US officials consider Iran as factor in Iraq's decline in violence

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Washington, Dec 23 (UNI) The Iranian government has decided ''at the most senior levels'' to rein in the violent Shiite militias it supports in Iraq, a move reflected in a sharp decrease in sophisticated roadside bomb attacks over the past several months, said a US Daily quoting the State Department's top official on Iraq.

David M Satterfield, Iraq coordinator and senior advisor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, told the Washington Post, in an interview that Tehran's decision does not necessarily mean the flow of those weapons from Iran has stopped, but the decline in their use and in overall attacks ''has to be attributed to an Iranian policy decision.'' The daily also quoted US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C Crocker saying that the decision, ''should [Tehran] choose to corroborate it in a direct fashion,'' would be ''a good beginning'' for a fourth round of talks between Mr Crocker and his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad.

Although the mid-December date scheduled for the talks was postponed, Mr Crocker said he expect the parties to convene ''in the next couple of weeks.'' The Pentagon has been more cautious in describing Iran's role in changes on the ground in Iraq. A Defence Department report released on Wednesday emphasised that support for militia groups by Tehran's Shiite government remain ''a significant impediment to progress.'' Defence Secretary of US Robert M Gates said on Friday ''the jury is out'' on whether Iran was playing a less-destructive role.

''There has been a reduction in attacks,'' Mr Gates said. But, he added, it is uncertain whether the decrease is a result of US and Iraqi actions ''or whether the Iranians have begun to reduce the level of support... We don't have a good feeling or any confidence in terms of how to weigh those different things.'' The Bush administration has said Iran maintains a widespread intelligence network in Iraq, with blurred lines between political operatives and those with direct involvement in militia violence.

Rather than lessening its influence in Iraq, an official said, Iran had opted for ''a creative shift in tactics'' as violent militia action, some of it directed against the Shiites, had turned many Iraqis against them.

UNI

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