US Officials: Iran training fighters in Iraq

Iran is training fighters in Iraq and helping to plan attacks there despite diplomatic pressure for change, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, while violence around the Arab state killed at least 19 people.

The latest accusation levelled against Iran by the U.S. military followed rare diplomatic talks in Baghdad last month between the two old adversaries to discuss Washington’s concerns in Iraq.

 “There absolutely is evidence of Iranian operatives holding weapons, training fighters, providing resources, helping plan operations, resourcing secret cells that is destabilising Iraq,” said chief military spokesman Brigadier General Kevin Bergner.

“We would like very much to see some action on their part to reduce the level of effort and to help contribute to Iraq’s security. We have not seen it yet,” he told a news conference.

The United States, already seeking wider sanctions against Tehran over the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme, blames Iranians for supplying a type of roadside bomb which cuts through armour and has killed many U.S. soldiers.

Tehran said last week it would study a request from Iraq for a new U.S.-Iran meeting, but warned a decision may take weeks.

Daniel Speckhard, the number two U.S. diplomat in Iraq, said there had still been no word back from Iran.

Tensions between the two long-time foes are especially high after U.S. troops seized five Iranians earlier this year in northern Iraq, accusing them of helping insurgents.  

Iran, which says the five are bona fide diplomats, is holding three U.S.-Iranian citizens on security-related charges.

NUCLEAR PROGRAMME

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said his country backed the Iraqi government and accused the United States of seeking to undermine Tehran’s ties with Baghdad, the Iranian student news agency ISNA reported on Wednesday.

 Diplomatic sparring between the two nations is further complicated by Western demands for Iran to open up its nuclear programme to international scrutiny. Tehran says it is peaceful, but the West fears that it will produce nuclear bombs.

In Iraq, scattered violence across the country claimed at least 19 victims on Wednesday.

In Samarra, 100 km (62 miles) north of Baghdad, police said seven people, including five police commandos, were killed by a roadside bomb. A further two civilians were killed when security forces opened fire in the aftermath of the blast.

A suicide car bomber in Baghdad killed one policeman and wounded three others at a checkpoint in the city, while a second suicide car bomb near a busy market in the north of the capital killed three people and wounded 10 others, police said.

Thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops are targeting Sunni Islamist and al Qaeda militants blamed for most of the car bombs in the city in operations in the beltways around Baghdad.

Bergner said that U.S. commanders were pleased with their progress, but warned that “change will not come overnight.”

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