Reuters: U.S.-led forces in Iraq presented on Sunday what officials said was “a growing body” of evidence of Iranian weapons being used to kill their soldiers, as U.S. anger at Tehran’s alleged involvement in the war rises. By Ibon Villelabeitia
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – U.S.-led forces in Iraq presented on Sunday what officials said was “a growing body” of evidence of Iranian weapons being used to kill their soldiers, as U.S. anger at Tehran’s alleged involvement in the war rises.
A senior defense official from the U.S.-led Multinational Force in Baghdad told a briefing that 170 coalition forces had been killed by Iranian-made roadside bombs known as explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) that he said were smuggled into Iraq.
Officials showed journalists fragments of what they said were Iranian-manufactured weapons, including one part of an EFP — which is strong enough to penetrate the armor of an Abrams tank — and tail fins from 81 mm and 60 mm mortar bombs.
“The weapons had characteristics unique to being manufactured in Iran … Iran is the only country in the region that produces these weapons,” the senior defense official said in Baghdad, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity.
The officials said they were showing the evidence now out of concern about the “vast increase” in sophisticated weapons used by Iraqi militants against U.S. forces in 2006.
Washington has long accused Iran of fanning violence in Iraq by giving sophisticated bomb-making technology, money and training to militant Shi’ite groups, some of which have links with Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government.
“We assess these activities are coming from the highest levels of the Iranian government,” said one of the officials, a senior defense analyst, referring to the training and funding of Iraqi militant groups.
Tehran denies the charge and blames American soldiers for the violence and for inflaming tensions between Shi’ites and once-dominant Sunni Arabs.
“We are a friend of Iraq. We have common culture and history, and Iraq’s stability, security and integrity, means Iran’s stability, security and integrity,” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a rally in Tehran on Sunday marking the 28th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution.
“You send a message to us asking for help to leave Iraq, but you didn’t listen to our advice and instead arrested a few people,” he said referring to the seizure by U.S. forces of a number of Iranians in Iraq over the past two months.
The briefing by the defense official and other coalition officers comes amid rising U.S.-Iranian tension over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
The officials also said Iran had several surrogate groups operating in Iraq using the EFPs, among them rogue elements of radical Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army, to whom Iran was supplying weapons and guerrilla warfare training.
The Pentagon calls the Mehdi Army the biggest threat to peace in Iraq. Al Sadr, who is a key political ally of the Iraqi prime minister, denies any involvement in attacks to troops.
Non-Arab, Shi’ite Iran resumed diplomatic relations with Iraq after Saddam Hussein fell in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Washington, which says Tehran is seeking to build a nuclear bomb under the cover of a nuclear energy program, has repeatedly told Iran not to fuel violence in Iraq.
Two U.S. aircraft carrier groups have been stationed in the Gulf as a warning to Iran, although President George W. Bush has said he has no intention of invading the Islamic Republic.
But some war critics say the Bush administration’s language on Iran echoes comments made leading up to the 2003 invasion.
The main justification given for the invasion was that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, but the weapons were never found and Washington later blamed faulty intelligence.
Given the criticism that still dogs Bush over the handling of that intelligence, U.S. officials have stepped more carefully in preparing their dossier to support their claims that Iran is interfering in Iraq.
Officials do not want to be accused of either overstating the case against Iran or presenting information that appears poorly sourced.
(Additional reporting by Ross Colvin in Baghdad and Edmund Blair in Tehran)