AP: There’s been no letup in attacks and weapons-smuggling by Iranian-backed Shiite militants in some parts of Iraq’s capital, the area’s top U.S. commander said Monday. The Associated Press
By PAULINE JELINEK
WASHINGTON (AP) There’s been no letup in attacks and weapons-smuggling by Iranian-backed Shiite militants in some parts of Iraq’s capital, the area’s top U.S. commander said Monday.
The comment by Army Col. Don Farris contrasts with suggestions in recent weeks that Iran was slowing the flow of bombs, money and other support to Shiite extremists in Iraq.
Farris is commander for coalition forces in northern Baghdad, an area including the huge Shiite slum of Sadr City, which he called “really a hub for these activities coming from Iran.” It also includes the Sunni neighborhood of Azamiyah.
Despite a 75 percent decline in overall attacks in his area, there was an increase last month in the most lethal kind of roadside bombs the explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) that officials say come from Iran, Farris said.
He said overall attacks are down because this year’s troop buildup has helped coalition forces drive al-Qaida militants and Shiite death squads out of Baghdad neighborhoods. Not so with the Shiite groups the U.S. says are getting weapons, training and funding from neighboring Iran, he said.
“I have not seen those attacks abate, and I have not seen any indication that they intend to stop,” Farris said.
In the last weeks, troops have captured two Iranian operatives and one of their bases was attacked with what Farris said were “lob bombs” fabricated from sophisticated technology from Iran.
Tehran has repeatedly denied U.S. allegations that it helps Iraqi extremists. But Iraqi authorities said in August that Iranian officials promised Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that they would stem the flow of weapons and ammunition smuggled to extremists in Iraq.
In the last few weeks, a half dozen U.S. officials and commanders have commented on the pledge some saying it was still unclear whether Iran had followed through on it and others saying it appeared Iran was following through because there had been a drop in the number of roadside bombs found.
Farris was the first to say there has been no change in his area among the “special groups,” describing Iranian-backed militants.
“In my sector the assessment is we have not seen any slowing down or any indicators that these special groups are going to curtail their activities or quit receiving this support that’s coming from outside the country,” he said.
U.S. forces only operate in about 20 percent of the Sadr City enclave of some 2.5 million, purposely staying out of most of it to avoid a repeat of the bloody 2004 battle with fighters for radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.
Farris’s brigade arrived in Iraq in January, the first of the five brigades President Bush sent in an escalation to stem sectarian violence that had been spiraling out of control at this time last year.
He said now that violence is down, a small number of Iraqis have begun “trickling” back to neighborhoods they fled in his sector. Most others, he said, are reported waiting for the government to provide electricity and other essential services which have suffered because violence kept municipal workers away.