U.S.: Evidence shows Iran is arming Iraqis
BAGHDAD — U.S. officials presented evidence Sunday they say proves Iran has supplied weapons, cash and training to Shiite militants in Iraq, and called on the Iraqi government to demand that their neighbor end the alleged practice.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, because they said disclosure of their identities would compromise intelligence gathering, the officials said they wanted to make their case public now because many of the allegedly smuggled weapons were having a devastating impact on coalition troops.
One weapon in particular, the explosively formed penetrator, or EFP, had already killed more than 170 coalition troops and wounded more than 620. The explosive, which is the size and shape of a large coffee can, hurls a baseball-sized chunk of metal at speeds so great that the slug rips through the skin of heavily armored Humvees.
Other weapons reportedly sent to Iraq by Iranian officials included stacks of the explosive TNT, rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds, shoulder-fired missiles and infrared sensors that are used to trigger roadside bombs. All of the armaments, officials said, bore markings or designs that identified them as unique to Iran.
The critical link between these explosives and other weapons, they said, was the capture recently of an Iranian military officer and other special operatives in Irbil. The men, officials said, were discovered with weapons invoices and false IDs. They were reportedly attempting to flush documents down a toilet and shave their heads to alter their appearance when they were discovered, officials said.
Sunday’s discussion of EFPs and other weapons — as well as displays of the actual armaments — was unusual. The U.S. military has all but stopped discussing details about roadside bombs on the grounds that the information abets the enemy. In this case, officials said they were revealing only a portion of the intelligence they had acquired and were making an exception because they needed to send a strong message to the Iraqi government to act.
“We need help,” said an official who asked to be identified as a senior defense official in Baghdad. “We need Iran to stop doing what it’s doing, so we wanted to go public with this and state what we had.”
The official claimed the weapons, cash and training that was coming from Iran was being delivered by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force. The Qods Force trains extremists and insurgents in terrorist tactics and guerrilla warfare, the officials said. Among those Iranians reportedly captured in recent raids was a top Qods Force operations officer, officials said.
The weaponry and EFPs are most commonly smuggled in from southern Iraq; Mehren, a border crossing due east of Baghdad; and Mandali, an area east of Baqouba, said a senior defense analyst in Baghdad.
A senior defense explosives expert said that construction of the EFPs requires special metal-shaping machinery that is reportedly unavailable in Iraq and that the only other place the devices have been used is in Lebanon, by the Iranian-supported militant group Hezbollah.
The officials claimed that while the devices have been used in Iraq since 2004, their use spiked substantially in 2006. The officials would not cite specific numbers.
The use of the weapon has been confined to Baghdad and southern Iraq, areas with large Shiite population, the officials said. Their use, they said, will continue to stoke violence between Shiite and Sunni sects.
“If Iran ceased tomorrow to provide extremists with weaponry, munitions and training, there would still be sectarian violence existing in this country,” said the senior defense official. “But what they are doing is acting as an accelerant to sectarian violence here.”
Sunday’s presentation to Iraqi and western reporters played out amid a backdrop of skepticism. While it is now clear that information alleging the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion was incorrect, some reporters said it required a leap of faith to believe now that there was a direct connection between the weapons and the Iranian government.
This uneasiness was enhanced, some said, by the fact that reporters were not allowed to film, record or photograph the presentation or the models displayed.
“The Iraqi people need to know about this if it’s true,” one Iraqi reporter said during the briefing. He asked the officials angrily how he was supposed to tell Iraqi television viewers about it if he couldn’t tape any of it.