By Patrick Cockburn, Counterpunch, July 12, 2011
The United States could take unilateral military action against Shia militias armed by Iran if they continued to attack US troops, Leon Panetta, the new US Defense Secretary, said on a visit to Iraq yesterday. The threat marks an escalation in the long-running battle for influence in Iraq between Washington and Tehran that has gone on since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
The US has long accused Iran of supplying weapons to Shia militia groups, which it holds responsible for attacks in which some 18 US soldiers have died since the beginning of June. Washington would also like to keep between 8,500 and 10,000 troops in Iraq after the end of the year, despite an agreement for all US soldiers to be out by that date.