US President Barack Obama's pick to become the top US military officer warned Iran not to underestimate US resolve in responding to attacks on US forces in Iraq by Iranian-backed militia and Tehran's continued nuclear activity .
General Martin Dempsey did not outline potential US responses in a Senate hearing on his nomination to become chairman of the US military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, a post he is expected to assume in October.
Mullen warns of growing Iranian influence in Venezuela
Analysis: Feeling out Gantz on Iran
But his remarks underscored growing US concern in the wake of the killing of 14 US service members in hostile incidents in June, the highest monthly toll in Iraq in three years.
Asked what his message to Iran would be, Dempsey said: "It would be a
gross miscalculation to believe that we will simply allow that to occur
without taking serious consideration or reacting to it."
Dempsey appeared to signal his fear that Tehran might go too far, both
in its actions in Iraq and with its nuclear program, which the West
believes is aimed at making nuclear weapons. Tehran says the program is
for peaceful purposes.
In his written response to questions from the Armed Services Committee,
Dempsey wrote: "With its nuclear activities and its surrogate activities
in southern Iraq, there is a high potential that Iran will make a
serious miscalculation of US resolve."
US forces officially ended combat operations in Iraq last August but
have come under increasing fire in recent weeks. Pentagon officials
blame Shi'ite militias armed by Iraq's Shi'ite neighbor Iran for most of
the recent attacks.
New US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urged Iraq this month to go after
the Shi'ite groups responsible, and warned during his visit to Baghdad
that the United States would take unilateral action when needed go after
Aides stressed at the time that Panetta was referring to the right of US forces to defend themselves on Iraqi soil.
Dempsey, who has commanded troops in Iraq, said Iran hoped to re-create a
"Beirut-like moment" in Iraq, referring to the 1984 pullout from
Lebanon's capital in the wake of attacks including a major suicide
bombing targeting US Marines.
"Iran's activities in southern Iraq are intended to produce some kind of
Beirut-like moment ... and then in so doing to send a message that they
have expelled us from Iraq," Dempsey said, citing the opinion of US
military leaders in Iraq.
The United States is on track to withdraw all of its 46,000 remaining
forces from Iraq by the end of the year under the terms of a bilateral
Dempsey said he would favor keeping some US forces in the country should
Baghdad ask, but so far Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's
coalition government has yet to make a decision whether it wants an
extended troop presence or not.
"As long as we've got those soldiers there, we're going to do whatever
we have to do to protect them. And I want to make sure that's clear to
everyone," Dempsey told the committee.