During a hearing at Senate Armed Services Committee today, the commander of US forces in Iran, General David Petreaus, accused Iran of “funding, training, arming and directing” the Shia extremist groups in Iraq. Gen. Petreaus also said that the Iraqi leaders are now recognizing the threat posed by Iran.
The US military had in the past accused Iran of funding, training and arming Shia militias in Iraq. What was new in Peteaus testimony today was the assertion that Iran is also “directing” the so-called special groups’ actions in Iraq.
Any assertion of tactical command role played by Iran in armed clashes, like what happened in Basra last week, could have immense consequences on US relations with Iran. It would renew concern that such assertions could be precursor to a military attack on Iran, even though the mathematics involving the availability of US troops to open a new front against Iran is highly questionable.
Petreaus’s assertion that the Iraqi leaders, notwithstanding their close ties to Iran, are also recognizing the threat posed by Iran was also very significant. This was a hint that Iran could be supporting the Mahdi Army and other Shia extremist special groups at the expense of the Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. If correct, we should expect renewed fighting inside Iraq and the widening of conflict beyond the borders with Iran.