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Iran in deal to cut flow of arms

Petraeus says Tehran's pledge to Iraqi officials in August has led to a dip in attacks associated with Shiite militants.

September 30, 2007|Alexandra Zavis | Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has secured a pledge from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to help cut off weapons, funding and other support to extremist militiamen in Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Saturday.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said there were signs of a slight drop in the types of attacks associated with Shiite militants since the deal was reached in August, and he raised the possibility that U.S. and Iraqi officials might be able to do something in return. But he said it was too early to tell whether there had been a real reduction in cross-border support.

"Honestly, and I really mean this, all of us would really welcome the opportunity to see this, confirm it and even -- in whatever way we could -- to reciprocate," Petraeus said during a visit to the Baghdad district of Karada. "But it really is wait-and-see time right now still."

Iranian officials have made no announcement of such a commitment and could not immediately be reached for comment. But they have consistently denied U.S. accusations that members of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard are supplying advanced weaponry and other help to Shiite militiamen attacking U.S. troops.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Monday, October 01, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 109 words Type of Material: Correction
Iranian arms: The headline on a front-page story in Sunday's Section A in which U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus discusses the suspected flow of Iranian arms into Iraq was incorrect. The headline said, "Petraeus says Tehran's pledge to Iraqi officials in August has led to a dip in attacks associated with Shiite militants." Petraeus said in the story that there were signs of a slight drop in attacks associated with Shiite militants but that it was too early to tell whether the dip was statistically significant. He also said it was too early to tell whether the decline was the result of Tehran's pledge to stop cross-border support.

Maliki's aides characterized the agreement reached during a three-day visit to Iran as a promise to better police the long and porous border between the two countries.

"The agreement included a promise by the Iranian government to increase the number of Iranian forces on the border and to increase the efforts to guard the 1,000-kilometer-long [620-mile] frontier," said Farooq Abdullah, one of Maliki's political advisors.

An Iraqi official who traveled with Maliki to New York last week for the United Nations General Assembly, said, "The prime minister has been saying recently that the Iranians have been giving him strong promises . . . and that the results of these promises are starting to be felt . . . as far as the trafficking of weapons is concerned." He asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

But Petraeus said Maliki told him the that agreement went further than that.

"The president of Iran pledged to Prime Minister Maliki during a recent meeting that he would stop the flow of weapons, the training, the funding and the directing of these militia extremists that have been such a huge problem really for Iraq," Petraeus said.

He reiterated allegations that Iran is supplying rocket-propelled grenades, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, large rockets and armor-piercing bombs known as explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, which have been used in attacks against U.S. forces.

"Certainly, indirect fire is quite a bit down," Petraeus said, referring to rocket and mortar attacks. "EFPs, arguably a bit down; some of these others we haven't seen for a bit. But it certainly is nothing sufficient to call even statistically significant, much less evidence that there has been a real reduction in the assistance provided." He did not give any figures.

U.S.-led forces have captured "quite a few" of the weapons in recent operations, he said. The apparent dip in such attacks also could be connected to a decision by influential Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr to suspend the operations of his Mahdi Army militia for six months to weed out what he called rogue elements.

"It was the extreme elements of those, the special groups as they are called, that had been employing those different arms," Petraeus said.

Analysts cautioned against interpreting Ahmadinejad's commitment as an admission of responsibility.

"The Iranians have repeatedly denied that they are providing weapons to the insurgents," said Juan Cole, a Middle East expert at the University of Michigan. "In the absence of a transcript of what exactly Ahmadinejad admitted to or promised, it would be difficult to know what he meant. But it wouldn't have been an admission to trying to make Iraq unstable."

All sides, however, have been shaken by a recent escalation in clashes in southern Iraq, where Shiite factions with ties to Iran are vying for political influence and control of the oil-rich region. Tensions between Sadr's Mahdi Army and its main rival, the Badr Organization, believed to be the largest recipient of Iranian backing, exploded last month during a major religious festival in Karbala. More than 50 people were killed in street battles. It was after the clashes that Sadr ordered his militia to stand down.

Badr is the armed wing of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the United States' top Shiite political ally in Iraq. Two provincial governors associated with the party were assassinated in quick succession in August, and four associates of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the supreme Shiite religious leader in Iraq, have been killed.

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