WASHINGTON Oct 1 Iran continues to provide "significant" amounts of support to insurgents in Iraq but to a smaller number of groups than it did before, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said on Thursday.
General Ray Odierno said Iraqi security forces in recent weeks have seized several "very large" caches of Iranian-made rockets and munitions known as explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, capable of piercing U.S. armor.
Odierno said Iranian assistance for a small number of groups continued but that the effort was less "broad-based" than it was in 2007 and 2008, when the insurgency was larger.
"If you're training people ... in Iran to come back into Iraq, and you're providing them rockets and other things, I call that significant because it still enables people to conduct attacks not only on U.S. forces but on Iraqi civilians," he said.
Odierno said he expected the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to drop to about 120,000 by the end of October and to as few as 110,000 by the end of this year. There currently are about 122,000.
The U.S. combat mission in Iraq is slated to end on Aug. 31, 2010.
Provided the situation at that time is "peaceful", Odierno said, the United States would then draw down to a 50,000-member transition force. That force would train and equip Iraqi forces, and protect provincial reconstruction teams, international projects and diplomatic staff.
Still, Odierno said, a victory declaration was a long way off. "I'm not sure you ever will see anyone declare victory in Iraq, because, first off, I'm not sure we'll know for 10 years or five years," he said.
Odierno, who has described tensions between Kurds and Arabs in northern Iraq as the biggest threat to stability, acknowledged the difficulty of bringing the two sides together, possibly to conduct joint patrols.
"We've had some very good meetings," he said. "But we still have some ways to go on that." (Reporting by David Alexander and Adam Entous; editing by Mohammad Zargham)