WASHINGTON — Iran is sending Shiite Muslim militias in Iraq the most lethal weapons it's ever provided them, aimed at killing American troops there, the top U.S. military officer said Thursday.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made the accusation in a roundtable with members of the Pentagon Press Association on the same day that two American service members were killed in Baghdad, apparently the victims of a bomb known as an explosively formed penetrator, a type of weapon that U.S. officials say comes from Iran.
"Iran is very directly supporting extremist Shiite groups, which are killing our troops," Mullen said.
Mullen said the United States and Iraq were discussing whether some American troops should stay in Iraq after a Dec. 31 deadline to withdraw. But he said any extension of the U.S. troop presence past the end of the year "has to be done in conjunction with control of Iran in that regard."
American officials last charged Iran with providing weapons to Shiite militias in 2005 and 2006, when violence peaked in Iraq. In the years since, U.S. officials generally have said that Iran is abiding by a promise it had made to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki not to provide weapons to the militias.
But in recent months, American officials have renewed their accusations.
Mullen said Thursday that in addition to explosively formed penetrators, Iran was providing Iraqis with "improvised rocket-assisted mortars," essentially improvised bombs attached to rockets.
Mullen suggested that the weapons were being provided to gain favor with the militias, which operate primarily in Iraq's south.
"There's no question they want influence, particularly in the south," Mullen said.
Mullen also said that U.S. and Iraqi officials were discussing how many American troops the U.S. might agree to keep in Iraq after the pullout date, but that no details had been worked out. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said earlier this week that the United States hadn't received a request for additional troops and that until it did, it remained on schedule to have zero troops in Iraq by Dec. 31.
There are currently 46,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
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