U.S. Blames Iran For Arms In Iraq

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Wall Street Journal
April 12, 2008
Pg. 3
Chorus of Officials Cite New Shipments To Shiite Militias
By Yochi J. Dreazen
WASHINGTON -- Senior U.S. defense officials accused Iran of stepping up its shipments of weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq, underscoring a marked hardening of American rhetoric about Iran in recent days.
Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iranian support for the Shiite-extremist groups had grown, while Defense Secretary Robert Gates said for the first time that he believed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad knew about the shipments.
"I find it inconceivable that he does not know," Mr. Gates told reporters at the Pentagon, adding that Iran was playing a "malign" role in Iraq.
Iran has long denied providing support to extremists in Iraq, deriding the accusations as U.S. propaganda.
When violence in Iraq began decreasing last year, some senior U.S. officials said Iran deserved a measure of credit. Several top State Department officials said that Iran appeared to be taking steps to stem the flow of advanced weaponry -- including powerful armor-piercing bombs -- into Iraq.
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, accused Iran of providing the rockets that have rained down on the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad in recent days, killing several Americans. Iran also provided the weaponry that Shiite militants used in block-by-block fighting with Iraqi-government security forces in the southern port city of Basra earlier this month, he said.
On Friday, Adm. Mullen and Mr. Gates said they believed Iranian involvement in Iraq was growing, not decreasing, and that Tehran was providing much of the weaponry to inflict numerous U.S. and Iraqi fatalities in recent days.
"We've discussed over many months about whether or not they were going to decrease their efforts," Adm. Mullen said. "As far as I'm concerned, this action in Basra was very convincing that indeed they haven't."
Mr. Gates, for his part, said that there were signs of "an increased level of supply of weapons and support" to Shiite militias in Iraq.
The tough talk capped a week in which an array of senior U.S. officials denounced what they described as growing Iranian efforts to destabilize Iraq by funneling weapons, training and funding to Shiite militias.
Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told lawmakers that Tehran was pursuing a "Lebanonization strategy" inside Iraq by backing militias and other proxy groups there.
The change in Mr. Crocker's own comments about Iran is striking. Last year, he told reporters in Baghdad that there were "some indicators that the Iranians are using some influence to bring down violence from extremist Shia militias."
At a breakfast with reporters Friday, Mr. Crocker painted a much darker portrait of Iran's role inside Iraq, which he described as "highly dangerous."
Mr. Crocker said Tehran was arming Shiite militias throughout the country and provided the rockets that have slammed into the U.S. Embassy compound in recent days, killing several Americans and keeping hundreds of embassy personnel confined indoors for safety reasons.
"It's been a difficult few weeks," he said. "Rockets are bouncing off your buildings, and maintaining focus can be an occasional challenge."
Mr. Crocker added that Shiite tribal leaders in Basra had complained to him in recent weeks "about militia rule and Iranian influence" there.
Bloodshed in Basra began when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered thousands of security personnel to oust militants linked to Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army but ended in an Iranian-brokered truce after the militia fought the government forces to a draw. During the assault, violence flared up in other Shiite regions of the country.
"I think the Iraqi government now has a clearer view of the malign impact of Iran's activities inside Iraq," said Mr. Gates. "I think they have had what I would call a growing understanding of that negative Iranian role. But I think what they encountered in Basra was a real eye-opener for them."