- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 25, 2007

A top Army commander in Iraq yesterday said Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is trying to disrupt U.S. military gains by ramping up weapons and training support for radical Shi’ite groups.

“We are up against a new wave of lethality sponsored by the enemies of the people of Iraq and its government,” said Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, commander of a division in central Iraq.

He emphasized that withdrawing troops from Iraq would be a “giant step backward” — a day after Republican Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia recommended a basically symbolic pullout of some troops by Christmas.

“We are finding Iranian-made munitions and weapons systems throughout our area,” Gen. Lynch said. “[T]he fact remains we have a 125-mile border with Iran in the Wasat province, and that continues to be a concern.”

Gen. Lynch’s comments came a day after an updated intelligence report from 16 agencies said “measurable” security improvements have been made in the war-torn region since January that require continued military pressure.

White House officials yesterday said Iranian involvement in Iraq runs contrary to Iran’s recent assertions that it will support peace in the region.

National Security spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the Iranian government was not abiding by promises made to U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker in Baghdad to help stabilize the region fraught with continued violence.

“The Iranians state publicly every time they meet with Ambassador Crocker that they want to play a constructive role inside Iraq,” Mr. Johndroe said. “Those weapons supplied by Iranians to militias are responsible for the deaths of American soldiers. The support of those militias is responsible for the deaths of innocent Iraqis. It is an understatement to say that kind of activity is not useful, nor helpful.”

Gen. Lynch — whose division has seen heavy fighting in the south of Baghdad — said former civilian sympathizers of al Qaeda in Iraq are no longer supporting the radical regime.

Heavy U.S. security in the region has led to a 26 percent decline in attacks in the Multinational Division Center, and civilian casualties have decreased by 36 percent, Gen. Lynch said in a teleconference with reporters at the Pentagon.

On Thursday, Mr. Warner, the ranking Republican on the Senate Arms Services Committee, said withdrawing some U.S. troops would pressure factions in the Iraqi government to overcome differences for political gains.

“I say to the president, respectfully, pick whatever number you wish,” Mr. Warner said. “You do not want to lose the momentum, but certainly in 160,000-plus, say, 5,000 could begin to redeploy and be home to their families and loved ones no later than Christmas of this year.”

Mr. Warner’s proposal fell far shy of Democrats’ repeated calls for withdrawing U.S. troops from the chaotic country. Gen. Lynch said if U.S. troop numbers were reduced, insurgents would “fill that void in about 48 hours.”

“And any of the locals who are helping the coalition secure,” he said. “They’re now subject to atrocious acts of violence, and we can’t let that happen.”

Mr. Johndroe asked for patience, saying there are 19 days left for the much-anticipated report from Army Gen. David Petraeus and Mr. Crocker.

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