By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Aug. 19, 2012 – The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he will visit Iraq to check the status of security cooperation between the United States and Iraq.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey will meet with the commander of the U.S. Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq, Army Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen.
Dempsey will also meet with his Iraqi counterpart, Gen. Zebari Babakir, and get his insights on how the transition is working. “How’s that campaign going?” Dempsey asked. “Do they have the resources they need?”
Dempsey said the stop will give him a general idea of security environment in Iraq. There has been some violence in the country recently recently, including a series of attacks timed to the end of Ramadan that killed 92 people.
The chairman said he may or may not meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. “If I do I will take the opportunity to renew my friendship with him, but also get his insights on Syria,” he said. “We’ll see how that goes.”
There are indications that Iran is helping set up a Shiia pro-regime militia in Syria, the general said. “You can tell which forces are conventional military and which are militia,” he said.
The conflict in Syria has been going on for 18 months, and Dempsey said the conventional Syrian military is losing capabilities. “I’ve actually been watching to see if they would go the route of creating a militia to take some of the pressure off the conventional military,” he said.
The general said he will express the U.S. military’s concern about Iranian influence in Syria, “but it’s a message being delivered not as a matter of policy but as someone who has invested quite a bit of their life in Iraq.”
Acting Iraqi Defense Minister Sadun Farhan al-Dulaymi Babakir has visited Washington looking to establish more security cooperation, joint exercises and professional development. Dempsey said he has the impression “that after seeing what the last eight months without us looks like – and I don’t mean we are coming back to Iraq – but their capabilities may require yet additional development and they are reaching out to us to see if we can help with that.”
Iran absolutely seeks economic influence in Iraq, and they seek to influence the direction that Iraqi government takes, Dempsey said.
“My judgment is that if Iran’s position erodes in Syria, they will try to increase it in Iraq,” he said.