Iranian weapons still a problem in Iraq-US military

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BAGHDAD, Nov 18 (Reuters) Iranian weapons and agents still pose a threat to US-led forces in Iraq, a US military spokesman said today, despite a recent softening in tone by U.S. officials towards Washington's bitter foe.

''We're still seeing a large number of Iranian-made weapons still exist here in Iraq,'' US military spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith told a news conference, adding that ''individuals'' coordinating and carrying out attacks were still in the country.

Major-General James Simmons, the US general in charge of countering attacks using deadly roadside bombs, said last week that unofficial assurances from Iran that it would stop the flow of bombs into Iraq appeared to be holding.

His comments came after US ambassador Ryan Crocker also noted some positive recent developments in Iranian involvement in Iraq, in an apparent softening of rhetoric towards Tehran.

''The degree to which Iran has ceased completely its training, equipping, financing and resourcing has yet to be completely witnessed,'' Smith said.

Washington and the US military in Iraq accuse Iran of arming, training and funding Shi'ite militias in Iraq, a charge Tehran denies. Iran blames the violence in Iraq on the US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Iraqi civilian and US military casualties have dropped sharply in the past two months, which Smith described as encouraging.

The falls have been attributed to a ''surge'' of 30,000 extra U.S. troops which became fully deployed in June, more effective Iraqi security forces and the increasing use of US-backed neighbourhood police units organised by tribal sheikhs.

Smith said the number of attacks had fallen by 55 percent to their lowest levels since January 2006.

US embassy spokesman Phil Reeker said another round of US-Iran talks on Iraqi security was expected soon but no date has been set.

Crocker has met his Iranian counterpart three times this year, ending a diplomatic freeze that lasted almost 30 years.

The talks are limited to Iraq and do not touch on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

''It's important for us to continue to push the Iranians to try by various means to bring their practices in line with their stated policy,'' Reeker said.

With violence levels dropping, Reeker said attention should now turn to political progress towards reconciling Iraq's majority Shi'ite Muslims and minority Sunni Muslims.

''The improvements that we've seen in security have set the stage for a number of things in the economic sphere and certainly in the political sphere,'' he said.

REUTERS PY VC2255

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