By Mike Lillis
Iranian leaders "clearly" continue to back terrorist groups operating in Iraq, threatening the stability of Iraq's fragile government even as American troops are passing the baton of security to local forces, the U.S. commander in Iraq said Sunday.
"They don't want to see Iraq turn into a strong democratic country," Gen. Ray Odierno said during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union."
"They'd rather see it become a weak governmental institution, so they don't add more problems for Iran in the future."
Retired Gen. Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed, saying Iranian powers remain "active" in Iraq, "and no doubt they have created a danger for U.S. forces."
The comments came the same day Iran made international headlines for unveiling its first domestically produced drone bomber. The unmanned plane can hold up to four cruise missiles, according to reports. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called it an "ambassador of death" carrying "a main message of peace and friendship."
The timing was likely not an accident. The last brigade of U.S. combat troops — about 4,000 strong — marched out of Iraq last week, leaving about 50,000 American soldiers behind to train and advise Iraqi security forces. The Obama administration says it wants to begin withdrawing the remaining troops in July of next year, with all of them out before 2012.
Some military experts have criticized that timetable, arguing Iraq's own forces simply won't be ready at that point to ensure the nation's security alone.
Still, the threat from Iran, Myers argued, is more political than logistical. The results of a national election in March were inconclusive, creating a power vacuum that's only added to the sectarian tensions that have always simmered. The resulting instability has left Iranian leaders with opportunities to exert greater influence, Myers warned.
"[They] will exploit ... the political uncertainty and lack of political leadership inside of Iraq," Myers told CNN. "They'll train; they'll provide weapons; they'll provide money; and they'll probably provide assistance to some political groups inside Iraq that have aspirations to political office."
Asked if the United States was prepared to return troops to Iraq in the event that Iran became a threat, Odierno said, "We always have capabilities — if asked."