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U.S.: Iran Increasing Arms Support In Iraq

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff accused Iran on Friday of "ratcheting up" its arms and training support to insurgents in Iraq, and warned that the U.S. has the combat power to strike Tehran if needed.

Adm. Mike Mullen told a Pentagon news conference the military has evidence - such as date stamps on newly found weapons caches - that shows that recently made Iranian weapons are flowing into Iraq at a steadily increasing rate. Some of that firepower was used to support insurgents during the recent fighting in Basra in southern Iraq.

Evidence he has seen, Mullen said, "has shown me, though, that some of the weapons are recently not just found, but recently manufactured."

Both Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have made it clear that while all military options are on the table, they prefer at this point to use other pressures on Iran.

"The solution right now still lies in using other levers of national power, including diplomatic, financial and international pressure," Mullen said.

Mullen also acknowledged that launching a third conflict in that region would be extremely stressing for U.S. forces. Yet, at the same time, he said he has reserve capabilities in the Navy and the Air Force for any needed military action.

"It would be a mistake to think that we are out of combat capability," he said.

The latest findings, said Mullen, still do not prove that the highest leadership in the Iranian government has approved the stepped up aid to insurgents who are killing U.S. and Iraqi forces.

But he said it appears that the leaders of the Quds Force, an elite unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, are aware of the activity. And with their strong ties to Tehran's leaders, Mullen said, it's very difficult to believe that "there isn't knowledge there as well."

Still, Mullen added: "I have no smoking gun that could prove the highest (Iranian) leadership is involved in this."

In other developments:

  • Insurgent groups and militias in Iraq are recruiting children in the war-torn country as suicide bombers, the United Nations said Friday, echoing concerns expressed recently by the U.S. military. "Since 2004, an increasing number of children have been recruited into various militias and insurgent groups, including as suicide bombers," said Radhika Coomaraswamy, U.N. special representative of the secretary-general for children and armed conflict, in a statement released Friday after she returned to Amman, Jordan. She did not reveal the source of her information.
  • Assailants on Friday gunned down an Iraqi journalist who had been working for a local radio station run by a Shiite political party that is the chief rival of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the station and police said. Jassim al-Batat was killed by gunmen in a speeding car as he left his house in the town of Qurna in his own car, said Adnan al-Asadi, the head of the local al-Nakhil radio station based in the southern city of Basra. Qurna is 55 miles north of Basra.
  • The family of an Army veteran-turned-contractor whose remains were recovered in Iraq this week say they're anguished by thoughts of what happened to him during his captivity. Relatives of Jonathan Cote held a solemn news conference Thursday, a day after his remains were identified. Francis Cote said he is left with questions about what happened to his son during the 17 months after he and four other contractors were abducted while protecting a convoy of Italian trucks.

    U.S. military leaders have escalated their rhetoric against Iran of late, noting that suggestions last year that Tehran may have been backing off its support for militants have turned out not to be valid. Instead, Mullen said there also is recent evidence that Iran is continuing to train insurgents for the fight in Iraq.

    "I just don't see any evidence of them backing off. And Basra highlighted a lot of that," Mullen said of Iran.

    He would not detail any potential U.S. military options, and he downplayed any impending action.

    "We have to continue to increase pressure, and I have no expectations that we're going to get into a conflict with Iran in the immediate future," said Mullen. "But I am concerned over time, just in these last couple years, that tensions continue to rise. Iran does not respond and, in fact they seem to be ratcheting it up in terms of their support for terrorism."

    He said Iran has made it clear it wants to be a regional power, and he believes Tehran would prefer to see a weak Iraq, where it could significantly influence what happens there.

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