US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday the United States will take unilateral action to deal with Iranian moves to provide arms to terrorist-insurgents in Iraq, Reuters reports.
Fourteen US military personnel were killed in Iraq in June, the highest monthly toll in three years, as the Obama administration faces a December 31st pledge to withdrawal US forces from the country.
US officials blame terrorists 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 primary interest would be pressing Iraqi officials and military personnel to go after Shi'ite groups responsible for the attacks.
"Secondly, to do what we have to do unilaterally, is to be able to go after those threats as well, and we're doing that," he said.
"And thirdly, is 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."
Panetta's trip comes as the Obama administration finds itself under criticism from allies in his own party for offering to extend the stay of 8,000-12,000 into 2012.
White House officials say they are concerned Iraqi security forces are not prepared to handle the pervasive, Iranian-directed and backed insurgency that plagues the country.