A senior U.S. military officer says a renewed effort to break suicide bomb networks in Iraq has led, at least in part, to Iranian intelligence services. The statement came at the Pentagon Thursday, as U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates was visiting Baghdad on the day on a day of continued bombings, after a particularly deadly series of bombings Wednesday. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
At a Pentagon briefing, Major General Michael Barbero said Iran shares the goals of the Sunni insurgents, to destabilize Iraq and tie down U.S. forces. He said that appears to be the reason Iran is now helping the Sunni groups, as well as Shi'ite extremists.
"We are seeing some aid from the Iranian intelligence services to the Sunni insurgents," he said. "Detainees in American custody have indicated that Iranian intelligence operatives have given support to Sunni insurgents. And then we've discovered some munitions in Baghdad neighborhoods which are largely Sunni that were manufactured in Iran."
General Barbero, who is on the senior military staff, says U.S. forces have been focusing for some time on the networks that send out suicide bombers with huge bombs in their cars and trucks, such as those who struck Wednesday killing, according to the U.S. military, 150 Iraqi civilians. The U.S. military calls the large bombs, which mostly target Shi'ite neighborhoods Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED).
"We've had a renewed focus on what we call 'the accelerants' for sectarian violence," he added. "And we've had success, some success with the extra-judicial killings. The murder rates are down. We've had some success with these VBIED networks. So it is a priority. And it has been a focus since before the start of this operation."
On Wednesday, Admiral William Fallon, the U.S. military officer commanding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, called the vehicle bombs the most important issue for his forces to address because their aim is to foment sectarian violence.
The bombings continued Thursday, with at least 12 people reported killed in one incident in Baghdad, less than a kilometer from the home of Iraq's president. Two Iraqi soldiers were among the dead, and coalition military officials reported two British soldiers were killed in a bombing in southern Iraq.
In a speech, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the insurgents are "targeting humanity," and that his government is engaged in what he called "an open battle…for the sake of the nation, dignity, honor and the people."
Also on Thursday, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, said the Wednesday bombings were a setback that came just as he thought the new Baghdad Security Plan was starting to take hold.
"A day like that can have a real psychological impact," said General Petraeus. "And it came at a time where, frankly, [Lieutenant] General [Ray] Odierno [his deputy] and I, and a lot of the other leaders in Baghdad and throughout Iraq, have felt that we were getting a bit of traction. You know it's very, it's almost imperceptible at times, but that there was slow progress with the Baghdad security plan and in some other parts of the country as well."
General Petraeus said Iraqi and coalition leaders are taking action to respond to the challenge posed by the recent series of large-scale bombings.
The general spoke during a visit by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and some of the top U.S. military officers. Secretary Gates says he will press Iraqi leaders to make faster progress on reconciliation between the Sunni and Shi'ite communities, which U.S. officials believe is the key to long-term stability in Iraq.
At the Pentagon briefing, General Barbero said there has been some success in easing some types of violence in recent weeks, including a drop in sectarian murders and in the overall number of attacks on civilians in Baghdad and elsewhere. But he said those successes, like the continuing bombings, are just part of the story.
"We have to take a longer term view of this and not take a successful day and blow that out of proportion or take one of these tragic days like we had yesterday [Wednesday] and extrapolate that into a trend," said General Barbero.
In Iraq, General Petraeus said all the U.S. troops involved in the current surge of forces will not be in place until mid-June, and it will take some time after that to see the full impact of the security plan. Secretary Gates said how long the higher number of troops will stay will depend on progress in the security and political efforts.