Story Highlights• NEW: Gates says troops can "go after those who are trying to kill them"
• NEW: Gates says resolution against increase "emboldens our enemy"
• Report quotes Iran official: Such moves deemed "terrorist measures"
• 15 die in pet market bombing, follows prime minister's appeal for unity
Adjust font size:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration has authorized the U.S. military to capture or kill Iranian agents in Iraq who are plotting attacks against U.S. and coalition forces, a U.S. national security official said Friday.
The policy, approved by President Bush in the last couple of months, is aimed at Iranian agents planning attacks with Iraqi militiamen, the official said.
Bush told reporters on Friday that he had no problem with the policy, if it protects U.S. soldiers. (Watch Iraq's foreign minister on whether his government was consulted )
"Some are trying to say that because we're helping ourselves in Iraq by stopping outside influence from killing our soldiers or hurting Iraqi people that we want to expand this beyond the borders," Bush said.
"That's a presumption that's simply not accurate. We believe that we can solve our problems with Iran diplomatically. And we're working to do that -- as a matter of fact we're making pretty good progress on that front." (Read Bush's policy defense: "I'm the decision-maker")
The White House has rejected calls by the Iraq Study Group to engage diplomatically with Iraq's neighbors, including Iran, and says it will not do so until Iran moves to end its alleged nuclear weapons program. (Read the group's recommendations)
Once branded by Bush as part of an "axis of evil," Iran has denied interfering inside Iraq's borders.
Bush and his advisers had discussed the new Iran policy since last fall. The president decided to authorize it when the situation in Iraq continued to deteriorate and because the United States is looking to get tougher with Iran, the official said.
The Washington Post first reported the development, citing "government and counterterrorism officials with direct knowledge of the effort."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters he agrees with the president. "Our forces are authorized to go after those who are trying to kill them," he said. "If you're in Iraq and trying to kill our troops, you should consider yourself a target."
Asked whether the measure is part of an "anti-Iran strategy," Gates said he does not think so, but "we're not simply going to stand by and let people bring sophisticated IEDs into the country that can disable an Abrams tank and give them a free pass. But as we've said before, we think we can handle this inside the borders of Iraq and the operations are limited to inside the borders of Iraq."
A statement from National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe on Friday said: "The president has made clear for some time that we will take the steps necessary to protect Americans on the ground in Iraq and disrupt activity that could lead to their harm. Our forces have standing authority consistent with the mandate of the U.N. Security Council."
"Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Force is a part of the Iranian state apparatus that supports and carries out these activities," the statement said.
Leaders of Iraq's Shiite Muslim community have strong ties to Iran, including powerful Iraqi cleric Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim.
Al-Hakim leads the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Iraqi party most closely associated with Iran. (Full story)
As violence between Shiites and Sunnis rises along with insurgent attacks on U.S. and Iraq forces, Bush has ordered that 21,500 more U.S. troops go to Iraq. (Read: Can renewed efforts to work with Iraqi forces reduce attacks?)
Iranian report calls policy 'terrorist measures'
The Iranian mission to the United Nations, when asked about the U.S. policy toward Iranians, pointed to an article in the semi-official FARS news agency.
In the article, the chairman of the Iranian Parliament's national policy commission, Alaoddin Boroujerdi, called the policy terrorism.
"Such moves are deemed as terrorist measures and are in blatant contradiction to the international rules and regulations," Boroujerdi said, according to Iran's semi-official FARS news agency.
"Such a measure illustrates the failure of the United States' new strategy in Iraq, because it has had no effect in quelling unrests and restoring calm and order and has instead roused intensified reactions in Iraq."
Boroujerdi said Iraq's government would share responsibility if reports of the "illogical and incredible" policy are true, FARS reported.
An Iranian official at the United Nations, who did not wish to be identified, told CNN the new U.S. policy will neither help bring peace to Iraq nor help Americans and Iraqis. The Iranians, he said, are in Iraq to help.
This month, U.S. forces detained five Iranians in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, a U.S. military officer said. (Full story)
A preliminary investigation found links between the detainees and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which has provided funds, weapons, bomb technology and training to extremist groups in Iraq, the coalition said.
Bomb strikes pet market
On Friday, a bomb killed at least 15 people and wounded 52 others in central Baghdad, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said. The bomb was stashed in a box and exploded in a pet market. (Watch caged pets amid flames, smoke and charred remains of blast site)
The Ghazel pet market is a popular destination on Fridays. People gather to sell and buy monkeys, cats, dogs and other animals.
In Friday's attack, a witness told The Associated Press that a carton containing pigeons blew up as potential buyers gathered around.
"My friends and I rushed to the scene where we saw burned dead bodies, pieces of flesh and several dead expensive puppies and birds," market customer Raad Hassan told the AP.
Also Friday, a U.S. Marine assigned to Regimental Combat Team 6 died after being wounded in Iraq's volatile Anbar province, the U.S. military announced.
The latest death brings the number of American military personnel who have died in Iraq to 3,058. Seven civilian contractors of the Defense Department also have been killed in the war.
Two more bombings in Baghdad on Friday morning wounded four civilians, and Iraqi police discovered six bullet-riddled bodies showing signs of torture dumped in an open yard in central Baghdad.
CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, Deirdre Walsh, Terence Burke, Sam Dagher, Arwa Damon, Jomana Karadsheh and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.
Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.
A man wounded in Friday's bombing at a Baghdad pet market is brought into a hospital.
Quick Job Search