WASHINGTON – When a top U.S. commander in Iraq reported last week that attacks by Shiite militias with links to Iran had risen to 73 percent of all July attacks that had killed or wounded U.S. forces in Baghdad, he claimed it was because of an effort by Iran to oust the United States from Iraq, referring to "intelligence reports" of a "surge" in Iranian assistance.
But the obvious reason for the rise in Shiite-related U.S. casualties, â€” ignored in U.S. media coverage of Lt. General Raymond Odierno’s charge â€” is that the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr was defending itself against a rising tempo of attacks by U.S. forces at the same time attacks by al-Qaeda forces had fallen.
In his press briefing on Aug. 5, Odierno, the second-ranking
Odierno claimed intelligence reports supported his contention of an Iranian effort to influence public perceptions of the surge strategy. "They’re sending more money in, they’re training more individuals and they’re sending more weapons in."
He repeated the charge in an interview with Michael R. Gordon of the New York Times published on its front page Aug. 8 under the headline, "U.S. Says Iran-Supplied Bomb Is Killing More Troops in
What Odierno framed in terms of an Iranian policy, however, can be explained much more simply by the fact that the
Between Apr. 26 and Jun. 30, the
In July the Mahdi Army resisted these raids in many cases. On Jul. 9, for example,
In short, the rise in deaths of
Odierno conceded as much in the same press conference: "Because of the effect we’ve had on al-Qaeda in Iraq and the success against them and the Sunni insurgency," he said, "we are focusing very much more on the special groups of the Jaish al-Mahdi [Mahdi Army] here in Baghdad."
The major briefing by the
The transcript of the briefing also shows that Bergner did not claim any recent increase in financial assistance to the Mahdi Army.
Odierno’s reference to "sending more weapons in" continued the practice of the George W. Bush administration to claim that Iranian officials actually ship weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq, despite the fact that no evidence of such a role has been found after four years of trying.
Odierno told the New York Times that explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) accounted for one-third of combat deaths suffered by "U.S.-led forces" â€” including Iraqi and British forces â€” in July. But he said nothing about the proportion of total
The Bush administration continues to assert that EFPs are provided by the Iranian government, despite numerous discoveries by
Odierno’s charges are the latest addition to an ongoing Bush administration narrative about developments in
Its central theme of an Iranian policy to drive the U.S. out of Iraq by killing U.S. troops, first introduced in January, has branched out into several sub-themes, one of which is that Sadr has lost control over the Mahdi Army. The
Although the Mahdi Army operates on a highly decentralised basis, and some units have been involved in sectarian activities that Sadr did not approve, the
The "rogue units" line has been used to suggest that those units that were loyal to Sadr were cooperating with the
Gen. Petraeus claimed publicly that Sadr had agreed in talks with
Sadr’s spokesman in parliament said, however, that the understanding had been that Iraqi forces would conduct searches and that
At first, Sadr’s troops stayed off the streets and did not resist
On Apr. 8, Sadr issued a statement urged the Iraqi army and police to stop cooperating with the United States and told his guerrilla fighters to concentrate on pushing U.S. forces out of the country.
Thus it requires no Iranian hand to explain the escalation of the conflict between the Mahdi Army and the
Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. His latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in June 2005.