Iran is likely to use this year''s elections in Iraq to try and extend its influence over the country even as it trains, funds and arms militant groups intent on destabilizing Iraq, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

In a quarterly report to Congress, the Defense Department said Iran''s "malign influence" was one of a number of factors that still weighs on the security situation in Iraq even though violence has fallen to levels not seen since 2004.

"In the months ahead, Tehran will likely seek to influence Iraq by identifying and supporting pro-Iranian individuals and parties in their bids to win upcoming elections," the report said.

"Iran continues to pose a significant threat to Iraq''s long-term stability, territorial integrity, and political independence," it said.

"Despite persistent promises to the contrary, Iranian behavior continues to reflect a fundamental desire to oppose the development of a fully secure and stable Iraq."

The report accused Iran of trying to derail, both in public and covertly, a long-term security agreement between the United States and Iraq.

At the same time, "it continues to host, train, fund, arm and direct militant groups intent on destabilizing Iraq," the report said.

"Countering malign influence and balancing soft Iranian influence remain priorities to stabilize Iraq and ensure the sovereignty of its people," it said.