Iran joined militias in battle
IRANIAN forces were involved
in the recent battle for Basra, General David Petraeus, the US
commander in Iraq,
is expected to tell Congress this week.
Military and intelligence
sources believe Iranians were operating at a tactical command level with the Shi'ite militias fighting Iraqi security forces; some were
directing operations on the ground, they think.
Petraeus intends to use the evidence
of Iranian involvement to argue against any reductions in US forces.
Dr Daniel Goure, a defence analyst at the
Lexington Institute in Virginia, said:
"There is no question that Petraeus will be
tough on Iran.
It is one thing to withdraw troops when there is purely sectarian fighting but
it is another thing if it leaves the Iranians to move in."
chiefs are concerned that the troop surge has overstretched the military.
Admiral Mike McMullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff,
warned that the army and marines were at risk of crossing an "invisible
red line" if the burden on forces remained. He said deployments of 15 months had to be reduced to a year "as fast as
Petraeus is likely to announce that
combat tours will be reduced from
15 months to 12 months.
The number of US troops in Iraq is set to
fall from 160,000 to 140,000 by July, but Petraeus is
expected to recommend an indefinite pause in further troop cuts.
the radical Shi'ite cleric, has called for 1m people
to march on Baghdad on Wednesday – the fifth
anniversary of the fall of the capital – when Petraeus
and Ryan Crocker, the US
ambassador to Iraq,
will be briefing Congress.
A senior Iraqi official who
met Petraeus last week said, "It will be
difficult to show that the situation is improving." Another Iraqi source
described the US general as
"furious" that al-Maliki moved against the
militias into Basra
without consultation and had to rely on US forces to bail him out.
Abu Ahmed, a senior military
commander with the Awakening, the
Sunni tribal movement cooperating with US forces, said progress was largely the
result of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army ceasefire.
"When the Mahdi Army
decides to resume its activities, neither the American troops nor the Iraqi
government will be able to stop it," he said.
Additional reporting: Hala Jaber