By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Aug. 2, 2011 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today took Iran to task for interfering in Iraq to pursue “maleficent goals.”
At a news conference here, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen blamed Iran for violence he said is meant to undermine Iraq’s progress.
“The Iranian regime continues to violate Iraqi sovereignty by intervening in Iraqi social and political affairs, training and equipping militias to conduct attacks on Iraqi soil and thwarting efforts by the Iraqi people to pursue unfettered the economic growth, development and independence that geography and democracy have bestowed upon them,” the chairman said.
Tehran wants a weak Iraq, beholden to the Iranian world view, Mullen said. “I believe most Iraqis wish to determine for themselves their own future and to define for themselves their own perspectives about the world around them,” he added.
The chairman praised Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talibani for challenging the Iranian regime to stop the violence it’s directing inside Iraq. June was a particularly bad month for American forces in Iraq, with 15 killed – mostly by Iranian-backed militias using weapons officials say came directly from Iran.
The Iraqi military has stepped up operations in concert and coordination with American forces against such Iranian-backed groups, Mullen said. “As a result, we have seen a dramatic reduction in these deadly attacks,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mullen said, Iraqi leaders are meeting to decide whether to request continued U.S. military assistance after the Dec. 31 deadline for the withdrawal of American forces under a 2008 strategic agreement between Iraq and the United States.
Mullen, who met with the Iraqi leaders last night, said they understand the urgency behind making a decision about some American forces remaining in Iraq beyond this year. The Iraqi leaders understand that U.S. assistance can help to bridge gaps in their nation’s security capabilities, he added.
The Iraqi leaders know the United States is moving forward with the plan to withdraw all forces by the deadline and that time is running out to decide if they want continued American assistance, the chairman said.
“My government has made it clear that we would entertain a request for some troops to stay, and I was encouraged to learn last night that Iraqi leaders plan to meet to discuss the merits of such a request,” Mullen said. “I remain hopeful, therefore, that we will soon achieve some clarity. And I am grateful that serious attempts to resolve the issue are now under way.”
But whatever Iraqi leaders decide, he said, the decision is for Iraq to make and should not be imposed by any outside power or country. And the United States stands ready to continue to help Iraq, the chairman added.
“Nothing changes about my military’s dedication to that goal, or my nation’s dedication to furthering our long-term strategic partnership,” he said. “We have given over thousands of our young lives to achieve it, as have you. It is time now not to finish the work, but to continue to see it through.”