U.S. Army General David Petraeus, former commander of Multinational Force-Iraq and soon-to-be-chief of U.S. Central Command, told audiences in Washington D.C recently that substantial progress has been made in Iraq. Violence has been dramatically reduced, significant legislation has been passed by the Iraqi parliament, and international support for Iraq, in terms of diplomatic recognition and debt relief, is building.
But, says General Petraeus, challenges remain. Among them is the possible return of the two major sources of violence in Iraq, Sunni extremists partnering with al-Qaida in Iraq, and the so-called Special Groups, Shiite extremist militias trained and supported by Iran:
"Most of those went back to Iran ... following the violence of March and April, when they decided ... this is a fight they could not win, and the people were overwhelmingly rejecting them over what the violence was doing to their neighborhoods. We've got to keep an eye on that. The Iraqi government is determined not to let them come back and resume their activities. And they have been very active in picking them up when they do see them come back. But we're concerned about that."
U.S. Army Major General Michael Oates, commander of an area south of Baghdad, also sounded the alarm about possible "nefarious" Iranian-backed activity that could be carried out by the Special Groups. "Where they return they seek to regenerate violent cells," said General Oates.
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who is negotiating a new security arrangement with the Iraqi government, recently complained of the stream of negative comments coming from Iran over the security pact. "They are being very open about their interference," said Mr. Crocker. Iran's leaders are showing a "fundamental desire to oppose the development of a fully secure and stable Iraq," he said. "They would like to keep Iraq off balance as a way of being able to control events here to the satisfaction of Tehran."