New York Times: After weeks of internal debate, senior United States military officials on Sunday literally put on the table their first public evidence of the contentious assertion that Iran supplies Shiite extremist groups in Iraq with some of the most lethal weapons in the war. They said those weapons had been used to kill more than 170 Americans in the past three years. The New York Times
By JAMES GLANZ
Published: February 12, 2007
BAGHDAD, Feb. 11 After weeks of internal debate, senior United States military officials on Sunday literally put on the table their first public evidence of the contentious assertion that Iran supplies Shiite extremist groups in Iraq with some of the most lethal weapons in the war. They said those weapons had been used to kill more than 170 Americans in the past three years.
Never before displayed in public, the weapons included squat canisters designed to explode and spit out molten balls of copper that cut through armor. The canisters, called explosively formed penetrators or E.F.P.s, are perhaps the most feared weapon faced by American and Iraqi troops here.
In a news briefing held under strict security, the officials spread out on two small tables an E.F.P. and an array of mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades with visible serial numbers that the officials said link the weapons directly to Iranian arms factories. The officials also asserted, without providing direct evidence, that Iranian leaders had authorized smuggling those weapons into Iraq for use against the Americans. The officials said such an assertion was an inference based on general intelligence assessments.
That inference, and the anonymity of the officials who made it, seemed likely to generate skepticism among those suspicious that the Bush administration is trying to find a scapegoat for its problems in Iraq, and perhaps even trying to lay the groundwork for war with Iran.
Officials at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad said they had no comment on the American accusations, the latest in a back-and-forth between the countries as tension has escalated over Tehrans rising influence in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East and suspicions about its nuclear energy program. And while the Americans displayed what they said was the physical evidence of their claims about Irans role in Iraq, they also left many questions unanswered, including proof that the Iranian government was directing the delivery of weapons.
The officials were repeatedly pressed on why they insisted on anonymity in such an important matter affecting the security of American and Iraqi troops. A senior United States military official gave a partial answer, saying that without anonymity, a senior Defense Department analyst who participated in the briefing could not have contributed.
The officials also were defensive about the timing of disclosing such incriminating evidence, since they had known about it as early as 2004. They said E.F.P. attacks had nearly doubled in 2006 compared with the previous year and a half.
The reason were talking about this right now is the vast increase in the number of E.F.P.s being found, one official said. American-led forces in Iraq, the official said, are not trying to hype this up to be more than it is.
Whatever doubts were created about the timing and circumstances of the weapons disclosures, the direct physical evidence presented on Sunday was extraordinary.
The officials said the E.F.P. weapons arrived in Iraq in the form of what they described as a kit containing high-grade metals and highly machined parts like a shaped, concave lid that folds into a molten ball while hurtling toward its target.
For the first time, American officials provided a specific casualty total from these weapons, saying they had killed more than 170 Americans and wounded 620 since June 2004, when one of the devices first killed a service member.
But then the officials went much further, asserting without specific evidence that the Iranian security apparatus, called the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force controlled delivery of the materials to Iraq. And in a further inference, the officials asserted that the Quds Force, sometimes called the I.R.G.C. – Quds, could be involved only with Iranian government complicity
We have been able to determine that this material, especially on the E.F.P. level, is coming from the I.R.G.C. – Quds Force, said the senior defense analyst. That, the analyst said, meant direction for the operation was coming from the highest levels of the Iranian government.
At least one shipment of E.F.P.s was captured as it was smuggled from Iran into southern Iraq in 2005, the officials said. Caches and arrays of E.F.P.s, as well as mortars and other weapons traceable to Iran, have been repeatedly found inside Iraq in areas dominated by militias known to have ties to Iran, the officials said. One cache of antitank rocket-propelled grenades and other items was seized as recently as Jan. 23, the officials said.
The precise machining of E.F.P. components, the officials said, also links the weapons to Iran. We have no evidence that this has ever been done in Iraq, the senior military official said.
The officials also gave fresh details on recent American raids in Baghdad and the northern city of Erbil in which Quds Force members were picked up and accused of working with extremist groups to plan attacks on American and Iraqi forces.
Some of the five Iranians still being detained after they were picked up in Erbil on Jan. 11 had been flushing documents down a toilet when they were found, the defense analyst said, and they had recently been engaged in changing their appearance apparently shaving their heads, though for what reason the analyst did not know.
An earlier raid in Baghdad was carried out, the officials said, after American forces received word that the No. 2 Quds Force official, whom they identified as Mohsin Chizari, was unexpectedly in Iraq. When Mr. Chizari was picked up in a raid in December, he was carrying false identification, the officials said.
He was later released to the Iraqi government with another Iranian official who was picked up at the same time. The Iraqis asked both Iranians to leave the country.
The senior defense analyst said there was no direct link between the detained Iranians and the physical evidence presented on Sunday. But the analyst said, the overall tenor of the evidence was that Mr. Chizari was implicated in bringing E.F.P.s into Iraq.
The briefing also presented new information on what the Americans call the smuggling routes. There are three main routes, officials said: the Mandelli border crossing, east of Baghdad; the Mehran crossing, in the marshes to the south; and in the southern city of Basra.
Paid Iraqis, rather than Iranians themselves, carry the materials across the border, the officials said.
The senior military official blamed recent press reports for, he said, overstating the importance of the weapons presentation, which had been delayed. Part of the delay reflected a view among officials in Washington that the original presentation was insufficiently strong. Officials here did not address that element of the internal debate.
The senior American military official did make it clear that declassifying the material took place only after weeks of analysis on what information could be useful to hostile forces information that has mostly been kept out of the public eye since the E.F.P.s began turning up in Iraq. We publicly have not acknowledged E.F.P.s for the past two years, the senior military official said.
Laid out on the tables themselves were the tailfins of dozens of apparently used mortar shells, as well as intact mortar shells, rocket-propelled grenades, cases for some of the weaponry, the E.F.P., and two identification cards the officials said were taken in the Erbil raid.
The shells had serial numbers in English in order to comply with international standards for arms, the officials said. One grenade, for instance, was marked with the serial number P.G.7-AT-1 followed by LOT:5-31-2006. The officials said that the serial numbers clearly identified the grenade as being of Iranian manufacture and the date showed that it had been made in 2006.
Commanders in Baghdad are acutely aware of the deadly E.F.P.s. Col. Steve Townsend, commander of the Third Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Baghdad, said his unit has encountered about a dozen E.F.P.s in the past two months.
Irans role in Iraq has been discussed in recent months in public and private testimony by senior intelligence officials. In testimony last month, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said theres a clear line of evidence that points out the Iranians want to punish the United States, hurt the United States in Iraq, tie down the United States in Iraq, so that our other options in the region, against other activities the Iranians might have, would be limited.
Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said last month that he believed that Iranian operatives inside Iraq were supporting Shiite militias and working against American troops.
But he also asserted that the White House had a poor understanding of Iranian calculations and added that he was concerned that the Bush administration was building a case for a more confrontational policy toward Tehran.
Richard A. Oppel Jr. contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Michael R. Gordon and Felicity Barringer from Washington.