The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps slipped into the green zone of Baghdad last month to press Tehran's hardline position over the terms of the current talks with American officials, it was claimed last week.
Iraqi government sources say that Major-General Mohammed Ali Jafari, 50, travelled secretly from Tehran. Jafari appears to have passed through checkpoints on his way into the fortified enclave that contains the American embassy and Iraqi ministries, even though he is on Washington's "most wanted" list.
Last year Washington declared the guard a "foreign terrorist organisation" and imposed sanctions on it.
One of the accusations that led to the designation was the charge that the Quds Force, a branch of the guard, was supplying rockets, mortars and roadside bombs known as explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) to Shi'ite militias in Iraq.
In recent days there has been a sharp increase in the use of such bombs against American troops, and last weekend five Iranian speedboats were said to have harassed three American Navy ships, radioing a threat to blow them up.
On his tour of the Middle East yesterday President George W Bush put Tehran on notice over its support for the insurgency in Iraq. " Iran's role in fomenting violence has been exposed," he said in Kuwait.
Iran and the United States have held three rounds of talks over security in Iraq. They have made little progress so far but are considered a breakthrough because they are the first face-to-face encounters since 1980.
At the insistence of the Americans, the talks between Ryan Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq, and Hassan Kazemi Qomi, his Iranian counterpart, have been kept to the issue of security in Iraq. But Tehran wants them broadened to include the release of Iranian diplomats being held in Baghdad by the Americans. It is understood Jafari was sent to Baghdad to ensure that this happened. ( Times )