AFP: US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Iraqi government's decision to send a delegation to Iran was an important step in pressuring Tehran to stop arming Shiite militias.
EL PASO, Texas (AFP) — US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the Iraqi government's decision to send a delegation to Iran was an important step in pressuring Tehran to stop arming Shiite militias.
He said the visit by the Iraqi delegation was aimed at "in essence forcing them to make a choice: do they want to work with the government of Iraq or are they going to subvert the government of Iraq.
"For the prime minister of Iraq to send a delegation to Iran presumably to confront the Iranians with that kind of a choice, I think is a healthy development," Gates told reporters during a visit to Fort Bliss, a US Army base.
The diplomatic overture from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki comes amid a rebound in violence as US and Iraqi forces fight Shiite militia groups that the US military says are armed and trained by Iran's Quds Force, a branch of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.
A senior US defense official said the Iraqis were expected to confront the Iranians with evidence of Quds Force arming and training so-called "special groups."
Gates said it would be difficult to tell whether the Iraqi delegation has an impact. "I don't know how you evaluate the success of a mission like that except over time looking back to see if the supply of weapons and training and so on has diminished," he said.
A senior aide to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said the Iraqi delegation was in Iran to meet with Sadr, but he had refused to hold talks with them.