US general: Iran sticking by pledge
Remember when Iran denied any financial or materiel support of Iraqi resistance groups?
This report answers many questions. As far as Iran is concerned, very little happens outside the control of the Mullahs, and their 118,000 head strong guardians of the Iranian Revolution.
US general: Iran sticking by pledge
By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer
Thu Nov 15, 4:30 PM ET
Iran seems to be honoring a commitment to stem the flow of deadly weapons into Iraq, contributing to a more than 50 percent drop in the number of roadside bombs that kill and maim American troops, a U.S. general said Thursday.
The comments by Maj. Gen. James Simmons marked rare U.S. praise for Iranian cooperation in efforts to stabilize Iraq. Washington has repeatedly accused the Islamic Republic of aiding Shiite militias and trying to foil U.S. goals in Iraq and the region.
But it remains unclear why Iran may have decided to choke off the suspected weapons pipeline. One possibility is that Iran — the most populous Shiite nation — is seeking to shore up the struggling government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, in the belief it will help Tehran's long-term interests.
Simmons, a deputy commander of Multinational Corps-Iraq, told reporters that the number of roadside bombs either found or exploded nationwide had fallen from 3,239 in March to 1,560 last month.
The October figure was the lowest since September 2005, he said.
Simmons said the decline included all types of roadside bombs, including highly lethal "explosively formed penetrators" — the signature weapon of Shiite extremists — which can hurl a fist-sized chunk of molten copper through the heaviest armor on U.S. vehicles.
U.S. authorities insist penetrator bombs come from Iran, despite Iranian denials.
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Iranians had apparently assured the Iraqi government that it would stop the flow into Iraq of bomb-making materials and other weaponry.
"We believe that the commitments that the Iranians have made appear to be holding up," Simmons said, adding that Iranian-made weaponry still found in Iraq appeared to have been smuggled in months ago.
After the news conference, Simmons told The Associated Press that the Iranian move followed "a significant amount of negotiations." He would not give details, however, saying he was not privy to the discussions.
Last week, the Americans freed nine Iranians detained in Iraq for months on suspicion of smuggling weapons to Iraqi Shiite groups. The release was seen as a possible response to Iran's move to curb weapons shipments.
Nevertheless, Shiite militants remain a major threat to U.S. forces in the Baghdad area, despite recent improvements in security in the capital.
Shiite extremists were believed responsible for a deadly attack Wednesday against a U.S. Stryker vehicle, which was hit by what Simmons called "an array" of penetrator bombs near an entrance to the Green Zone.
One American soldier was killed and five were wounded, the military said. Iraqi police said two Iraqi civilians also were killed. It was the first major attack against a U.S. military vehicle in that area in at least four months, Simmons said.
The attack occurred in one of the most heavily protected areas of the capital, raising questions how the explosives could have been planted without collusion from Iraqi police or soldiers.
Simmons said U.S. and Iraqi authorities were investigating the attack.
Al-Maliki's prestige had been severely undermined by ongoing violence, much of it carried out by Shiite extremists believed linked to Iran. The lingering unrest also had muddied the public image of all the Shiite religious parties that have dominated the government since 2005.
Improvements in security, however, have not been matched by progress in resolving deep-seeded political differences among the country's Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish communities.
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker alluded to the lack of political progress, telling reporters that security operations in Baghdad had been "very successful in bringing down the levels of violence."
"So it is now extremely important that the political process move forward ... and offer the Iraqis the chance to build a strong and stable nation for the future," Crocker said. "Now there has to be political success."
Roadside bombs have been among the biggest threats to American troops.
From May through July, the number of American military deaths from roadside bombs soared to 203 — or about two-thirds of all U.S. fatalities.
Simmons said U.S. authorities also were encouraged by an increase in tips from Iraqi citizens about weapons caches, which he interpreted as a sign the public was turning against both Shiite and Sunni extremists.
"We had found more caches by May of this year than in all of 2006," he said.
Simmons said most of the roadside bomb attacks recently had occurred in Sunni areas north of Baghdad, which have seen a spike in violence as extremists were pushed from strongholds in and around the capital.
In Kirkuk, an ethnically mixed city 180 miles north of Baghdad, a suicide bomber rammed his car into a police patrol in Kirkuk, killing six people and wounding more than 20, according to police Brig. Sarhad Qadir.
The bomber's apparent target was the six-car convoy of a senior Kurdish police officer, Brig. Gen. Khattab Omar, who heads the city police department's quick response force, Qadir said.
Many of the 21 people wounded were children who had been walking to school when the bomber struck. Associated Press Television News video from a nearby hospital showed a young girl in a school uniform, drenched in blood.
A child's shoe could be seen peeking out from under a tarp covering corpses.
Also Thursday, the U.S. military said a U.S. soldier had been killed a day earlier in an explosion in Diyala province that wounded four other soldiers. At least 3,865 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an AP count.
In Baghdad, a British commander said attacks against British and Iraqi forces have plunged by 90 percent in southern Iraq since London withdrew its troops from Basra, Iraq's second-largest city.
The presence of British forces in downtown Basra was the single largest catalyst for violence, Maj. Gen. Graham Binns told reporters Thursday on a visit to Baghdad's Green Zone.
"We thought, `If 90 percent of the violence is directed at us, what would happen if we stepped back?'" Binns said.
Britain's 5,000 troops moved out of a former Saddam Hussein palace in Basra in early September, setting up a garrison at an airport on the city's edge. The shift was part of planned reduction in British forces in Iraq to about 2,500 by next spring.
AP reporter Lauren Frayer contributed to this report.