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U.S. suspects Iran of training militia groups in Iraq

BAGHDAD — With American troop deaths in Iraq reaching a two-year high in June, U.S. military officials are pointing at Iran for the violence, accusing an Iranian special forces unit of supporting the militia groups suspected of carrying out the attacks.

Three U.S. soldiers were killed Wednesday in a rocket attack at a U.S. base near the Iranian border, the military said, bringing the month's death toll to 15 and marking the bloodiest month since 15 troops died here in June 2009, according to iCasualties.org, a Web site that tracks U.S. military deaths. Fourteen of the deaths were combat-related, the highest since 23 soldiers and Marines were killed in action in June 2008, the site said.

For months, U.S. military commanders have said they feared that an uptick in violence would accompany the planned withdrawal of most troops by the end of the year. Military officials in Baghdad and at the Pentagon said the mounting U.S. death toll can now be directly attributed to the growing sophistication of the weapons that insurgents and Iranian-backed militia groups are using in their attacks.

Those weapons include powerful rockets, armor-piercing grenades and jamming-resistant roadside bombs, military officials say.

Officials caution that they do not have evidence that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or his government is ordering Shiite militias to strike U.S. forces in Iraq. But they believe that those groups are being trained and equipped by Iranian Revolutionary Guard special forces.

The new dangers facing U.S. troops mark another point in their eight-year engagement in Iraq, underscoring the country's volatile security situation and the debate about whether any American troops should remain in the country past the end of the year.

During much of the insurgency that followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, American military commanders blamed Sunni-dominated terrorist groups in Iraq, such as al-Qaida, for many of the attacks. But as the U.S. military has adjusted tactics, largely withdrawn from Iraqi cities and boosted technology to limit exposure to roadside bombs and suicide tactics, officials say it has become far harder for loosely organized Sunni militias to strike out against the roughly 46,000 U.S. troops remaining in Iraq.

Now, Buchanan said, the primary threat to the Americans comes from three Shiite militia groups operating in Iraq: the Promised Day Brigade, Ahl al-Haq and Kataib Hezbollah. All appear to have been supplied with the weapons and training needed to penetrate U.S. defenses.

In early June, what U.S. officials believe was a sophisticated rocket slammed into a joint Iraqi-U.S. military base in eastern Baghdad, killing six American soldiers in the deadliest single attack on forces here in more than two years.

In addition, roadside bombs that were able to evade jamming devices killed four U.S. troops last month.

Last week, an American contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development was killed when suspected Shiite militants attached a bomb to a car he was riding in near a Baghdad university. And on Sunday, two U.S. troops were killed when an apparent armored-piercing grenade was lobbed at their vehicle.

U.S. suspects Iran of training militia groups in Iraq 06/30/11 [Last modified: Thursday, June 30, 2011 11:33pm]
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