WASHINGTON, April 25, 2008 – Recently manufactured Iranian weapons found in and around Basra, Iraq, provide disturbing evidence that Iran continues meddling in Iraq in ways that hamper progress and put U.S. and Iraqi lives at risk, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said he’s “increasingly concerned about Iran’s activity, not just in Iraq, but throughout the region.”

“I believe recent events, especially the Basra operation, have revealed just how much and just how far Iran is reaching into Iraq to foment instability,” Mullen said. “Their support to criminal groups in the form of munitions and training, as well as other assistance they are providing and the attacks they are encouraging continues to kill coalition and Iraqi personnel.”

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq who is in line for the top U.S. Central Command job, is preparing a briefing that details these activities, Mullen said. The report is expected in the next couple of weeks.

The recent findings prove Iraq is not living up to its pledge several months ago to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that it would stop meddling in Iraqi affairs, Mullen said. “It’s plainly obvious they have not,” he said.

“Indeed, they seem to have gone the other way,” the chairman said. “I think actions, certainly here, must speak louder than words. And the actions just don’t meet the commitments on the part of their leadership.”

While conceding that he has “no smoking gun” to prove high-level Iranian government involvement, he said he’s “hard-pressed to believe the head of the Quds Force is not aware of this.”

The Quds Force is a special unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that organizes, trains, equips and finances foreign operatives.

Citing the “great downside potential” of this influence, Mullen emphasized the need to “to continue to press, using all available means,” to get Iran to reverse course.

“While all options certainly remain open, I’m convinced the solution right now still lies in using other levers of national power, including diplomatic, financial and international pressure,” he said.

But “we are not taking any military elements off the table,” the admiral added.

Mullen said he has no expectation that the United States will get into a conflict with Iran in the immediate future, and conceded that “a third conflict in this part of the world would be extremely stressing for us.”

He emphasized, however, that the United States has reserve capability, particularly in the Navy and Air Force and based in other regions. “So it would be a mistake to think that we are out of combat capability,” he said.

“But in terms of having another conflict in that region, I certainly don’t think that would be where we’d want to go right now,” he said.

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