American troops have been authorised to kill or capture Iranian operatives found in Iraq to weaken its influence in the region, the Washington Post said today citing government officials.
The order covers Iranian Revolutionary Guard and intelligence officers in Iraq, though it does not include civilians and diplomats, the Post said.
The policy was described as "part of an aggressive new strategy to weaken Tehran's influence across the Middle East and compel it to give up its nuclear programme."
For more than a year US forces have been secretly holding dozens of suspected Iranian agents in a "catch and release" policy designed to intimidate them while avoiding direct escalation.
The US collected DNA samples, took retina scans, and fingerprinted and photographed the Iranians before releasing them.
In mid-2006 top US government officials concluded they needed to be more confrontational.
"There were no costs for the Iranians," a senior official told the Post.
"They are hurting our mission in Iraq, and we were bending over backwards not to fight back."
President George W Bush authorised the new "kill or capture" programme in the fourth quarter of 2006, the report said.