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Iran’s actions in Iraq scrutinized

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Wall Street Journal: A Pentagon report will accuse Iran of continuing to funnel weapons and training personnel into Iraq, adding fuel to a heated debate among U.S. policy makers about whether Iran deserves any credit for the steep declines in Iraq’s once-unrelenting violence. The Wall Street Journal

Pentagon Report Accuses Tehran of Supplying Arms Even as Violence Declines

By YOCHI J. DREAZEN
December 18, 2007; Page A4

WASHINGTON — A Pentagon report will accuse Iran of continuing to funnel weapons and training personnel into Iraq, adding fuel to a heated debate among U.S. policy makers about whether Iran deserves any credit for the steep declines in Iraq’s once-unrelenting violence.

The military assessment about Iraq, set to be released to Congress today, will paint a positive picture of Iraq’s overall security situation, according to several officials familiar with its contents.

The report will cite data showing declines in the overall number of attacks on U.S. and Iraqi fatalities as well as improvements in basic services like electricity generation to argue that conditions on the ground in Iraq have markedly improved in the past six months, these officials said.

U.S. troop deaths, for instance, declined to 37 last month and 13 so far in December from 126 in May, while Iraqi fatalities have registered similar declines.

Less optimistically, the report will note that Iraq’s political environment remains unsettled, and that the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki continues to struggle to pass key legislation like a measure making it easier for former members of the Baath Party to return to government jobs, the officials said.

On Iran, the report also will reiterate U.S. accusations that Iran is sending sophisticated explosives, rockets and mortars into Iraq, these people said.

“It’s not arguing that Iran’s behavior is getting worse, but it’s also not arguing that Iran’s behavior is getting better,” said one U.S. officer familiar with the report.

The report comes amid a growing internal debate among senior U.S. commanders and civilian policy makers about whether Iran is continuing to try to destabilize Iraq or if it has instead begun to curtail such efforts.

The dispute centers on a steep falloff in the number of attacks linked to a deadly form of roadside bomb, so-called explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, that the U.S. has long accused Iran of funneling to Shiite militants across Iraq.

The Iranian question is an increasingly central concern for U.S. military commanders and senior policy makers who are trying to decide whether to broaden the Bush administration’s tentative diplomatic outreach to Tehran in the hope of winning further Iranian cooperation in stabilizing Iraq.

Military officials say they are trying to reconcile the drop in EFP attacks with other evidence suggesting that Iran is continuing other clandestine activities inside Iraq.

“At times we think we are seeing positive signs, then all of a sudden we capture some people who were just recently trained in Iran,” a U.S. military official in Baghdad said yesterday. “We have seen some indications of lowered attacks using the weapons, but we are not sure if it is due to their stopping the flow, our finding them and the networks, or a combination of both or neither.”

In an interview in Baghdad late last month, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said that the military didn’t know how much of the EFP decline to attribute to Iran and how much came from other factors, like the cease-fire declared by Shiite militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr.

“There is very much a wait-and-see attitude by everyone involved,” he said.

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