The Pentagon is preparing to build a military base near the Iraq-Iran border to try to curtail the flow of advanced Iranian weaponry to Shiite militants across Iraq, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday in its online edition.
Quoting Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the commander of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, the Journal said the Pentagon also plans to build fortified checkpoints on major highways leading from the Iranian border to Baghdad, and install X-ray machines and explosives-detecting sensors at the only formal border crossing between the two countries.
The base will be located about four miles from the Iranian border and will be used for at least two years, according to the report. U.S. officials told the paper it is unclear whether it will be among the small number of facilities that would remain in Iraq after any future large-scale U.S. withdrawal.
The report comes on the same day the top U.S. commander in Iraq and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker present a progress report to Congress on the war.
U.S. President George W. Bush, under mounting pressure to change course in Iraq, plans a prime time speech on the war this week. He is unlikely to unveil a major shift in strategy in the 4-year-old war that has claimed the lives of more than 3,700 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis.
Early Monday morning, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington told Reuters he could not comment on the specifics of the report, but said: “Coalition and Iraqi partners will continue to put pressure on the enemy, including disruptions of any supply lines, in an effort to reduce violence and to protect the Iraqi people.”
Lynch told the paper, “We’ve got a major problem with Iranian munitions streaming into Iraq. This Iranian interference is troubling and we have to stop it.”
U.S. officials accuse Iran of fomenting violence to destabilize Iraq and of seeking to build nuclear weapons under cover of civilian nuclear program, charges Iran denies.
Maj. Toby Logsdon, the U.S. officer overseeing the project, told the Journal that the new outpost will have living quarters for at least 200 soldiers, who could arrive in November.
“Iran will know this is here -- they will have to rethink how they do things, and the smugglers will have to rethink how they do things,” Logsdon told the Journal.