Odierno: Militants trained in Iran prepare to attack US bases in Iraq
Gen. Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, said today that Al Qaeda is a diminished threat and that Iran has moved away from instigating violence. But he also said that Iraqi Shiite militants who trained in Iran are planning a major attack.
Shiite Iraqi militants have trained in Iran in preparation for attacks against US military bases as American combat forces prepare to withdraw by September, the top US commander in Iraq said on Tuesday.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In an unusually candid assessment, Gen. Ray Odierno said that Kataib Hezbollah – an Iraqi Shiite militant group backed by Iran – may be seeking to take some credit for the long-planned departure of US troops.
“For years these groups have been [saying] that they are forcing the US to leave,” Odierno told reporters in Baghdad. A significant strike “could be a huge propaganda tool for them in the future.”
So far, he said the US had seen only seen “fairly low level” attacks on military convoys, and that Al Qaeda in Iraq had also been “significantly degraded” in the past year and lost contact with leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Overall violence in Iraq has dropped considerably in the past two years.
As a result of the intelligence reports about Kataib Hezbollah's apparent preparations, Odierno said US forces had “increased our security in some of our bases.” He said that the US would not adjust plans to cut troop numbers from 74,000 today to 50,000 noncombat soldiers by the end of August.
Iran's evolving approach
Odierno said that while any connection between Kataib Hezbollah and the Iranian government was “very convoluted,” the recent militant activities are “clearly connected" to Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard force.
“What we do know is the people that are getting ready to conduct this attack went back, got special training in Iran, they came back [to Iraq] and we knew that there were experts sent from Iran into Iraq to help them to do this in the last month or so,” said Odierno. The intelligence details could not be independently verified.
Historically, elements of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard have been known to conduct operations abroad without the knowledge or direct approval of the civilian leadership in Tehran. Such operations have, at times, appeared to directly undermine Iran’s stated policies.
Whatever role elements in Iran may have played in preparing Iraqi Shiite militants for new attacks, US officers say the Islamic Republic has been moving away from overt military influence in Iraq, which was evident especially – according to US military claims – since 2007.
“Like anybody else, they reassess how their strategy is working,” and events in Iraq had often “backfired” on Iran, said Odierno. He pointed to the 2008 US-Iraq signing of the Status of Forces Agreement, provincial elections in early 2009, and the national elections in March in which candidates playing to nationalist sentiment – rather than sectarian sympathies – did best.