Thursday, April 24, 2008

Iran Still Arming Iraqi Militants, U.S. Claims


The Wall Street Journal reports that Washington's offered new evidence showing continuing Iranian support for Iraqi factions fighting the legitimate government in Baghdad:

The U.S. military says it has found caches of newly made Iranian weapons in Iraq, leading senior officials to conclude Tehran is continuing to funnel armaments into Iraq despite its pledges to the contrary.

Officials in Washington and Baghdad said the purported Iranian mortars, rockets and explosives had date stamps indicating they were manufactured in the past two months. The U.S. plans to publicize the weapons caches in coming days. A pair of senior commanders said a presentation was tentatively planned for Monday.

The allegations, which couldn't be independently verified, mark a further hardening of U.S. rhetoric on Iran, which senior American officials now describe as the greatest long-term threat to Iraq.

This month, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Iranian support for Shiite extremist groups had grown. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said for the first time that he believed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad knew about the shipments.

Iran has long denied that its government knowingly funneled weapons into Iraq or trained Shiite militants there. It has derided the U.S. claims as propaganda. Several senior U.S. military officials said the weapons caches would undercut the Iranian denials and provide new evidence of continuing Iranian support for Shiite militants across Iraq.

"You can see the manufacturing dates right on the armaments themselves," one senior commander in Baghdad said. "These are very clearly weapons that were made in the last month or so."

Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, the top American military spokesman in Baghdad, said U.S. officials were "working on a briefing that we hope to be able to deliver in the next week or so." He said he would not be "disclosing the substance of the brief."

Last fall, U.S. and Iraqi officials said Mr. Ahmadinejad had told the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that Tehran would take steps to curb shipments of Iranian weaponry into Iraq.

The weapons of deepest concern to U.S. officials were explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, which U.S. officials accuse Iran of manufacturing and shipping to Shiite militants. EFPs, which are capable of punching through even the strongest U.S. armor, have been responsible for hundreds of American deaths.

The number of EFP attacks began to sharply decline after the Iranian assurances, resulting in a significant reduction in U.S. military casualties. That led several senior State Department officials to conclude that Tehran was honoring its commitments.

At the Pentagon, Mr. Gates and other top military officials have been skeptical, arguing it was too soon to draw that conclusion.

The number of EFP attacks against U.S. forces has rebounded this year. American commanders accuse Iran of providing the rockets that rained down on the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad recently, killing several Americans. U.S. officials said Iran provided the weaponry that Shiite militants used in block-by-block fighting with Iraqi government security forces in the southern port city of Basra this month.

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, focused his recent congressional testimony almost exclusively on Iran, which he said was playing a "destructive role" by funneling advanced weaponry to Shiite militants in Iraq.

Within the State Department, views about Iran have also been hardening. Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told reporters last year that there were signs Tehran was "using some influence to bring down violence from extremist Shia militias." Earlier this month, by contrast, he said Iran was playing a "highly dangerous" role in Iraq, and directly accused Tehran of providing the deadly rockets that slammed into the U.S. Embassy compound where he lives and works.
See also, the New York Times, "Groups With Iran’s Backing Blamed for Baghdad Attacks."