New York Times: Attacks on American-led forces using a lethal type of roadside bomb said to be supplied by Iran reached a new high in July, according to the American military.
The New York Times
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
Published: August 8, 2007
BAGHDAD, Aug. 7 Attacks on American-led forces using a lethal type of roadside bomb said to be supplied by Iran reached a new high in July, according to the American military.
The devices, known as explosively formed penetrators, were used to carry out 99 attacks last month and accounted for a third of the combat deaths suffered by the American-led forces, according to American military officials.
July was an all-time high, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, said in an interview, referring to strikes with such devices.
Such bombs, which fire a semi-molten copper slug that can penetrate the armor on a Humvee and are among the deadliest weapons used against American forces, are used almost exclusively by Shiite militants. American intelligence officials have presented evidence that the weapons come from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Iran, although Tehran has repeatedly denied providing lethal assistance to Iraqi groups.
In recent weeks, the American military has focused on mounting operations in sanctuaries used by Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a Sunni group that is predominately made up of Iraqis but has foreign leadership. But, as the information provided by General Odierno shows, Shiite militias remain a major long-term worry.
In focusing on Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the American goal is to reduce the number of car bombings and spectacular suicide attacks that have aggravated sectarian tensions, encouraged Shiite retaliation and undermined efforts at political reconciliation.
While the group is seen by the American military as the most serious near-term threat, there are other signs that Shiite militias remain active. According to General Odierno, the day-to-day commander of American troops in Iraq, Shiite militants carried out 73 percent of the attacks that killed or wounded American troops in Baghdad in July.
Though explosively formed penetrators account for a small fraction of roadside bomb attacks in Iraq, they cause a disproportionately large number of casualties.
Of the 69 members of the American-led forces killed in action in July, the lowest toll in months, 23 died as a result of attacks with the devices, according to data supplied by General Odiernos command. Of the 614 allied troops who were wounded that month, 89 were hit in penetrator attacks.
Penetrator attacks have been a worry for years. In 2005, the United States sent a private diplomatic protest to Tehran complaining that its Revolutionary Guards and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah had been training Iraqi Shiite insurgents in Iran and providing them with bomb-making equipment.
American intelligence says that its report of Iranian involvement is based on a technical analysis of exploded and captured devices, interrogations of Shiite militants, the interdiction of trucks near Irans border with Iraq and parallels between the use of the weapons in Iran and in southern Lebanon by Hezbollah.
Some critics of Bush administration policy, saying there is no proof that the top echelons of Irans government are involved, accuse the White House of exaggerating the role of Iran and Syria to divert attention from its own mistakes.
According to American military data, penetrator attacks accounted for 18 percent of combat deaths of Americans and allied troops in Iraq in the last quarter of 2006. The number of such attacks declined in January, and some American officials thought at that time that this might be a response to their efforts to publicly highlight the allegations of an Iranian role.
But in recent months such attacks have risen steadily.
The July figure is roughly double the number for January. The total for July is also 50 percent higher than in April, when there were 65 penetrator attacks, according to American military officials.
Many of the penetrators faced by American forces are difficult to counter. Because they fire from the side of the road, the militants do not need to dig a hole to plant them, making them well suited for urban use. Because they are set off by a passive infrared sensor, they cannot be thwarted by electronic jamming.
General Odierno said Iran was increasing its support to Shiite militants in Iraq to step up the military pressure on the United States at a time when the Congress is debating whether to withdraw American troops.
I think it is because the Iranians are surging support to the special groups, he said, referring to the American name for Iranian-backed cells here. Over the last three to four months, it has picked up in terms of equipment, training and dollars.
I think they want to influence the decision potentially coming up in September, he added.
General Odierno said Iranians had also provided Shiite groups with 107-millimeter rockets and the launchers for firing them, as well as 122-millimeter mortars.
American forces, he said, recently thwarted an attack at a military base used by forces from the Third Infantry Division. Fifty launchers equipped with rockets were discovered within range of the facility and struck by allied aircraft. Serial numbers taken from the rocket launchers, he said, indicated that they were made in Iran.
Iranian and American diplomats held talks in Baghdad on Monday on security in Iraq. Ryan C. Crocker, the American envoy in Iraq who led the discussions for the United States, said there had been an escalation, not a de-escalation of Irans support for militias in Iraq since an earlier May meeting.
The Iranians, Mr. Crocker added, maintained their position that they had absolutely nothing to do with the attacks.