ALEX CHADWICK, host:
And more now about this Qods Force that the president spoke so much about in this press conference. We're joined by Kenneth Pollack. He's a former CIA analyst. He's director of research for the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
Welcome back to the show, Ken Pollack. And what about the Qods Force?
Mr. KENNETH POLLACK (Director of Research for the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institute): Well they are a very active arm of the Iranian government. They are the element of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that is charged with - as the Iranian's technically put it - spreading the Iranian Revolution, the Islamic Revolution.
What that means in practice is that they are the guys who go out and help Iran's terrorist friends. They are the guys who go out and teach various insurgent groups who the Iranians back.
They're also the guys who are responsible for a lot of the targeting that goes on - looking for potential terrorist targets, looking for potential targets in case Iran gets into a war with someone - who are they going to go after.
They're also a very important liaison body with a whole bunch of different intelligence services, revolutionary movements, and terrorist movements - all throughout the Middle East and, in fact, throughout the world.
CHADWICK: Well, you get down to this sort of question that was the real - what was going on in this press conference earlier today. This last weekend you had senior military officials in Baghdad saying we have tied these weapons to the top of the Iranian government.
This was senior military officials in Baghdad. And then a couple of days ago you had General Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, saying, well, just because these are Iranian weapons that doesn't necessarily mean that the top levels of the Iranian government know what's going on here.
And the Qods Force is the link between these weapons and the top levels of the Iranian government. So how do you interpret this?
Mr. POLLACK: Right. Well this is unfortunately par for the course for Iran. Iran is an exceptionally complicated political system. And there has been a debate honestly, Alex, for 30 years among foreign analysts as to exactly how much control the center in Tehran has over its various security elements.
And in particular for the Qods Forces. The Qods Force is very active. They tend to operate principally overseas, beyond Iran's borders. And they tend to be among the most extreme, the most ideologically committed. They don't always see eye to eye with some of the people in Tehran.
And there is a fair degree of evidence over the years, that people within the Revolutionary Guard - and particularly members of the Qods Force - like to push the edge of the envelope and do things that aren't always cleared beforehand by people in Tehran.
They like to push things. They like to see how far they can go. And as a result it's never apparent until we get hard evidence. But usually beforehand it's never apparent exactly how much the center in Tehran has ordered the Qods Force to do something, as opposed to how much of it is then freelancing.
And that's I think what we're seeing in Iraq today. It's clear that the Qods Force is in Iraq. They're in there in some force. We've known that for years. It seems highly likely that the center ordered that. In fact it's almost unthinkable that they couldn't.
As for specific activities of specific Qods Forces people inside of Iraq, that's where things get murky. And we just don't know how much control the center is exercising over them.
CHADWICK: No clear answer.
Mr. POLLACK: Unfortunately not. But again this is par for the course for Iran. It's an extremely complicated government. And honestly there are many analysts who believe that the center in Tehran doesn't try to exercise complete control over the Qods Force.
CHADWICK: Kenneth Pollack, senior fellow in foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institution. Ken Pollack, thank you again.
Mr. POLLACK: My pleasure, Alex. Thanks for having me back.
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