News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqUS military wary of Iranian pledges on arms flow

US military wary of Iranian pledges on arms flow

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Reuters: The U.S. military said on Wednesday Iran must prove over time it is committed to stemming the flow of weapons into Iraq, adding a note of caution after a warming in Washington’s tone towards Tehran. By Paul Tait

BAGHDAD, Nov 21 (Reuters) – The U.S. military said on Wednesday Iran must prove over time it is committed to stemming the flow of weapons into Iraq, adding a note of caution after a warming in Washington’s tone towards Tehran.

U.S. officials have softened their rhetoric towards Iran this month since U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he understood Iran had given Iraq behind-the-scenes assurances that the flow of weapons would stop.

The U.S. military freed nine Iranians held in Iraq.

“We are thankful for the commitment that Iran has made to reduce the flow of weapons and explosives coming into Iraq,” Lieutenant-General James Dubik, head of U.S. military efforts to rebuild Iraq’s security forces, said on Wednesday. He added it had made some contribution to cutting violence in Iraq.

But Dubik and U.S. military spokesman Major-General Kevin Bergner said it was impossible to tell exactly how much difference those commitments had made.

“It’s important here that the commitments that have been made start to see real progress that’s statistically significant, that’s measurable and that is sustained over time,” Bergner told a media conference.

U.S. generals have noted a fall in attacks in recent weeks but say overall levels of violence remain too high.

A car bomb outside a courthouse killed at least six people in the city of Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, on Wednesday, police said. The U.S. military put the death toll at three, with 22 wounded.

It was one of the worst attacks in Anbar in months, where violence has plunged since Sunni Arab tribal sheikhs joined with U.S. forces to drive al Qaeda militants out of a region that had once been the heart of the Sunni Arab insurgency in Iraq.

A court official said three men accused of being al Qaeda fighters were appearing before the heavily guarded court west of Baghdad when the bomb went off.

BITTER FOES

Iranian and U.S. officials said on Tuesday they had agreed to hold a new round of talks on security in Iraq, the fourth this year between the bitter foes after a diplomatic freeze lasting almost 30 years, but no date had been set.

Bergner said he hoped the latest round of talks, following meetings in May, July and August, would focus on the commitment to stop weapons from entering Iraq. The talks will be limited to Iraqi security and will not cover Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Washington accuses Shi’ite Iran of training and arming Shi’ite militias in Iraq and the military has often displayed what it says are Iranian-made rockets and roadside bombs seized in Iraq.

Tehran rejects the charge and blames the violence in Iraq, in which tens of thousands of Iraqis have died, on the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.

U.S. military and Iraqi civilian casualties have dropped sharply in the past two months, with a “surge” of 30,000 extra U.S. troops and the organisation of neighbourhood police patrols by mainly Sunni Arab tribal sheikhs credited for the falls.

The military says the number of attacks has fallen 55 percent since the surge was fully deployed in mid-June, to the lowest level since January 2006, a month before the bombing of a Shi’ite shrine in Samarra unleashed waves of reprisal killings.

British military officials on Wednesday confirmed two British service personnel had been killed when a British Puma helicopter crashed near Salman Pak, southeast of Baghdad, late on Tuesday.

A Royal Air Force team is on its way to Iraq to investigate the crash, a British military spokesman said, but initial reports suggested the helicopter had not been brought down by enemy fire. (Additional reporting by Waleed Ibrahim and Missy Ryan in Baghdad; editing by Andrew Roche)

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