New York Times: One of the questions posed by skeptics about the Bush administration assertions about Irans meddling in Iraq is why the charges are coming to light only now, when American officials say the shipment of lethal weapons from Iran to Shiite militias was first detected several years ago. The New York Times
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
Published: February 15, 2007
WASHINGTON, Feb. 14 One of the questions posed by skeptics about the Bush administration assertions about Irans meddling in Iraq is why the charges are coming to light only now, when American officials say the shipment of lethal weapons from Iran to Shiite militias was first detected several years ago.
Among possible explanations for the timetable, some critics have suggested, is that the White House is making its assertions now in an effort to blame Iran for the deteriorating situation in Iraq, or that President Bush is trying to lay a legal and political groundwork for a military strike against the government in Tehran, which he singled out in 2002 as a member of the axis of evil.
In recent interviews and in a military briefing on Wednesday in Baghdad, American officials have offered a more direct explanation for the timetable: attacks with the device have increased sharply in recent months, prompting the United States to react, and then to justify its actions.
According to one military official, reports of the explosively formed penetrator, as the weapon is known, first surfaced in late 2003. But attacks with the device have steadily increased since then. The last quarter of 2006 was a particularly dangerous period in terms of attacks with the device, with a new high reached in December.
As the attacks have gone up, so have the American casualties. Since 2004, at least 170 Americans have been killed and 620 wounded in attacks with the device. But a significant number of those casualties occurred in the last part of 2006.
Faced with stepped-up attacks, military officials said they began to carry out raids to try to disrupt efforts to train and equip Shiite militants with the weapon. That led to the detention of Iranian officials and questions from the Iraqi government, the public and the press about why the American military was capturing and detaining Iranians, including some officials who said they were diplomats.
American officials assert that the raids produced additional evidence implicating a branch of Irans Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, known as the Quds Force, in supplying the devices, a charge Iran has denied.
Even so, the decision by American military officials to put forward the evidence in a full-scale briefing was not an easy call, according to Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, the American military spokesman in Iraq. One concern was that discussing the weapon would let adversaries know how effective it is.
After concluding that efforts to warn the Iranians through diplomatic channels not to send the weapons components were not producing results, Bush administration officials and military commanders in Baghdad decided to organize a briefing and present some of the evidence in a session last Sunday.
The intent of the press conference was to talk about a force protection issue, not politics, General Caldwell said on Wednesday.