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Friday, July 31, 2009

Iran still training Shi'ites in Iraq with focus on January elections

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military has reported that Iran continues to train and equip Shi'ite insurgents in neighboring Iraq.   

Officials said the U.S. military has accumulated evidence of Iranian training and equipping of Shi'ite insurgents in Iraq throughout 2009. They said most of the Iraqi insurgents were invited to camps in the Teheran area for training and indoctrination.

"It is more targeted now than it has ever been," U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, said.

In a briefing on July 28, Odierno said Iran has renewed intervention in Iraq. The general said Teheran's aim was to influence Iraqi national elections in January 2010.

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"They are focused on their attempt to influence the national elections that will come up," Odierno said. "They will be very focused on trying to support a government that will be more friendly to Iran."

The U.S. military assessment was relayed amid a reconciliation effort toward Teheran by the administration of President Barack Obama. Officials said the administration has determined that Iran marked a crucial element in a smooth U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq.

But officials said Iran, after a lull of several months, renewed military support to Shi'ite insurgency groups in 2009. They said Iran conducted a reassessment in wake of a U.S. security agreement for a withdrawal from Iraq by 2012.

The U.S. military has agreed to enhance security along the Iraqi border with Iran. Officials said the Iraq Army has requested U.S. surveillance systems and unmanned aerial vehicles for border security operations.

"The Iranians took time to see where the U.S. was heading and whether the withdrawal would really begin," an official said. "When Iran saw that we were serious, it intensified meddling in the affairs of the Baghdad government."

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