General: Iran Training Shiite Insurgents

The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 23, 2006; 10:00 PM

WASHINGTON -- The Iranian government is training and equipping much of the Shiite insurgency in Iraq, a senior U.S. general said Wednesday, drawing one of the most direct links by the Pentagon.

Brig. Gen. Michael Barbero also said it was too soon to tell if the latest security crackdown in Baghdad has proved successful.

Barbero said it is a "policy of the central government in Iran" to destabilize Iraq and increase the violence there.

"I think it's irrefutable that Iran is responsible for training, funding and equipping some of these (Shiite) extremist groups and also providing advanced IED technology to them," Barbero said. "IED" refers to the improvised explosive devices _ roadside bombs _ that have caused much death and destruction in Iraq.

Barbero, deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it would be inappropriate to specify when, where and how many Iranians have been training Iraqi insurgents.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other U.S. military leaders have talked about Iran's funding of the insurgency, but generally have been reluctant to directly blame the Tehran government.

Barbero said there continue to be problems policing the borders, particularly the one between Iraq and Syria, as Iraqis construct forts and slowly build up their own border patrol forces.

While some incidents of violence have declined a bit in Baghdad, Barbero said it is too early to tell if U.S. and Iraqi forces are winning the war there.

"After several weeks, we're not ready to make an assessment," he said.

Despite a recent buildup, Barbero said the Pentagon still intends to reduce the number of troops in Iraq as conditions improve and the Iraqis take over more control of their security.

Critics who question whether the U.S. military has a plan to win the peace in Iraq point to recent announcements increasing the number of American troops there _ more than three years after the war was launched.

In recent weeks, the U.S. has increased the number of troops there from a low of about 125,000 in June, to the current level of 138,000 _ all part of an effort to stem the escalating violence in Baghdad.

On Tuesday the Marines announced they will involuntarily recall thousands of Marines to active duty to fill positions largely in Iraq and Afghanistan. No more than 2,500 would be brought back at any one time.

The recent moves will make it difficult for the military to meet its previously stated goal of decreasing the number of troops in Iraq to about 100,000 by the end of the year.

The latest call-up, is "a warning that valuable resources are being misspent on the conflict in Iraq rather than being sent to the front lines in the war on terrorism," said Rep. Ike Skelton, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

© 2006 The Associated Press