By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 17, 2010 - As national elections in Iraq loom on the horizon, Iran continues to subvert its western neighbor's security and political infrastructure, top American military officials said. Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the top American commander in Iraq, said Iran aims to foment violence in Iraq and to play diplomatic and other nonmilitary roles that call into question Iran's respect for Iraqi sovereignty.
"Iran clearly has a strategy that goes across lethal aims, diplomatic aims and then soft-power aims -- i.e., influencing people through investment in the economy -- and into some other practices inside of Iraq," the general said yesterday at the Army and Navy Club here.
Despite success in recent years against Iranian-backed militias operating in Iraq, several new groups have formed that are receiving support from within Iran, Odierno told audience members at the event sponsored by the Institute for the Study of War.
Though down from peak levels, Iranian-backed violence is being generated in part by two groups -- Kataib Hezbollah and the Promised Day Brigade -- that gain funding and military expertise inside Iran before exporting their operations across its western border, the general said.
"We still have EFPs explode just about every day in Iraq," said Odierno, referring to what the military calls "explosively formed penetrators," an especially deadly type of roadside bomb that's designed to pierce armor and is believed to have Iranian origins. "We still uncover Iranian rockets and other goods that are made, and individuals that are trained, in Iran to conduct attacks against both U.S. and Iraqi security forces."
Asked whether Iran respects Iraqi sovereignty, Odierno replied, "I would say, since they conduct and support lethal actions inside of Iraq, it's clear that they don't."
As the March 7 Iraqi national election date nears, concerns have mounted that Iran, a Shiite Muslim country, has influenced a decision by Iraqi lawmakers to bar several hundred politicians from the ballots on the grounds that they are linked to Saddam Hussein's Baath party. The decision primarily disqualified Sunni politicians seeking office.
Two Iraqis involved in blocking the candidates have ties to the Iranian government in Tehran and are attempting to influence the outcome of the Iraqi election, Odierno said. The two men had several meetings in Iran, he said, including one with an Iranian whom the United States placed on the terrorist watch list for a bombing in Kuwait in the 1980s.
One is Ahmed Chalabi, who reportedly is perceived as having supplied faulty intelligence in 2003 before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The other is Ali Faisal al-Lami, who was arrested and subsequently freed after being suspected of masterminding a bomb attack on American and Iraqi officials.
"[Lami] and Chalabi clearly are influenced by Iran. We have direct intelligence that tells us that," Odierno said. "We believe they're absolutely involved in influencing the outcome of the election, and it's concerning that they've been able to do that over time."
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in recent days expressed concern about the increased levels of violence in Iraq as the election date nears, and he also has denounced Iran's reach into areas throughout the Middle East, including Iraq.
Speaking to reporters in Cairo after Iran recently announced it would increase its levels of uranium enrichment, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen -- the top U.S. military officer -- characterized Tehran as "hard to predict."
"I remain extremely concerned about them as a country -- not their people, but their leadership," Mullen said in Feb. 15 remarks, "and the recent rhetoric concerning the increased enhancement in terms of nuclear fuel, their reach to Hezbollah, their reach to Hamas, their reach into Yemen, their reach into even Afghanistan, as well as Iraq."