The Pentagon says it has no indication that Iran has reduced what a spokesman calls its "meddling" in Iraq, even though attacks by Iranian-backed militias are down significantly. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says the recent 70 percent reduction in roadside bomb attacks resulted from efforts by Iraqi and U.S. security forces to eliminate insurgent safe havens in several parts of Iraq.
"Beginning with the Basra operations a couple of months ago, you've seen the Iraqi government take a much more pro-active role in going after JAM [Jesh al-Mahdi] and the special groups," he said. "And there's been a great deal of security progress as a result of that."
JAM is the Jesh al-Mahdi, the militia led by Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and backed by Iran. Sadr has declared a ceasefire, but splinter cells, which the Pentagon calls "special groups," continue to fight. Morrell says Iraqi-led operations in Basra, Amara and elsewhere have significantly degraded the ability of those groups to carry out attacks.
"We have taken the fight to where the special Iranian-backed groups had had a safe haven," he said. "They no longer enjoy that safe haven. A great many of them have fled the country to Iran and are seeking refuge there right now. So, they no longer enjoy the ability to operate that they once did. And as a result, we have seen a decline in attacks involving Iranian supplied, created, trained weapons."
Those weapons include high-powered roadside bombs that fire projectiles capable of piercing U.S. armored vehicles. The USA Today newspaper reported Friday that such attacks are also down 70 percent, as are overall roadside bombings. Iraqi and U.S. officials have been urging Iran to end its supply of weapons, training and money to Iraqi insurgents.
But the Pentagon spokesman does not give Iran any credit for the recent reduction of attacks by groups it supports.
"I don't think we've seen any indication that there's sort of been some new trend in Iranian cooperation or a decrease in their meddling in Iraq," said Morrell. "From this perch we don't see that to be the reasoning behind it. We see the resaoning to be a much more aggressive Iraqi security force posture against Iranian-backed special groups."
Morrell says many of the special group leaders have fled to Iran, but he does not believe they have been recalled as part of any plan to end or reduce Iranian support for militant Iraqis.
The comments came as there was a slight easing of U.S.-Iranian tensions. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the decision to for the first time send a U.S. official to multi-lateral talks with Iran on its nuclear program is a "strong signal" the United States is serious about engaging Iran diplomatically. In addition, a British newspaper reports the United States may open a diplomatic interest section in Tehran, like the one Iran has in Washington, a move Iran's foreign minister said Monday might be possible.