‘Positive’ signs in Iraq reported

WASHINGTON — Iran apparently has assured the Iraqi government that it will stop the flow into Iraq of bomb-making materials and other weaponry that U.S. officials say has inflamed insurgent violence and caused many American troop casualties, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday.

“It is my understanding that they have provided such assurances,” Gates said. “I don’t know whether to believe them. I’ll wait and see.” He said he did not know who in Tehran made the promise.

Gates also offered one of his most upbeat assessments of the overall state of U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq, saying security is improving significantly even as Iraqi political progress at the national level is lagging.

“Clearly the direction in Iraq is headed in a significantly more positive direction than it was five or six months ago,” he said.

Pressed to say whether he thinks the United States is winning in Iraq, Gates said: “I think those end up being loaded words. I think we have been very successful.”

The deadliest of the weapons Iran is accused of providing to Iraqi insurgents is a device the U.S. military calls an explosively formed projectile, or EFP. It fires a slug of molten metal capable of penetrating even the most heavily armored military vehicle and thus is more deadly than other roadside bombs.

U.S. officials say Iran also has supplied rockets, mortars, money and training for Shiite militias that has enabled them to more accurately target the weapons. U.S. officials have said this was behind the more effective mortar attacks this year on the Green Zone in Baghdad that houses the U.S. Embassy.

In separate remarks Thursday, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq said there has been a sharp decline in the number of EFPs found in Iraq in the last three months. Last month there were 30 attacks involving EFPs and 23 more were found unexploded for a total of 53, said Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno.

That compares with 99 in July, 78 in August and 52 in September, Odierno said by videoconference from Baghdad.

Gates and Odierno both said it is too early to know whether this trend will hold and whether it can be attributed to action by Iranian authorities.

Odierno said this year’s troop buildup made it possible for the military to eliminate key safe havens for militants in and around Baghdad, and that the training of Iraqi security forces has made progress and Iraqis are increasingly rejecting the extremists and giving authorities information against them.

“I believe we have achieved some momentum,” he said. “Although it is not yet irreversible momentum, this positive momentum has set the conditions for political accommodation, economic development and basic services to progress.”

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