News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqIran training Iraqis in Iran, Lebanon: top U.S. spy

Iran training Iraqis in Iran, Lebanon: top U.S. spy

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Reuters: Iran is training Iraqi Shi’ites to use armor-piercing munitions inside Iran and at camps in Lebanon run by the Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah, the top U.S. intelligence official said on Tuesday. By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran is training Iraqi Shi’ites to use armor-piercing munitions inside Iran and at camps in Lebanon run by the Shi’ite militant group Hezbollah, the top U.S. intelligence official said on Tuesday.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, newly installed U.S. intelligence chief Mike McConnell said it was “probable” that Iranian leaders including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were aware that weapons known as explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, had been supplied to Iraqi Shi’ites.

The Pentagon blames EFPs for the deaths of 170 U.S. troops since 2004.

But McConnell, in his first congressional testimony as the U.S. director of national intelligence, stopped short of saying Iran was directing the EFP attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq.

“We know there are Iranian weapons manufactured in Iran. We know that Quds Forces (of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards) are bringing them (into Iraq),” McConnell said at a panel hearing on world threats facing the United States.

“Is there a direct link from Quds Forces delivering weapons, to the most senior leadership in Iran?” he said. “I would phrase it as ‘probable’ but, again, no direct link … I am comfortable saying it’s probable.”

McConnell took over the intelligence chief’s job a week ago to replace John Negroponte, who is now deputy secretary of state.

Under questioning by Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Independent, McConnell tersely acknowledged that the United States has evidence showing that Iran is training Iraqi Shi’ites to use EFPs at sites outside Iraq.

“And some of that training is occurring in Iran?” asked Lieberman.

“Yes, sir,” McConnell replied.

“I’ve heard reports that some may be occurring in Lebanon in Hezbollah training camps,” Lieberman said.

“We believe Hezbollah is involved in the training as well,” McConnell answered.

Tehran denies any role in supplying the arms, and other U.S. officials including President George W. Bush have said the United States cannot prove complicity by Iran’s leaders.

“If Iran is training Iraqi militants in the use of Iranian weapons which are then being used to kill Americans in Iraq, I think that’s a very serious act and one that we ought to consider taking steps to stop,” Lieberman said.

McConnell’s comments were the latest in a series of assertions by U.S. military and intelligence officials that Iran is behind the appearance of EFPS in Iraq, where the weapons have been able to pierce some of the heaviest U.S. armor.

“I don’t see any direct linkage from Iran dictating events inside Iraq,” McConnell told lawmakers.

“Now that said, the fact that Iran could contribute weapons — particularly the weapons that can penetrate armored vehicles and so on — raises the cost to the United States. So I do believe there’s a connection.”

Other intelligence officials including Army Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said Iran’s ambitions in the Gulf region have been emboldened by rising oil prices and the success of Hezbollah against Israel in last summer’s war.

“Iran’s armed forces intend to rely on asymmetric tactics using ballistic missiles, naval attacks in the restricted waters along its coasts, and possibly a strategic terror campaign,” Maples said.

Iran is under pressure to abandon enrichment activities that Washington believes are aimed at developing nuclear arms, a charge Tehran denies. Bush has said repeatedly the United States is not planning a war and that he wants to resolve the issue diplomatically.

McConnell said Iran was determined to develop nuclear arms “in the next decade, more likely mid-next-decade. We would be talking 2015.” He said Iran could have the ability to place a warhead on a missile within the same time frame.

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