Iran Plays a Deadly Game of Destablizing Iraq

Gen. David Petraeus calls it a 'proxy war'.

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The U.S. military has for months been pressing its case that Iran is adding to the turmoil in Iraq, most provocatively by providing armor-piercing explosively formed projectiles, or EFPS, which kill and maim American soldiers. In their testimonies last week, Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker added to American complaints by citing the actions of "Iranian-sponsored militia extremists" in Iraq and saying that the Quds Force, an arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, is helping train extremists and carry out "indiscriminate" rocket attacks on Baghdad's Green Zone.

Iran's involvement in destabilizing Iraq—and its link to the deaths of Americans—have been a growing subtext in the debate over Iraq policy. Petraeus effectively raised the stakes, though, by charging Iran with sponsoring Shiite militias in an effort to create "a Hezbollah-like force to serve its interests and fight a proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces."

Several lawmakers drew attention to Iran's actions, but Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent, was perhaps the most direct. He presented what could be regarded as a casus belli when he proclaimed Iran "responsible for the murder of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi civilians and soldiers." He cited what he said was military information about three Iranian camps for training Iraqi Shiite extremists just over the border, and he asked Petraeus whether it is "time to give you authority...to pursue those Iranian Quds Force operations in Iranian territory, in order to protect America's troops in Iraq?"

Petraeus demurred, saying he thought he should keep his sights on Iraq and that any such plans are best left to others. Others, which is to say the top commanders at U.S. Central Command, have drawn up detailed plans for a variety of contingencies involving action against Iran, from cross-border raids to bombing runs against Iran's nuclear infrastructure.

With a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group stationed in the Persian Gulf and two expeditionary strike groups—which include submarines and amphibious assault ships (each with some 2,200 marines)—in the region, the United States has considerable firepower within striking distance.