News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqPentagon claims Iran ups Iraq aid

Pentagon claims Iran ups Iraq aid


Washington Post: Iran has stepped up its aid to armed Shiite Muslim groups in neighboring Iraq, providing training and weapons that have been used against Americans and Iraqis, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said today.
Washington Post

By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer

Iran has stepped up its aid to armed Shiite Muslim groups in neighboring Iraq, providing training and weapons that have been used against Americans and Iraqis, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said today.

In a Pentagon news briefing with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. listed the Iranian involvement as one of four elements that he said have complicated the security situation in Iraq.

Despite the “increased complexity” of the security environment there, Casey said, Iraqi government forces have been making “good progress,” and he described the completion of a new government of national unity in Baghdad this month as “heartening.”

Casey said Iraq’s insurgency, although still dangerous, has not expanded. And he professed confidence that the military can continue to make “gradual reductions” in U.S. forces in Iraq this year.

But he would not specify any figures or timeframe, and he said he opposes setting a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq. He made the comments after the Senate today rejected two Democratic proposals on withdrawing troops from Iraq. One of them would have set a deadline of July 1, 2007, for the withdrawal of the bulk of U.S. troops, leaving behind a contingency force to deal with training, special operations and facilities protection.

“I don’t like it,” Casey said of a setting a withdrawal deadline. “I feel it would limit my flexibility. I think it would give the enemy a fixed timetable, and I think it would send a terrible signal to a new government of national unity in Iraq, which is trying to stand up and get its legs underneath it.”

Casey said the insurgent group, al-Qaeda in Iraq, is “hurt” following the death of its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, in a U.S. airstrike and from numerous operations against it resulting from the capture of documents and computer files.

“They’re hurt, but they’re not finished, and they won’t be finished for some time,” Casey said. He said the group is “still quite capable of conducting terrorist acts across Iraq.”

Other factors in the security situation are “illegal armed groups” that he described as criminal gangs, rather than militias.

In addition, he said, elements of Iraq’s Sunni Muslim Arab insurgency have been “reaching out and looking for ways to reevaluate their options and to come out of the resistance against occupation with honor.”

Of Iran, Casey said, “we are quite confident that the Iranians, through their covert special operations forces, are providing weapons, IED [improvised explosive device”> technology and training to [Shiite”> extremist groups in Iraq.” He said the training is “being conducted in Iran and in some cases probably in Lebanon through their surrogates,” notably the Lebanese Shiite militant group, Hezbollah.

The Iranians, Casey said, “are using surrogates to conduct terrorist operations in Iraq both against us and against the Iraqi people. It’s decidedly unhelpful.”

Casey added, “I have no evidence that there are Iranians in Iraq that are actually directing attacks. They are providing the materiel to [Shiite”> extremist groups that operate as their surrogates.” He said that “since January, we have seen an upsurge in their support” to a “wide variety” of Shiite extremist groups operating in southern Iraq.

Casey said Iran’s “Quds force, their covert special operations forces, are the ones that are directing this,” presumably under the orders of central authorities in Tehran. The Quds force is an element of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

He said the increased Iranian activity was “difficult to quantify,” but that U.S. commanders “are seeing the explosively formed projectile attacks against us increase.” He did not give any specific examples of these attacks.

Despite the complex security situation, Casey said, “I’m confident that we will be able to continue to take reductions over the course of this year” in the number of U.S. troops deployed in Iraq. “What we’ve always said is there would be a gradual reduction over time as the Iraqi security forces assumed a larger and larger role.”

Rumsfeld added that this reduction “will very likely not be a steady path down; it could very likely be a drawdown with an increase.” He said U.S. troop strength — now at nearly 127,000 — “could very well go back up at some point” to deal with contingencies.

“So it very likely will go down and up and down and up depending on the circumstances and depending on the needs,” Rumsfeld said.

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