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Fourteen American soldiers were killed in Iraq last month, the highest monthly total since 2008. The rise in attacks has caused Defense Secretary Panetta to bluntly warn Iran that the U.S. will do what is necessary to defend its soldiers. Iran is escalating its proxy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a new wave of violence should be expected if Iraq announces U.S. soldiers will stay past this year.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps has provided the radical Shiite militias in Iraq with new advanced weapons to target U.S. soldiers. The Kataib Hezbollah, for example, has been using improvised rocket-assisted munitions traced back to Iran. The spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq, Major General Jeffrey Buchanan, says the group “is a creation by the IRGC Qods Force.”
“We get the fingerprints off of a certain cache or a certain rocket that we can tie biometrically to an individual who lives in Iran, he’s a top leader of Kataib Hezbollah, he lives in Iran, he is trained by the Qods Force. All of that together is a very compelling set of evidence,” he said.
Two other Iranian-backed groups, the Promised Day Brigade and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, also have been taking part in the killing of American soldiers in Iraq. Secretary of Defense Panetta warned Iran when he visited Iraq that the U.S. would not take the attacks lying down. “In June we lost a hell of a lot of Americans as a result of those attacks,” he said. He said that the Pentagon under his command will “pressure” Iran “because, very frankly, they need to know that our first responsibility is to protect those that are defending our country.”
Panetta didn’t offer specifics, but said that he would press Iraq to crack down on the militias and “do what we have to do unilaterally, to be able to go after those threats as well, and we’re doing that.” The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General Lloyd Austin, also said a response is being prepared. “I think what the secretary was pointing to was we’ll do what’s necessary to protect ourselves and that could include a host of things…so we’ll just leave it at that,” he stated.
The proxy war in Iraq is going to become deadlier as Iran tries to make U.S. forces leave by the end of the year, as originally agreed upon by the Bush Administration and the Iraqi government. The Iraqis are almost certain to ask for an extension of the U.S. military presence. Reports indicate that the U.S. is willing to keep 8,500 to 10,000 troops in Iraq, down from 46,000.
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