The US-backed prime minister dismissed on Monday news reports that Israelis had established a presence in Iraq.

"Future relations with Israel are determined by two issues: international resolutions and a just and comprehensive peace that has been adopted by Arab leaderships, including the Palestinian leadership. Iraq will not take any unilateral action on a settlement with Israel outside those two frameworks," Allawi said in Beirut.

He described as "absolutely false" reports that Israeli intelligence agents were operating out of Iraq.

"We regretfully hear reports in the Arab press that there are 10,000 Israelis, and stories that Iraq is being used as a base for Israeli intelligence - this is inaccurate and false," he said. "Iraq and its territory will not be a base for any action hostile to any Arab country."

Allawi was speaking during a joint news conference with his Lebanese counterpart Rafiq al-Hariri. The Iraqi interim prime minister is on a regional tour which has taken him so far to Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon.

New Yorker report

However, the Arab media is not alone in examining an Israeli presence in Iraq. 

"The Israeli operatives include members of the Mossad, Israel's clandestine foreign-intelligence service, who work undercover in Kurdistan as businessmen and, in some cases, do not carry Israeli passports"

Seymour Hersh,
US journalist

In a June issue of The New Yorker, US journalist Seymour Hersh reported that Israeli intelligence and military operatives were working in the northern, mainly Kurdish areas of Iraq.

"The Israeli operatives include members of the Mossad, Israel's clandestine foreign-intelligence service, who work undercover in Kurdistan as businessmen and, in some cases, do not carry Israeli passports," wrote Hersh, who exposed the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal three months ago. Israeli officials deny they are operating in Iraq.

Following Hersh's report, retired Turkish General Armacan Kul Oglu told Ankara's NTV television an Israeli presence in northern Iraq was "natural".

This would serve Israel's policy to "tear apart the Arab world by playing the Kurdish card against Syria and Iran", said Oglu.

Egypt and Syria also voiced concern last week about reports of an Israeli presence in northern Iraq, which they warned could threaten regional stability.

Guise of marines?

Prior to the US report, a retired French general told France's Channel 5 that about 150 Israeli commandos were inside Iraq as part of efforts to assassinate 500 Iraqi scientists.

The unnamed French general said the scientists on the Israeli hit list were the same ones who were listed by United Nations weapons inspectors for interviews during their mandate in Iraq. The general said the Israelis might have been operating within the ranks of US marines.

And in February, Iraqi scientists and intellectuals told Aljazeera.net they feared a deliberate brain drain was being executed through murder, targeting the country's intellectuals, academics and professors.  

Prisoner interrogation

The US officer formerly in charge of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq said earlier this month there were signs of Israelis interrogating Iraqis at another facility.

A US officer said she had met an
Israeli interrogator in Abu Ghraib

Brigadier-General Janis Karpinski, suspended in May over the prison abuse scandal in which Iraqi detainees were tortured and sexually humiliated by US soldiers, said she met an Israeli working as an interrogator at a secret intelligence centre in Baghdad.

It was the first time a senior US officer suggested Israelis worked with the occupation inside Iraq.

"I saw an individual there that I hadn't had the opportunity to meet before, and I asked him what did he do there, was he an interpreter - he was clearly from the Middle East," Karpinski told BBC radio. "He said, 'Well I do some of the interrogation here. I speak Arabic but I'm not an Arab; I am from Israel'."

As early as February, Iraqis also expressed concern that Israel was operating amid the chaos following the US-led war.

The secretary general of the Association of Muslim Scholars, Harith al-Dhari, said Israelis were "actively working with occupation forces, intelligence and companies allegedly in the country to rebuild Iraq".