March 5, 2008 in Nation/World

Military officials say Iran still training, arming insurgents

Anne Flaherty and Robert Burns Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON – Military officials accused Iran on Tuesday of continuing to train and arm insurgents in Iraq, while U.S. lawmakers said they were disappointed that Baghdad opened up its doors to the Islamic Republic’s top leader.

“I think it’s offensive,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s two-day trip to Iraq this week.

Iraq has “got every right to invite whomever they want. They’re sovereign. But we have a right to express an opinion about it,” added Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Levin’s remarks come as the U.S. is struggling to combat Iran’s growing influence in the region, and senior military commanders say it continues to provide powerful bombs to Shiite militias in Iraq.

“We have no doubt they are still supporting insurgents,” said Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the former No. 2 military commander in Iraq, at a Pentagon press conference. Asked if that was the greatest threat to stability in Iraq, he said, “If you ask me what I worry about most, I do worry about that as a long-term threat. And I think we have to, you know, constantly watch it.”

Adm. William Fallon, the top commander of troops in the Middle East, echoed these remarks in a Senate hearing at which he said Iran was fanning the flames of global terrorism.

While Ahmadinejad has denied charges of harmful meddling in Iraq, “the facts prove otherwise,” Fallon told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The U.S. has no diplomatic ties with Iran because it regards the country as a state sponsor of terror. But recognizing its influence on Iraq stability, officials last year opened limited discussions with Iranian officials by demanding the country stop arming Shiite militias.

Fallon called Ahmadinejad’s visit a “mixed bag” because it presented an opportunity for Baghdad to push Ahmadinejad directly to stop the flow of weapons and start working with coalition forces.

But several lawmakers on the panel said they saw Baghdad’s invitation as a grave mistake and said Iran deserves only to be isolated.

“I would hope that others in the administration would express their indignation about this visit and the comments made by that president because they go to the very heart of the enormity of the sacrifices of life and limb that we have suffered in trying to provide Iraq the ability to become a strong and sovereign nation,” said Sen. John Warner, the committee’s No. 2 Republican.

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