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BAGHDAD — The top U.S. military commander in Iraq on Tuesday accused Iran of continuing to support and train militants who are carrying out attacks, including most of the ones in Baghdad.
Gen. Ray Odierno said the attacks have fallen in number but are still a problem. He made the comments just after the U.S. relinquished security for Baghdad and other urban areas to Iraqi forces, part of a security agreement that will see all American soldiers out of the country by the end of 2011.
"Iran is still supporting, funding and training surrogates who operate inside of Iraq. They have not stopped and I don't think they will stop," Odierno told reporters at the U.S. military headquarters outside Baghdad. "I think many of the attacks in Baghdad are from individuals that have been in fact funded or trained by the Iranians."
Odierno said the attacks were mainly indirect fire — a term usually reserved for mortars, rockets and artillery — and EFP's. That last weapon, also known as an explosively formed penetrator, is designed to attack armored vehicles such as Humvees and is among the main killers of U.S. troops in Iraq. U.S. officials have said the main component of the EFP is manufactured in Iran.
Odierno directly implicated groups supported by Iran in recent rocket attacks against the walled-off Green Zone in central Baghdad.
"Those are being done by groups that have been trained in Iran, been funded by Iran. Usually their leaders are still in Iran and they have surrogates doing operations in Iraq," he said.
But, he said, the number of such attacks was "significantly smaller" due to security measures making them more difficult to carry out.
Speaking later to Pentagon reporters via videoconference, Odierno said work done by U.S. and Iraqi forces to go after Iranian surrogates, uncover weapons caches and control the flow of weapons across the border has made it much harder for Iran to maintain the explosives supply.
He also said intelligence hasn't detected any changes since Tehran has been gripped by massive street protests following charges of fraud in the June 12 presidential election. "They have kind of maintained themselves in a steady state as we've moved forward," he said.
On Monday, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill said he was concerned about military reports showing that illegal arms continue to flow into Iraq from Iran, although he could not say if they had been reduced or increased amid the recent security gains.
"Certainly we've seen examples of this which are not consistent with a good neighbor policy," he told The Associated Press.
"The Iraqi government is also very concerned about this and I think the Iraqi government is taking a very tough minded view of some of these insurgent groups that the Iranians have clearly been supporting over the last year or so," he added.
Hill also said that Iran was still trying to exert a "malevolent influence" over neighboring Iraq but said he was hopeful Iraqis aren't responding.
The U.S. military accuses Iran of backing Shiite militias in Iraq with training and weapons and says it remains a major threat to Iraq's stability as American combat troops pull back from cities in a first step toward a full withdrawal by the end of 2011.
Tehran denies allegations that it is supporting violence in Iraq.
Associated Press Writer Pauline Jelinek in Washington contributed to this report.