Iran Continues to Support Shiite Militias in Iraq, Pentagon Says
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
A new Pentagon report has concluded that Iran continues to provide money, training and weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq, although U.S. commanders previously stated that attacks using lethal bombs linked to Iran have fallen in recent months.
"There has been no identified decrease in Iranian training and funding of illegal Shi'a militias in Iraq," said the report, released yesterday.
"Tehran's support for Shi'a militant groups who attack Coalition and Iraq forces remains a significant impediment to progress," it said, adding that Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps provides "many of the explosives and ammunition used by these groups."
The report also said that security gains in Iraq have been uneven in regions with fewer U.S. troops, and that political progress by Iraq's national government is the critical factor in sustaining those gains. The quarterly report, required by Congress, covers September through November.
U.S. commanders have voiced the concern that the security gains, aided by the deployment of nearly 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq this year, might be squandered if the Iraqi government continues to move slowly on political reconciliation, a point underscored in yesterday's report.
"Challenges remain at the national level" on achieving reconciliation, the report said. "The key to long-term success will be the Government of Iraq's ability to capitalize upon local gains, pass key legislation and promote national reconciliation."
Despite an overall decline in attacks, to the level of the summer of 2005, violence has remained relatively high in northern Iraq, where U.S. forces have been thinly spread, the report noted.
In the northern province of Nineveh, for example, the effort of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq to reconstitute has kept attacks above last year's level. Al-Qaeda "has become increasingly concentrated in the central and northern Tigris River Valley in Nineveh Province" and is focusing on the provincial capital of Mosul, the report said.
Nineveh now ranks third among the provinces, after Baghdad and Salahuddin, in terms of average daily attacks, with about 14 per day, up from being fifth this summer.
Al-Qaeda and some Sunni resistance groups have gained some support among local Sunnis who are afraid of Shiite encroachment and Kurdish expansionism, the report said. But it noted that Iraqi security forces in Nineveh have improved their effectiveness, forcing al-Qaeda in Iraq to strike farther from population centers.
A contributing factor in the north could be the flow into Iraq of foreign fighters, 95 percent of whom come from Syria, the report said. Recent Syrian efforts "may have had some effect in decreasing the flow of extremists into Iraq," the report said, but it added that "it is not clear that Syria has made a strategic decision to persistently . . . deal with foreign terrorists."
In southern Iraq, the report said, security has "deteriorated only slightly" because of recent agreements between Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim to end the violence between their respective militias, the Mahdi Army and the Badr Organization.
Even so, Iranian-supported Shiite extremist groups continue to attack coalition and Iraqi forces in the southern provinces, the report said.
Meanwhile, security continued to improve significantly in Baghdad and Anbar provinces, where U.S. forces have been concentrated under the troop buildup ordered by President Bush in January.