US officials: Decision on confronting Iran up to Iraq

iran-iraq.jpgBy Robert Burns | Iraqi leaders have been given the latest U.S. evidence of Iranian support for militias inside Iraq, and Baghdad will decide what to do about it, two senior Pentagon officials said Wednesday.Marine Lt. Gen. John Sattler, director of strategy, plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki possesses the evidence, which other officials said contradicts Tehran’s stated commitment to stop providing arms, weapons technology and training to Shiite militias inside Iraq.

“It’s in Prime Minister al-Maliki’s hands right now, the evidence as to whether or not he’s been lied to – bald-faced lied to – by the Iranian government,” Sattler told a Pentagon news conference.

“The evidence inside Baghdad has been shared with the Iraqi leadership, and that’s where it stands right now,” he added.

The Iraqi leaders are hoping to pressure Iran to stop aiding militias by presenting Tehran with the latest evidence, another senior defense official said. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said it’s not clear whether the Iranians have agreed to meet to discuss the evidence. But the official said the Iraqis want to press the Iranians to stop.

CIA Director Michael Hayden said Wednesday that Iran’s policy is to help kill Americans in Iraq. Hayden made the statement in response to a student question while speaking at Kansas State University.

“It is my opinion, it is the policy of the Iranian government, approved to highest level of that government, to facilitate the killing of Americans in Iraq,” Hayden said.

U.S. military officials have said its evidence that Iran is aiding Iraqi militias includes caches of weapons that have date stamps showing they were produced in Iran this year. The weapons include mortars, rockets, small arms, roadside bombs and armor-piercing explosives – known as explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs – that troops have discovered in recent months, according to another senior military official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the evidence has not yet been made public.

According to one official, plans for U.S. officials to publicly present the evidence of Iranian support for the militias have been delayed to give the Iraqis time to speak directly to Tehran about the problem.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other U.S. government officials have asserted that Iranian-trained Iraqi Shiite militiamen are carrying out attacks in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq – using weapons supplied by Iran – that are killing not only Iraqis but U.S. troops as well.

Appearing with Sattler at the Pentagon was the Joint Chiefs’ operations chief, Army Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, who said the Iraqis will play “a leading role” in determining how to deal with the problem.

“The government of Iran … made a commitment to stem the flow of fighters and material from Iran into Iraq,” Ham said, adding that U.S. military commanders in Baghdad “have stated that they’re not seeing evidence that that is, in fact, the case. I think it now is a matter for the government of Iraq.”

Asked more directly what the U.S. government intends to do about the Iranian actions in Iraq, Ham replied, “Clearly the Iraqis have a leading role, but it is necessarily an international effort to which the United States clearly is a significant factor in this.”

Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that U.S. officials in Baghdad planned to publicly release evidence of continuing lethal Iranian assistance to militias inside Iraq. That plan is on hold to give the Iraqis time to speak directly to Tehran about the problem, one official said.

Gates said Tuesday that the U.S. is not laying the groundwork for an attack against Iran.

Addressing the same issue, Sattler said he knows of “no order or stepped-up effort to plan” for military action against Iran, adding that in his position as head of planning for the Joint Chiefs, he would know.

The U.S. briefly had two Navy aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf this week – a move that Gates said Tuesday could be seen as a “reminder” to Iran. The Pentagon has routinely said that moving ships to the Gulf is a way of showing countries there that the U.S. remains committed to the region.

The USS Abraham Lincoln entered the Gulf in a normal rotation of forces, and the USS Harry Truman and its battle group began heading toward their home base at Norfolk, Va., officials said. Ham said the two carriers were together in the Gulf for only a day, and that they conducted joint air exercises in the northern Gulf.


Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor, traveling with Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Mexico City and Texas, contributed to this report.