During a surprise visit to Baghdad on July 11, Panetta blamed Iran for
the spike in
Shi'ite militia attacks on the U.S. military. Panetta said the U.S. military
would act without Iraq Army approval to stop what he termed the Iranian
campaign against American troops, Middle East Newsline reported.
"We have to unilaterally be able to go after those threats," Panetta
said. "We're doing that."
Panetta did not elaborate. But other officials said the U.S. military
was operating without the consent of the Baghdad government in bolstering
security operations. They said Washington has been disappointed by the
lackluster response from the Iraqi military to the Iranian-backed insurgency
"We have self-defense authorities under the security agreement [with
Baghdad] to take on our own measures," Colin Kahl, an adviser to Panetta,
told a briefing.
The United States has a military presence of 46,000 troops in Iraq,
scheduled to leave by 2012. Officials said Baghdad and Washington were
preparing to negotiate what could result in the retention of a
10,000-member U.S. force in Iraq.
"We could include a lot of things," U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Lloyd
Austin, said. "If there's no way to do that with the Iraqi security forces,
then I'll patrol around my perimeter and do what needs to be done to ensure
that my troops are protected."
Officials said the U.S. military has determined that it must immediately
and aggressively counter Shi'ite militias to quell the insurgency campaign.
June, 14 American soldiers were killed in the deadliest month for the
U.S. military since 2008 amid what officials said marked intensified Iranian
training of Shi'ite proxies.
"They're working harder and harder to try to perfect their ability to
target," Austin said.
The U.S. military has identified the Shi'ite militias as Hizbullah
Brigades, Promised Day Brigade and Asaib Ahel Al Haq, all linked to the
Teheran regime. Officials said the Iranian-sponsored attacks could
significantly increase if the much larger Mahdi Army, under the command of
Shi'ite cleric Muqtada Sadr, joins the fray. Mahdi was said to have
disbanded, but officials believed it was providing fighters for other
militias to attack U.S. soldiers and installations.
"The effort here obviously has to be to push the Iraqis to take on
responsibility of going after some of these Shi'ite groups, going after
those who use those kind of weapons," Panetta said.