BAGHDAD, (AP) -The top U.S. commander in the area southeast of Baghdad that borders Iran said Wednesday that the military is in a “wait-and-see mode” over whether Iran will live up to its promises of stemming the flow of weapons into Iraq.
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, who commands the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, said the number of attacks in his area has decreased significantly in recent months, including those caused by explosively formed penetrators, an armor-piercing roadside bomb that the American military believes is supplied to Shiite militias by Tehran — a charge the Iranians deny.
But, he said, his troops continue to find Iranian munitions and he remained concerned about Iranian influence and training of Shiite extremists.
“We’re really in a wait-and-see mode to see whether or not there’s specific progress. It’s something we watch all the time,” Lynch told The Associated Press during an interview after a ceremony at a former Saddam Hussein-era palace at Camp Victory to re-enlist 281 members of his division on its 90th anniversary.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, received a promise from the Iranians in August that they would curb the flow of weapons to the extremists, Iraqi officials have said. But Lynch and other U.S. commanders have said it is too soon to tell whether that pledge is behind a sharp decline in violence in Baghdad and surrounding areas.
“I’m still finding Iranian rockets and explosively formed penetrators that are traceable back to Iran,” he said referring to a lethal type of roadside bomb that the American military believes is supplied to Shiite militias by Tehran — a charge the Iranians deny.
“But what I can’t tell you is are these munitions that have recently been brought into Iraq or have they been here for a while,” he added.
He said his troops had faced only three EFP attacks in October. However, a U.S. soldier and an Iraqi interpreter from another division were killed Tuesday in an EFP attack in east Baghdad, the military said.
He also stressed the troops were aggressively targeting suspected Shiite extremists believed to be acting as “surrogates” for Iran’s elite Quds Force, an arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps.
“They’re still operating in our battlespace,” he said. “But I can’t say whether or not this is an increased problem or a flatline problem or a decreasing problem.”
Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, presided over the re-enlistment ceremony. He said the 281 soldiers who re-enlisted collectively will receive a total of some $3 million in bonuses.
The military has stepped up the pace of recruiting and offered new bonuses to those who re-enlist to beef up a force that is under great strain from serving repeated and lengthy tours of duty in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and trying to increase its overall size.
The Army said 7,372 active soldiers had re-enlisted in October, the first month of the fiscal year, or 11 percent of the annual goal of 65,000.