AFP: Iran is linked to violence in Iraq by providing training to those firing rockets in Baghdad and not doing enough to rein in lawless gunmen in Basra, the US military charged on Wednesday. BAGHDAD (AFP) Iran is linked to violence in Iraq by providing training to those firing rockets in Baghdad and not doing enough to rein in lawless gunmen in Basra, the US military charged on Wednesday.
“There is no question that the government of Iran has significant influence in Basra, in the province and in southeastern Iraq in general,” said military spokesman Major General Kevin Bergner.
“We would love to see the government of Iran fulfill its commitments to help improve security and stability (in Basra) … and reduce the activities of those operating outside the law,” Bergner told a news conference in Baghdad.
He was speaking a day after Iraqi security forces launched a massive sweep in the southern oil hub aimed, according to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, at “lawless gangs” that have taken over parts of city.
He said around 2,000 additional troops and police had been moved into Basra to assist in the operation to quell the armed groups.
Witnesses have said the troops are moving into areas controlled by the Mahdi Army of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr but Bergner said the militia is not being targeted in particular.
“The actions are not against (the Mahdi Army). It is the government of Iraq taking responsibility and acting to deal with criminals on the streets.”
Iraqi troops moved into the city on Tuesday and “will continue to press into neighbourhoods and districts … that are contested,” Bergner said, adding that the US military is not participating beyond playing a liaison role.
The operation, he said, was aimed at improving security in oil-rich Basra province ahead of provincial elections in October.
“The prime minister’s assessement is that without this operation there will not be any hopeful prospect of improving security in Basra,” Bergner said.
“As we look forward to the prospect of elections later this fall, the government of Iraq is stepping up its responsibility to set the necessary security conditions that will be important for those elections to be implemented.”
In Sadr City, the Mahdi Army bastion in eastern Baghdad, the general said that since Tuesday US and Iraqi forces had been targeting those firing rockets and mortars into the highly fortified Green Zone and surrounding suburbs.
“Much of the indirect fire … has emanated from east Baghdad and Sadr City,” he said, using the term the US military employs for rockets and mortars.
“We have a responsibility to work with the Iraqi security forces and interdict the ability of indirect fire cells to continue doing what they are doing … and to enforce the rule of law against the criminal actions of armed groups.”
Bergner blamed “Special Groups” for mortar and rocket attacks and said Iraqi and US forces were not targeting the Mahdi Army in particular, but only those members ignoring Sadr’s ceasefire pledge “and who are breaking the law.”
“We are not targeting individuals because of their politicial affiliation,” Bergner said.
US commanders say Special Groups are made up of disaffected Mahdi Army fighters who have allegedly been trained in Iran by members of the elite Quds Force in the use of sophisticated weaponry, including rockets, mortars and lethal roadside bombs known as explosively formed penetrators.