US defense chief warns of Iran supplying weapons in Iraq

Leon Panetta says the US will take unilateral action if necessary to deal with the threat; "we cannot just simply stand back, let this happen."

Leon Panetta 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS)
Leon Panetta 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS)
BAGHDAD - US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Monday the United States is concerned about Iran providing weapons to Iraq militants and will take unilateral action when needed to deal with the threat.
Fourteen US military personnel were killed in Iraq in June, the highest monthly toll in three years.
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US officials have blamed militia groups supplied by Iran for most of the deaths.
"We are very concerned about Iran and the weapons they are providing to extremists here in Iraq. And we're seeing the results of that," Panetta said. "In June we lost a hell of a lot of Americans as a result of those attacks. And we cannot just simply stand back and allow this to continue to happen ..."
Panetta, on his first trip to Iraq as defense secretary, said Washington's first effort would be to press the Iraqi government and military to go after Shi'ite groups responsible for the attacks.
"Secondly, to do what we have to do unilaterally, to be able to go after those threats as well, and we're doing that," he said.
"And thirdly, to bring pressure on Iran to not engage in this kind of behavior. Because, very frankly, they need to know that our first responsibility is to protect those that are defending our country. And that is something we are going to do."