US should aid Iraqi defence: Army general

General Ray Odierno stressed the stepped-up Iranian efforts to pressure the US to abandon Iraq.

Washington: The four-star general nominated to be the next Army chief told Congress on Thursday that the US should provide whatever defence assistance that Iraq believes it needs beyond 2011, particularly in light of what he called stepped-up Iranian efforts to pressure the US to abandon Iraq.

"I think it`s important that we provide them the support they think is necessary," General Ray Odierno told his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Odierno served three tours as a commander in Iraq, the last as the top overall commander from 2008-10.

Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the committee, asked Odierno how important he thought it would be to keep approximately 10,000 US troops in Iraq beyond the end of this year, when the last American forces are scheduled to depart under a 2008 agreement with Baghdad.

Odierno was not specific about an extended US troop presence, but he stressed the significance of recent Iranian efforts to arm Shi’ite extremist groups inside Iraq, who are blamed by American officials for a disconcerting increase in the number of armed attacks on US forces this summer.

"It is clear that Iran is attempting to influence this decision with the actions they`ve taken, specifically over the last several months, in continuing to support, fund, train, equip surrogates in southern Iraq and central Iraq, specifically going after the remnants of our US presence inside of Iraq," Odierno said.

There currently are about 46,000 US troops in Iraq. They are training and advising Iraqi security forces. The Iraqi government has not decided whether to ask Washington to keep some troops there beyond the end of the year.

If confirmed by the Senate, as expected, Odierno will succeed General Martin Dempsey as Army chief of staff in October. Dempsey has been nominated to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Navy Admiral Mike Mullen retires on October 01.

Bureau Report

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