U.S. hopes for strong military ties with Iraq despite Iran: general


Eight months since American troops withdrew from Iraq, Baghdad has signaled a readiness to bolster military ties with the U.S., America’s top general said ahead of a visit to the country.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is due to fly to Iraq this week after talks in Afghanistan, will be the highest-ranking American to travel there since the end of the troubled U.S. military mission in the country.

Speaking to reporters late Sunday aboard his plane en route to Afghanistan, Dempsey acknowledged arch-foe Iran was trying to expand its influence in Iraq but said the Baghdad leadership wanted to build up relations with the American military.

“I believe they’ve concluded that they missed a window of opportunity to establish a more normal relationship with us,” said Dempsey, referring to discussions with Iraqi defense chiefs.

“I don’t mean to say we’re coming back to Iraq,” he said.

“I think they recognize their capabilities may require yet more additional development and I think they’re reaching out to us to see if we can help them with that.”

The Iraqi defense minister and military chief have both inquired about staging drills with the U.S. military, organizing training for Iraqi officers and other “security cooperation,” Dempsey said.

Growing concerns

His visit coincides with growing concern in Washington that Iran may be funneling supplies to the regime in Syria through Iraq.

A New York Times also reported on Sunday that Iraq was helping Iran skirting international sanctions imposed against it.

In reaction, a member of parliament from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law, Kamal al-Saadi, on Sunday denied that Iraq is helping Iran to violate international sanctions imposed against it.

“Even if Iraq wanted to help Iran, it cannot offer Iran anything, because Iraq’s money is under article 7, and its money under American care,” Al-Sumaria News cited him as saying.

According to United Nations’ Article 7, Iraq’s financial funds are under U.N. trusteeship.

Dempsey, howver, did not comment directly on the reports but said: “I will of course express our concern about Iranian influence in Syria.”

The general also said he could not confirm reports that Tehran is circumventing economic sanctions by illegally operating in Iraqi financial markets, gaining access to much-needed U.S. currency.

“I’ve read the reports. I’ve queried the system for as much intelligence as I can gain,” he said.

The general predicted that Iran would seek to strengthen its presence in Iraq if its allies in Syria fall from power.

“My judgment would be that if their position erodes in Syria, my guess is they would seek to increase their influence in Iraq. Strategically, they will seek some other outlet.”