"We continue to work with the (government of Iraq) on the status of the remaining detainees," Conant said. "That investigation is going well."
At least two of the people in custody were in Iraq on the invitation of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who visited Iran for high-level talks earlier this month. One of the raids took place in Baghdad, at the compound of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite leaders met with President Bush at the White House three weeks ago.
The detention of the Iranians has upset members of the Iraqi government who are concerned that the arrests will hurt efforts to work with the Iranians on security improvements.
"Two Iranians who are in Iraq at the invitation of the president have been apprehended by the Americans," said Hiwa Osman, Talabani's media adviser. "The president is unhappy about it."
The Iraqis have asked for the Iranians' release despite claims by the U.S. military that it had seized "a lot of material" that validates the detentions. Officials would not describe any of the materials they found, but has previously accused Iran of supplying money, weapons components and training to Shiite militia in Iraq as well as technology for roadside bombs, the biggest killer of U.S. forces in Iraq. Iran says it only has political and religious links with Iraqi Shiites.
One Bush administration official described the Iranian detainees as members of the Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, who are responsible for training Hezbollah and other terror groups, according to the Times article.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.