The acting commander of the US Central Command on Thursday compared the Iranian influence being spread throughout the Middle East with the terrorist network of al-Qaida. Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey said the Iranians have to be dealt with directly in Iraq, where they influence Shiite militias fighting US forces. Dempsey, the senior U.S. commander of forces in the Middle East, spoke to graduates of the Army's School of Advanced Military Studies the same day the US Senate began confirmation hearings for Gen. David Petraeus, Dempsey's designated replacement at Centcom. "We're dealing with a network of activities. That's exactly analogous to what we face with al-Qaida," Dempsey said. "When you confront a network, you have to be a network." He added that the US and its coalition partners were doing well in keeping pressure on al-Qaida, though difficulties remain, including efforts along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.