WASHINGTON (AFP) — The former number two US commander in Iraq charged Tuesday that Iran is still training, funding and arming Shiite extremists in Iraq, with the aim of keeping a weak government in Baghdad.
"I think we have to keep the pressure on them," said Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, who until recently was second in command in Iraq in charge of day-to-day military operations.
"What they ought to stop doing is training surrogates, funding surrogates and supplying weapons to them, which they are still doing today," he told reporters.
Odierno's comments came just a day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for a withdrawal of US forces from Iraq during the first visit ever to Iraq by an Iranian president.
Ahmadinejad was warmly received by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, who said there was "a high level of trust" between them, and praised Iran's recent position toward Iraq as "extremely helpful."
US lawmakers denounced the Iranian's president's visit, but the commander of US forces in the Middle East, Admiral William Fallon, said it was an opportunity for Iraqi leaders to press Ahmadinejad to stop the arms flow.
"This is a venue in which we might be able to move some kind of a dialogue forward to get them to be more cooperative and helpful in this area," Fallon said.
"The levels of lethal assistance into Iraq (are) difficult for us to pinpoint but there certainly has been a diminution of activity in the last several months, particularly with regard to these IEDs, explosively formed penetrators," he said.
"How much of this is directly the result of decisions made in Tehran, how much is due to our own people and their good work in the field, I don't know," he said. "But this kind of trend is something we want to see accelerated and moved on."
Odierno acknowledged that Iraq needed good relations with Iran, but questioned whether Iran is being "helpful," citing its continued support for Shiite extremists.
The general alluded to a boast on Monday by Ahmadinejad that he was able to visit Iraq openly, unlike other foreign leaders who made unannounced visits that lasted just a few hours.
"My comment is I'm not surprised. Because over the last 12 months whenever a visitor would come from the United States, we needed to foil a rocket attack, he said.
"Guess what? That is because it was being done by an Iranian surrogate."
Odierno cited Iran as one of several factors that could reverse gains made over the past year in reducing the violence, along with intra-Shia violence and a spectacular attack that could rekindle sectarian violence.
He said Iran's support for insurgent groups was "about keeping, in my opinion, a weak government in Iraq, and Iran benefits from that. And that's something we have to keep looking at as we move forward."
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