Patrick Cockburn / The Independent – 2007-02-11 23:22:01
Target Tehran: Washington Sets Stage for a New Confrontation
Patrick Cockburn / The Independent
(February 12, 2007) — The United States is moving closer to war with Iran by accusing the “highest levels” of the Iranian government of supplying sophisticated roadside bombs that have killed 170 US troops and wounded 620.
The allegations against Iran are similar in tone and credibility to those made four years ago by the US government about Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction in order to justify the invasion of 2003.
Senior US defence officials in Baghdad, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they believed the bombs were manufactured in Iran and smuggled across the border to Shia militants in Iraq. The weapons, identified as “explosively formed penetrators” (EFPs) are said to be capable of destroying an Abrams tank.
The officials speaking in Baghdad used aggressive rhetoric suggesting that Washington wants to ratchet up its confrontation with Tehran. It has not ruled out using armed force and has sent a second carrier task force to the Gulf.
“We assess that these activities are coming from senior levels of the Iranian government,” said an official in Baghdad, charging that the explosive devices come from the al-Quds Brigade and noting that it answers to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. This is the first time the US has openly accused the Iranian government of being involved in sending weapons that kill Americans to Iraq.
The allegations by senior but unnamed US officials in Baghdad and Washington are bizarre. The US has been fighting a Sunni insurgency in Iraq since 2003 that is deeply hostile to Iran.
The insurgent groups have repeatedly denounced the democratically elected Iraqi government as pawns of Iran. It is unlikely that the Sunni guerrillas have received significant quantities of military equipment from Tehran. Some 1,190 US soldiers have been killed by so-called improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
But most of them consist of heavy artillery shells (often 120mm or 155mm) taken from the arsenals of the former regime and detonated by blasting caps wired to a small battery. The current is switched on either by a command wire or a simple device such as the remote control used for children’s toys or to open garage doors.
Such bombs were used by guerrillas during the Irish war of independence in 1919-21 against British patrols and convoys. They were commonly used in the Second World War, when “shaped charges”, similar in purpose to the EFPs of which the US is now complaining, were employed by all armies. The very name – explosive formed penetrators – may have been chosen to imply that a menacing new weapon has been developed.
At the end of last year the Baker-Hamilton report, written by a bipartisan commission of Republicans and Democrats, suggested opening talks with Iran and Syria to resolve the Iraq crisis. Instead, President Bush has taken a precisely opposite line, blaming Iran and Syria for US losses in Iraq.
In the past month Washington has arrested five Iranian officials in a long-established office in Arbil, the Kurdish capital. An Iranian diplomat was kidnapped in Baghdad, allegedly by members of an Iraqi military unit under US influence. President George Bush had earlier said that Iranians deemed to be targeting US forces could be killed, which seemed to be opening the door to assassinations.
The statements from Washington give the impression that the US has been at war with Shia militias for the past three-and-a-half years while almost all the fighting has been with the Sunni insurgents.
These are often led by highly trained former officers and men from Saddam Hussein’s elite military and intelligence units. During the Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988, the Iraqi leader, backed by the US and the Soviet Union, was able to obtain training in advanced weapons for his forces.
The US stance on the military capabilities of Iraqis today is the exact opposite of its position in four years ago. Then President Bush and Tony Blair claimed that Iraqis were technically advanced enough to produce long-range missiles and to be close to producing a nuclear device.
Washington is now saying that Iraqis are too backward to produce an effective roadside bomb and must seek Iranian help.
The White House may have decided that, in the run up to the 2008 presidential election, it would be much to its political advantage in the US to divert attention from its failure in Iraq by blaming Iran for being the hidden hand supporting its opponents.
It is likely that Shia militias have received weapons and money from Iran and possible that the Sunni insurgents have received some aid. But most Iraqi men possess weapons. Many millions of them received military training under Saddam Hussein. His well-supplied arsenals were all looted after his fall. No specialist on Iraq believes that Iran has ever been a serious promoter of the Sunni insurgency.
The evidence against Iran is even more insubstantial than the faked or mistaken evidence for Iraqi WMDs disseminated by the US and Britain in 2002 and 2003.
The allegations appear to be full of exaggerations. Few Abrams tanks have been destroyed. It implies the Shias have been at war with the US while in fact they are controlled by parties which make up the Iraqi government.
US: Top Iran Officials Ordering Bombs to Iraq
Orders to Send Armor-piercing Bombs Came from Highest Levels, Official Says
BAGHDAD, Iraq (February 11, 2007) — U.S. military officials on Sunday accused the highest levels of the Iranian leadership of arming Shiite militants in Iraq with sophisticated armor-piercing roadside bombs that have killed more than 170 American forces.
The military command in Baghdad denied, however, that any newly smuggled Iranian weapons were behind the five U.S. military helicopter crashes since Jan. 20 — four that were shot out of the sky by insurgent gunfire.
A fifth crash has tentatively been blamed on mechanical failure. In the same period, two private security company helicopters also have crashed but the cause was unclear.
The deadly and highly sophisticated weapons the U.S. military said it traced to Iran are known as “explosively formed penetrators,” or EFPs.
