Pentagon: Iran Training Shiite Militias in Iraq U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Michael Barbero asserted at a Pentagon briefing Wednesday that Iran is funding and training Shiite militias that undermine Iraqi stability. If true, it could be a signal of Iran's increasing influence over the fate of its neighbor and longtime enemy.
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Pentagon: Iran Training Shiite Militias in Iraq

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Pentagon: Iran Training Shiite Militias in Iraq

Pentagon: Iran Training Shiite Militias in Iraq

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand.

Coming up on the program, a U.S. senator hears from voters on Iraq, and he tells us what they're telling him.

CHADWICK: First, the U.S. military directly blamed the government of Iran for supporting Shiite militia groups in Iraq.

Brigadier General Michael Barbero made the charge at the Pentagon yesterday.

Brigadier General MICHAEL BARBERO: Iran is definitely a destabilizing force in Iraq. I think it's irrefutable that Iran is responsible for training, funding, and equipping some of these Shia extremist groups.

CHADWICK: Gen. Barbero emphasized that Tehran is sending money to Iraq.

Brig. Gen. BARBERO: I think it is a policy of the central government of Iran to support the Shia extremist groups in Iraq.

CHADWICK: NPR's John Hendren was at the briefing at the Pentagon. He joins us now.

John, welcome back to the program. And tell us what is Gen. Barbero's position here? What exactly does he represent at the Pentagon?

JOHN HENDREN reporting:

Well, he's the director of regional operations, meaning he's the guy who keeps tabs on what is going on out there in the war zone. And traditionally, that's the guy who's come up and given us what they call operational briefs. So he's the guy who should really know what's going on.

CHADWICK: And this is - there have been suggestions in the past that there was help coming to these Shiite groups from Iran, which is a Shiite nation. But maybe it was coming from third party groups or you weren't quite sure who. The charge now is it's directly from the government of Iran.

HENDREN: That's right. The general's words were the central government in Iran. And that was a key change.

I have had briefings by senior intelligence officials, both here at the Pentagon and in Iraq, and they would always refer to elements from Iran.

And in some cases, they would cite circumstantial evidence such as shape charges. These are very powerful roadside bombs that require heavy machining from a nice manufacturing facility. And they would say that they were able to link the bombs themselves to Iran.

Now they went on to say in general that they could not say for certain that the government was linked, and it does seem like this is really a new step in the rhetoric from the Bush administration.

CHADWICK: And is the general citing any evidence - new evidence about the relationship between Iran and the Shiites in Iraq?

HENDREN: No, he was asked - he was pressed on that point of what the new evidence was. And he said he thought it would be best not to describe that specifically.

It's my understanding that what's going on is that he is taking a harder line in interpreting the available evidence that there is - that is, the evidence that as far as I know is largely circumstantial. But he used the word irrefutable, which certainly suggests he has more information. We don't know that he does.

CHADWICK: You've just been on a rotation through Iraq, haven't you John? You were there for several weeks. Is there evidence there that people are talking about increased evidence of support for Iraqi Shiite fighters from Iran?

HENDREN: Yeah, you hear a lot about that. I mostly get these in military intelligence briefings. There is British intelligence that suggests Iran is supplying roadside bomb technology. This is information that's been gathered in Basra, which is the district where the Brits dominate.

Iran is apparently a major source of funding and logistics. They have strong ties to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq - that's according to military officials.

Intelligence reports say that they have in fact armed and trained 40,000 troops for Islamic revolution in Iraq - according to reports, that is. Most of them are Iraqi POWs held in Iran.

CHADWICK: John Hendren, NPR Pentagon correspondent.

John, thank you.

HENDREN: Thank you, Alex.

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