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A gauge of Iran's hand in Iraq

New US charges that it is working with Hizbullah in Iraq.

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Iran on Wednesday denounced as "false and ridiculous claims" new US accusations that a Lebanese Hizbullah special operations chief arrested in Iraq was working against US troops on behalf of Iran's elite Qods Force.

Ali Musa Daqduq was arrested in March with two Iraqi brothers, who US officers claimed on Monday were training small cells of "militia extremists" as a "proxy" for Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in Iraq.

Analysts are debating the significance of the arrests, what they indicate about Iranian-Hizbullah ties and their scale in Iraq, and their impact on the broader US-Iran confrontation.

"We're really talking about [Hizbullah] instructors, tacticians, and technical experts who are able, with the Iranians, to work hand in hand [with Iraqis]," says Magnus Ranstorp, an expert at the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defense College in Stockholm.

"This sort of technical expertise rests with half the key in Beirut and half the key in Iran," says Mr. Ranstorp, noting a "very small" Hizbullah presence in Iraq since 2003.

In Beirut, the Iranian-backed Shiite militia has not commented on the charges. The US claims Mr. Daqduq once "coordinated protection" for Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Writing on a private Middle East news list, one respected Iraqi source noted Wednesday that he was shown a photo of Daqduq after the March arrest, by a ranking Iraqi official, and "immediately recognized" a man he had seen during his meeting with the Hizbullah leader "years ago."

"In intelligence terms, [the arrest] has a limited shelf life that has already expired, because they will alter their operational security," says Ranstorp. But the arrest of such a ranking operative, as a "small piercing of [Hizbullah's] armor," is "probably more valuable [to the US] in the political sense."

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