The presentation was the result of weeks of preparation and revisions as U.S. officials put together a package of material to support the Bush administration’s claims of Iranian intercession on behalf of militant Iraqis fighting American forces.
Senior U.S. military officials in Baghdad said the display was prompted by the military’s concern for “force protection,” which, they said, was guaranteed under the United Nations resolution that authorizes American soldiers to be in Iraq.
‘Machining process’ laid to Iran_Three senior military officials who explained the display said the “machining process” used in the construction of the deadly bombs had been traced to Iran.
The experts, who spoke to a large gathering of reporters on condition that they not be further identified, said the supply trail began with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, which also is accused of arming the Hezbollah guerrilla army in Lebanon. The officials said the EFP weapon was first tested there.
The officials said the Revolutionary Guard and its Quds force report directly to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The briefing on Iran was revised heavily after officials decided it was not ready for release as planned last month.
Senior U.S. officials in Washington — cautious after the drubbing the administration took for the faulty intelligence leading to the 2003 Iraq invasion — had held back because they were unhappy with the original presentation.
The display appeared to be part of the White House drive that has empowered U.S. forces in Iraq to use all means to curb Iranian influence in the country, including killing Iranian agents.
It included a PowerPoint slide program and a handful of mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades which the military officials said were made in Iran.
Anatomy of a weapon_The centerpiece of the display, however, was a gray metal pipe about 10 inches long and 6 inches in diameter, the exterior casing of what the military said was an EFP, the roadside bomb that shoots out fist-sized wads of nearly molten copper that can penetrate the armor on an Abrams tank.
“A normal roadside bomb is like a shotgun blast. But these are like a rifle. They’re focused and they’re aimed. … It’s going to take anything out in its way, go in one side and out the other,” said 1st Lt. Zane Galvach, 25, of Dayton, Ohio, a soldier with the Army’s 2nd Division, based in Baghdad.
Skeptical congressional Democrats said the Bush administration should move cautiously before accusing Iran of fomenting a campaign of violence against U.S. troops in Iraq.
Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said “the administration is engaged in a drumbeat with Iran that is much like the drumbeat that they did with Iraq. We’re going to insist on accountability.”
Lott against Iran incursion_On the Republican side, Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi said he did not think the United States was trying to make a case for attacking Iran. Lott said the U.S. should try to stop the flow of munitions through Iran to Iraq but that “you do that by interdiction … you don’t do it by invasion.”
The EFPs, as well as Iranian-made mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades, have been supplied to what the military officials termed “rogue elements” of the Mahdi Army militia of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. He is a key backer of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The U.S. officials glossed over armaments having reached the other major Shiite militia organization, the Badr Brigade. It is the military wing of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite political organization, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, whose leaders also have close ties to the U.S.
Many key government figures and members of the Shiite political establishment have deep ties to Iran, having spent decades there in exile during Saddam Hussein’s rule. The Badr Brigade was formed and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
An intelligence analyst in the group said Iran was working through “multiple surrogates” — mainly in the Mahdi Army — to smuggle the EFPs into Iraq. He said most of the components are entering the country at crossing points near Amarah, the Iranian border city of Meran and the Basra area of southern Iraq.
‘We know more than we can show’_The analyst said Iraq’s Shiite-led government had been briefed on Iran’s involvement and Iraqi officials had asked the Iranians to stop. Al-Maliki has said he told both the U.S. and Iran that he does not want his country turned into a proxy battlefield.
“We know more than we can show,” said one of the senior officials, when pressed for tangible evidence that the EFPs were made in Iran.
U.S. officials have alleged for years that weapons were entering the country from Iran but had until Sunday stopped short of alleging involvement by top Iranian leaders.
During the briefing, a senior defense official said that one of the six Iranians imprisoned in January in the northern city of Irbil was the operational commander of the Quds Force.
He was identified as Mohsin Chizari, who was apprehended after slipping back into Iraq after a 10-month absence, the officer said.
The Iranians were caught trying to flush documents down the toilet, he said. They had also tried to change their appearance by shaving their heads. Bags of their hair were found during the raid, he said.
The dates of manufacture on weapons found so far indicate they were made after fall of Saddam Hussein — mostly in 2006, the officials said.
Official: Copters are targets 100 times a month_In a separate briefing, Maj. Gen. Jim Simmons, deputy commander of Multinational Corps-Iraq, said that since December 2004, U.S. helicopter pilots have been shot at on average about 100 times a month and been hit on an average of 17 times in the same period.
He disclosed a previously unknown shootdown, a Blackhawk helicopter hit by small arms fire near the western city of Hit. The craft crash-landed but there were no casualties. Simmons was on board.
The major general said Iraqi militants are known to have SA-7, SA-14 and SA-16 shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles but none of the most recent five military crashes were caused by those weapons. He said some previous crashes had been a result of such missiles but would not elaborate
North of Baghdad, a suicide truck bomber crashed into a police station, killing at least 30 policemen. A total of 76 people were killed or found dead across Iraq. The U.S. military said Sunday a soldier was shot and killed the day before in volatile Diyala province northeast of the capital. A second soldier was reported killed Sunday in western Baghdad.
© 2007 The Associated Press
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