Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the former No. 2 commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, this morning told Pentagon reporters that while Iraq must have a relationship with Iran, "the issue I have" is making sure that that relationship is "helpful." To that end, he said, "we have to keep the pressure on."
He said that there is "clear evidence" that Iran is training Iranian operatives in Iraq. He said that there is "no clear evidence" that Iran is providing support to the Sunni terrorist group Al Qaeda in Iraq. He added that the impact of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's decision to declare a cease-fire has been "overplayed a little bit" in its effect on the recent downturn in violence in Iraq.
Just back from 15 months in Iraq, Odierno said that he remains concerned about intra-Shiite violence. He added that the citizens of Iraq are still engaged in a "communal struggle for power and resources." He added that while security will remain a concern throughout the country, "the focus must shift" to providing jobs and opportunity for Iraqis. He added that progress on the ground does not necessarily have to be "irreversible" before there is a reduction in U.S. troop levels in the country.
As the presidential election season kicks into high gear, Odierno added that "what we really need is assessments" of U.S. progress on the ground in Iraq, along with knowledge of the aims of the candidates themselves: "What are their goals? What do they want to achieve?"