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.
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“So what [Iran has] done is they’ve changed,” said Odierno. “Although they still provide lethal aid and support, it is significantly less than what it once was. I think they are moving more towards a soft-power” approach, using political and economic influence more than supporting militants.Skip to next paragraph
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Odierno confident in Iraqi security forces
The US commander said he was confident that Iraqi security forces – which have already been in charge of security across much of the country for months – were capable of keeping Iraq stable. At least 11 people were killed in attacks across Iraq on Tuesday, including three who died when an explosive device was reported to have gone off in a mock coffin at a demonstration.
Bombs and shootings are still common each day across Iraq, but the death toll has dropped dramatically from the 3,000 per month peak in 2007. Much of that was sectarian killing between Sunnis and Shiites, as insurgents sought to ethnically "cleanse" neighborhoods with violence.
But many also died in car bomb attacks and other spectacular events claimed by Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and various Sunni insurgent groups. The two top leaders of AQI were slain in a US airstrike in late April, an event Odierno said at the time was “potentially the most significant blow to Al Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency.”
On Tuesday, Odierno said US and Iraqi forces had since then “picked up” the two replacements for the top leaders, and that AQI was a now “significantly different organization than they were a year ago, or six months ago.”
Insurgents stepped up lethal bombings in the aftermath of the March 7 national election, which has yet to yield a government after more than four months, as politicians bicker. But Odierno said that AQI’s “ability to surge [attacks] I think is significantly less.”
The general also said that US forces “have seen no communication between Al Qaeda in Iraq and Al Qaeda senior leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” After the deaths of Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the Egyptian leader of AQI, and Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, head of of the umbrella Islamic State of Iraq, the senior leadership tried but failed to contact remaining AQI leaders, said Odierno.
“We know that over the last year they have had significant problems – it takes them forever to pass messages, and to pass messages back,” Odierno said. “But after [the leader deaths] they attempted to send, the way they normally do, an encrypted message, and there’s nobody on this end who could un-encrypt it.”
“And since then there has been no communication between,” Odierno added. “There has been a serious break, and it shows the capability, it shows the status of the leadership here now, that it’s significantly reduced to what it once was.”
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