The top U.S. commander in Iraq said Tuesday that Iran is still training and equipping Iraqi insurgents but is shifting its focus to influence the upcoming Iraqi elections and exerting "soft power" over its majority-Shiite neighbor. Iranian meddling "is more targeted now than it has ever been," Gen. Ray Odierno said after meetings with visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. "They are focused on their attempt to influence the national elections that will come up. They will be very focused on trying to support a government that will be more friendly to Iran." Gates was getting a firsthand look at U.S.-Iraqi cooperation following formal handover of control of Iraqi cities to Iraqi security forces. He met with Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad over Iraqi requests for more military hardware, including state-of-the-art fighter jets.
8 killed, $7 million stolen in robbery
Gunmen killed eight security guards and made off with nearly $7 million during a brazen bank robbery Tuesday in central Baghdad in the second such assault in a week. Police said the robberies appeared to be the work of militants seeking money for operations after their funding was severely curtailed in U.S.-Iraqi military crackdowns. The gunmen broke into the state-run Rafidain Bank about 4 a.m., killing three on-duty guards and five others on the premises who were either on a break or asleep, according to Iraqi police. They seized 8 billion Iraqi Dinars — $6.9 million — the Interior Ministry said. It was not immediately known how many gunmen were involved.
Raid on Iranian exile camp raises tensions
Iraqi forces raided a camp housing members of an Iranian opposition group north of Baghdad on Tuesday in a move that prompted clashes. Residents of Camp Ashraf claimed the Iraqi troops opened fire and beat people with batons, killing four people. The Iraqi government confirmed authorities had moved into the camp but denied violence was used against the exiles. The action sharply escalated tensions that have been on the rise since the U.S. military turned over responsibility for the camp to the Iraqis as part of a security pact on Jan. 1. Iraq's government has stepped up pressure to get the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran to leave the country as it seeks to protect its friendly relations with Tehran. But it has not decided how to oust the exiles, and the United States insists they should be treated humanely and not be forcibly deported to a country where they could face persecution.
Britain to pull back into Kuwait
Britain will withdraw its remaining forces from Iraq to Kuwait by the end of the month because the Iraqi parliament failed to pass a deal allowing them to stay to protect oil platforms and provide training, a spokesman said Tuesday. Britain already has withdrawn its combat forces according to a previous agreement. The British Ministry of Defense said the new announcement related to between 100 and 150 mostly navy personnel left to train the Iraqi navy. U.S. troops would be standing in for the British while they were out of the country, according to the ministry.