AFP: The US ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, expressed caution on Sunday on whether Iran was trying to curb bloodshed in Iraq, but acknowledged Tehran could trigger chaos if it wanted to. BAGHDAD (AFP) The US ambassador in Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, expressed caution on Sunday on whether Iran was trying to curb bloodshed in Iraq, but acknowledged Tehran could trigger chaos if it wanted to.
“I am very cautious about predicting or analysing what the Iranians are doing because it is an extremely complex society and polity, and I don’t pretend to have a great insight,” Crocker told reporters.
He said the Iranians are claiming they have played a role in helping to reduce the violence in Iraq, especially in the ceasefire call given by Shiite radical leader Moqtada al-Sadr.
“We have seen a reduction in violent actions on the part of extremist militias, not an elimination but a reduction. We have seen a reduction in direct fire, we have Moqtada Sadr call for a freeze and his call for a renewal of that,” Crocker said.
“The Iranians are indicating not directly to us but to the others that they have had a role in all of this. If that’s the case, that’s a good thing.”
In late August, Sadr ordered a six-month freeze in the activities of his Mahdi Army militia, which has been widely identified by US commanders as a key factor in the sectarian violence plaguing Iraq.
Crocker said attacks using explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) were still being carried albeit on a smaller scale.
“On the other hand, we have seen EFP attacks continue, perhaps in lesser state… so if it’s the case the Iranians are moving down a road of using influence to reduce than foment violence, that’s a good thing,” he said.
“They would still in our view clearly have some way to go.”
Crocker said it was too early to make a clear judgment about Iranian strategy towards Iraq.
“What lies behind the decision to decrease (violence)? Does it mean that Iran is now fully committed to a fully secure Iraq or are there other considerations in play that we may not be able to see?” he asked.
Crocker acknowledged that Iran still had the capacity to play the role of spoiler if it wanted to.
“I think that, as we have seen in the past, if Iranians want instability in Iraq they are in, well, a position to create it and to create it in substantial amounts,” he said.
“Can they themselves exercise enough negative influence to prevent the emergence of a stable Iraq state? I am not sure. There are limits to Iran’s negative influence.”
In the past few months US authorities have acknowledged Tehran’s role in reducing violence across Iraq.
But the US military continues to claim that Iranian-made weapons are reaching Shiite extremists bent on attacking coalition forces.
Tehran denies that it arms, funds or trains any forces in Iraq.
Crocker said that next year one of the key challenges will be tackling the Sunni militias that have been one of the main factors in reining in Al-Qaeda loyalists this year.
Around 80,000 Sunni Arabs, many of them former insurgents but now referred to by US commanders as “concerned local citizens (CLCs)”, have joined the fight against Al-Qaeda.
“The CLCs have been a critical component in security success” but they also pose “a critical challenge”, Crocker said, adding that some of these CLCs would be integrated into the regular security forces.
“It has to be done in a way that other elements of population and government are comfortable with,” he said.