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Gates: Iran assured Iraq on weapons

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AP: Iran apparently has assured the Iraqi government that it will stop the flow into Iraq of bomb-making materials and other weaponry that U.S. officials say has inflamed insurgent violence and caused many American troop casualties, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday. The Associated Press

By ROBERT BURNS

WASHINGTON (AP) — Iran apparently has assured the Iraqi government that it will stop the flow into Iraq of bomb-making materials and other weaponry that U.S. officials say has inflamed insurgent violence and caused many American troop casualties, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.

“It is my understanding that they have provided such assurances,” Gates told a Pentagon news conference. “I don’t know whether to believe them. I’ll wait and see.” He said he did not know who in Tehran made the promise.

The deadliest of the weapons Iran is accused of providing to Iraqi insurgents is a device the U.S. military calls an explosively formed projectile, or EFP. It fires a slug of molten metal capable of penetrating even the most heavily armored military vehicle and thus is more deadly than other roadside bombs.

U.S. officials say Iran also has supplied rockets and mortars, money and training for Shiite militias that has enabled them to more accurately target the weapons. U.S. officials have said this was behind the more effective mortar attacks this year on the Green Zone in Baghdad that houses the U.S. Embassy.

In separate remarks Thursday to reporters at the Pentagon, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq said there has been a sharp decline in the number of EFPs found in Iraq in the last three months. Last month there were 30 attacks involving EFPs and 23 more were found unexploded for a total of 53, said Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno.

That compares with 99 in July, 78 in August and 52 in September, Odierno said by videoconference from Baghdad.

Gates and Odierno both said it is too early to know whether this trend will hold and whether it can be attributed to action by Iranian authorities. Iran publicly denies that it has sent weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who appeared with Gates, said he agrees that it is too soon to say that the decline in EFP attacks is linked to Iranian efforts. He noted that U.S. forces have stepped up efforts to intercept weapons shipments and to control the Iraq-Iran border.

U.S. allegations of Iranian interference in Iraq are among the main sources of tension between Washington and Tehran, and have led some to speculate that it could lead to more direct U.S. military action against Iran.

Gates said the Bush administration is unified in focusing on non-military solutions.

“Everybody is agreed that the United States’ approach to dealing with the Iranian problem now is to focus on economic sanctions and on diplomacy, and I don’t think there is any difference within the government on that principle,” he said.

In his remarks, Odierno gave a comprehensive assessment of the security situation in Iraq. He said violence in many forms has decreased in recent months; Iraqi civilian deaths are down and deaths among coalition forces declined for five months, last month hitting the lowest level since February 2004.

Odierno said this year’s troop buildup made it possible for the military to eliminate key safe havens for militants in and around Baghdad, and that the training of Iraqi security forces has made progress and Iraqis are increasingly rejecting the extremists and giving authorities information against them.

“I believe we have achieved some momentum,” he said. “Although it is not yet irreversible momentum, this positive momentum has set the conditions for political accommodation, economic development and basic services to progress.”

That is what President Bush said in January was the point of the troop buildup — to calm violence enough to give the Iraqi government space to work on reconciliation and rebuilding.

Odierno said providing basic services to the people is key and that while Iraqi officials are making plans for that, there is still much to do.

“They are planning and they are saying the right things and that’s good,” Odierno said. “We now need to see more action on the ground.”

Associated Press Writer Pauline Jelinek contributed to this report.

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