The US' civilian and military leaders in Iraq linked Iran and Syria with al-Qaeda yesterday as forces trying to tear the country apart and prevent the US from establishing a stable democracy.
The comments from US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and General George Casey were among the strongest US officials have levelled against Iraq's two neighbors over alleged support for armed groups behind much of the bloodshed.
Khalilzad depicted the struggle to build a united, democratic Iraq as "the defining challenge of our era" and said it would shape the future of the Middle East and global security.
"Those forces that constitute the extremist camp including not only al-Qaeda but Iran and Syria are at work to keep us and the Iraqis from succeeding," Khalilzad told a joint news conference with Casey called to answer questions in the US about US strategy in Iraq ahead of the Nov. 7 mid-term elections.
"They fear Iraq's success. They want to undermine our resolve by imposing costs on us in terms of prolonging the conflict, imposing casualties and creating the perception that Iraq cannot be stabilized," Khalilzad said.
Al-Qaeda and Iraq's "foreign rivals" were trying to tear the Iraqi people apart along sectarian lines, he said, naming Iran and Syria as countries that "cynically support rival groups involved in the violence."
Casey called both Syria and Iran "decidedly unhelpful." He also said Iraqi forces should be able to take control of security in the next 12 to 18 months with minimal US support.
Meanwhile in Washington, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham criticized the US' policy saying, "We're on the verge of chaos, and the current plan is not working."
US and Iraqi officials should both be held accountable for the lack of progress, Graham said.