America's top military commander in Iraq, General Raymond Odierno, says that the Iraqis are capable of handling security for their country, as the United States transitions to a civilian-led effort in the coming months. General Odierno says that by the end of August, the U.S. will reduce its forces in Iraq to 50,000 troops, whose mission will be to advise and assist Iraqi forces. The plan is that by the end of 2011, all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq. For the past several months, all military operations which the U.S. has been involved in have been approved by the Iraqi chain of command and executed in partnership with Iraqi security forces.
General Odierno noted that while there are still instances of violence in Iraq, there "has been steady, deliberate progress," in both the political and security environments. But General Odierno did warn of threats to U.S. and Iraqi security forces emanating from extremists with ties to Iran: "It's very difficult to say they're directly connected to the Iranian government. But what we do know is that many of them live in Iran, many of them get trained in Iran, and many of them get weapons from Iran. And they get them from various sources, and it's difficult sometimes to track the exact chain of command; it's difficult to track the funding. But it's clearly being done inside of Iran."
General Odierno said he believed the Qods Force, a branch of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, is involved in training and funding these militants: "So obviously there is some connection. Kata'ib Hezbollah specifically – we had significant threat warning from them about attacks on U.S. forces for varying reasons. I think they also, by the way, have conducted attacks against Iraqi security forces as well, and this is to create, I believe some type of instability and lack of confidence in the government of Iraq."
The United States has long urged Iran to play a constructive and positive role in Iraq. General Odierno said the U.S. remains committed to a stable, sovereign and self-reliant Iraq, at peace with all its neighbors, and will work with our Iraqi partners "to ensure that Iraq remains on a path to develop [the] security, diplomatic and economic depth that will ultimately contribute to peace and stability in the region."