In Iraq, Panetta Has Tough Words On Troop Deadline During a visit to Baghdad, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta urged the Iraqis to make a decision about whether they want U.S. troops to stay beyond the end of this year. He also said the U.S. is concerned "about Iran and weapons they're providing to extremists here in Iraq."
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In Iraq, Panetta Has Tough Words On Troop Deadline

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In Iraq, Panetta Has Tough Words On Troop Deadline

In Iraq, Panetta Has Tough Words On Troop Deadline

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

The new secretary of Defense is on his first official trip to the war zones. Leon Panetta arrived in Iraq last night after a visit to Afghanistan. Today, in Baghdad, Panetta accused Iran of backing attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq, and he had some blunt words for Iraq's own political leaders.

NPR's Rachel Martin is traveling with the secretary of Defense.

RACHEL MARTIN: Leon Panetta has been on the job for all of 11 days, and he's already frustrated with Iraq.

Secretary LEON PANETTA (U.S. Department of Defense): I'd like things to move a lot faster here, frankly, in terms of the decision-making process. I'd like them to make a decision - you know, do they want us to stay; don't they want us to stay? But damn it, make a decision.

MARTIN: A decision about how many U.S. troops will stay in Iraq. All of them are supposed to be out of the country by the end of this year. And it's up to Iraq to ask if it wants the U.S. to stay. U.S. military officials say the longer it takes Iraq to make up its mind, the more expensive it will be to reverse course.

Here's the top U.S. commander in Iraq, General Lloyd Austin.

General LLOYD AUSTIN (Commanding Officer, U.S. Forces - Iraq): It's evident to everyone that when you get into the October, November time frame, you're really taking things apart that are very difficult to put back together.

MARTIN: U.S. officials say this state of flux puts U.S. troops at risk because attacks against American forces are increasing as the deadline to leave nears - attacks that U.S. officials are now blaming, at least in part, on Iran.

Unidentified Man #1: It doesn't have a big sign that says Made in Iran on it.

MARTIN: That's a U.S. military explosives expert, showing off some of the munitions apparently used against U.S. troops here.

Unidentified Man #1: From the way the letters are on there, from the shapes and styles, we're able to tell exactly where it came from.

MARTIN: The military experts are talking about something they call IRAMs - or improvised rocket-assisted munitions. U.S. experts say they've traced these weapons to Iranian-backed militant groups.

Unidentified Man #2: This is an Iran warhead right here. But they take the Iraq mortar, screw it on, and they launch an IRAM onto the bases - for it to blow up.

MARTIN: June was the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Iraq in two years. Fifteen troops died, nine of them in attacks involving these rocket-propelled bombs. A U.S. soldier asked Panetta about the Iranian weapons when the secretary visited troops in Baghdad today. Panetta responded...

Sec. PANETTA: We're very concerned about Iran and the weapons they're providing to extremists here in Iraq. And the reality is that we've seen the results of that. In June, we lost a hell of a lot of Americans, and we cannot just simply stand back and allow this to continue to happen.

MARTIN: General Austin, the U.S. commander here, said cracking down on the militias is a job for the Iraqi government.

Gen. AUSTIN: I think the Iraqis have to realize - and I think for the most part, they do - that if we are not here, these threats don't go away. The government's going to have to deal with it.

MARTIN: But Secretary Panetta said if the Iraqi government doesn't act, the U.S. will. Today, Iraqi leaders acknowledged the threat from Iranian-backed militias and said they'd work to address it. As far as any future U.S. troop presence in Iraq, senior U.S. Defense officials say, quote: We are neither pressuring nor pleading, but time is running out for a decision.

Rachel Martin, NPR News, Baghdad.

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