Iran appears to be honoring an informal pledge to halt the smuggling of explosives and other weapons into Iraq, contributing to more than a 50 percent drop of bombings since March, a senior U.S. general told reporters Thursday in Baghdad.
"We have not seen any recent evidence that weapons continue to come across the border into Iraq," Maj. Gen. James Simmons said. "We believe that the initiatives and the commitments that the Iranians have made appear to be holding up."
Bomb attacks -- including highly lethal "explosively formed penetrators," or EFPs, which can hurl a fist-sized chunk of molten copper through the heaviest armor -- have dropped from 3,239 incidents in March to 1,560 in October, their lowest level since September 2005.
The reduction of such attacks coincides with the overall decrease in violence since the start of the Baghdad security plan, which saw an additional 28,500 troops arrive in Iraq from February to June.
BAGHDAD EMBASSY POSTS NOW FILLED
The State Department is expected to announce as early as today that it is dropping plans to force diplomats to serve in Iraq because volunteers have filled all 48 vacant positions at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and in outlying provinces, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Officials had indicated this week that a controversial call-up might not be necessary after volunteers cut the number of vacant posts to 11 by Tuesday. All were filled by Thursday with only the final screening process for the last three spots pending, they said.
U.S. AIMS TO DUPLICATE SUCCESSES IN ANBAR
Hoping to replicate a drop in violence in Anbar Province, the U.S. command has signed more than $5.2 million in contracts with local sheiks to protect roads and other infrastructure in Saddam Hussein's home province of Salahuddin.
That cash has bought the loyalty of more than 2,700 men in a region where support for the executed dictator runs deep.
U.S. commanders say the strategy is yielding dividends: In the first 90 days, the number of bombs that exploded or were found in the areas secured by the tribesmen dropped as much as 60 percent in some places.
GATES WARNS MONEY NEEDED IMMEDIATELY
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that unless Congress passes funding for the Iraq war within days, he will direct the Army and Marine Corps to begin developing plans to lay off employees and terminate contracts early next year.
Gates, who met with members of Congress on Wednesday, said he does not have the money or the flexibility to move funding around to cover the costs of the continuing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said he is faced with the task of preparing to cease operations at Army bases by mid-February, and to lay off about 100,000 defense employees and an equal number of civilian contractors. A month later, he said, similar moves would have to be made by the Marines.