New York Times: Many of the new, more sophisticated roadside bombs used to attack American and government forces in Iraq have been designed in Iran and shipped in from there, United States military and intelligence officials said Friday, raising the prospect of increased foreign help for Iraqi insurgents. American commanders say the deadlier bombs could become more common as insurgent bomb makers learn the techniques to make the weapons themselves in Iraq. New York Times
By ERIC SCHMITT
WASHINGTON – Many of the new, more sophisticated roadside bombs used to attack American and government forces in Iraq have been designed in Iran and shipped in from there, United States military and intelligence officials said Friday, raising the prospect of increased foreign help for Iraqi insurgents.
American commanders say the deadlier bombs could become more common as insurgent bomb makers learn the techniques to make the weapons themselves in Iraq.
But just as troubling is that the spread of the new weapons seems to suggest a new and unusual area of cooperation between Iranian Shiites and Iraqi Sunnis to drive American forces out – a possibility that the commanders said they could make little sense of given the increasing violence between the sects in Iraq.
Unlike the improvised explosive devices devised from Iraq’s vast stockpiles of missiles, artillery shells and other arms, the new weapons are specially designed to destroy armored vehicles, military bomb experts say. The bombs feature shaped charges, which penetrate armor by focusing explosive power in a single direction and by firing a metal projectile embedded in the device into the target at high speed. The design is crude but effective if the vehicle’s armor plating is struck at the correct angle, the experts said.
Since they first began appearing about two months ago, some of these devices have been seized, including one large shipment that was captured last week in northeast Iraq coming from Iran. But one senior military officer said “tens” of the devices had been smuggled in and used against allied forces, killing or wounding several Americans throughout Iraq in the past several weeks.
“These are among the most sophisticated and most lethal devices we’ve seen,” said the senior officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicate intelligence reports describing the bombs. “It’s very serious.”
Pentagon and intelligence officials say that some shipments of the new explosives have contained both components and fully manufactured devices, and may have been spirited into Iraq along the porous Iranian border by the Iranian-backed, anti-Israeli terrorist group Hezbollah, or by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. American commanders say these bombs closely matched those that Hezbollah has used against Israel.
“The devices we’re seeing now have been machined,” said a military official who has access to classified reporting on the insurgents’ bomb-making abilities. “There is evidence of some sophistication.”
American officials say they have no evidence that the Iranian government is involved. But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the new United States ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, complained publicly this week about the Tehran government’s harmful meddling in Iraqi affairs.
“There is movement across its borders of people and matériel used in violent acts against Iraq,” Mr. Khalilzad said Monday.
But some Middle East specialists discount any involvement by the Iranian government or Hezbollah, saying it would be counter to their interests to support Iraq’s Sunni Arab insurgents, who have stepped up their attacks against Iraqi Shiites. These specialists suggest that the arms shipments are more likely the work of criminals, arms traffickers or splinter insurgent groups.
“Iran’s protégés are in control in Iraq right now, yet these weapons are going to people fighting Iran’s protégés,” said Kenneth Katzman, a Persian Gulf expert at the Congressional Research Service and a former Middle East analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency. “That makes little sense to me.”
American commanders say they first saw the use of the new explosives in the predominantly Shiite area of southern Iraq, including Basra, but their use by insurgents steadily migrated into Sunni-majority areas north and west of Baghdad. It was unclear how the transfers were taking place.
The seizure of the recent arms shipment from Iran was first reported on Thursday night by NBC News and CBS News.
The influx of the new explosives comes as allied commanders are stepping up efforts to stop the infiltration of fighters, weapons and equipment along Iraq’s porous borders with Iran and Syria. Ten days ago, for instance, Iraqi border enforcement agents seized a major shipment of weapons, apparently small arms, that officials suspect may have come from Iran, Maj. Gen. J. B. Dutton of the British Marines, commander of allied forces in southern Iraq, told reporters on Friday in a conference call from Basra.
More troubling are the broad array of roadside bombs that range from the improvised explosives made from modified 155-millimeter artillery shells and other materials to antitank mines like those that military officials say caused the blast on Wednesday that killed 14 marines and an Iraqi civilian in western Iraq.
American troops and the insurgents have been engaged for months in an expanding test of tactics and technology, with the guerrillas building bigger and more clever devices and the Americans trying to counter them at each turn.
“The terrorists are trying to adapt to that level of protection that our forces have; they have been motivated to try to find a way to get advantage,” Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said at a news conference on Thursday. “And occasionally, we’re seeing I.E.D.’s that are sufficiently lethal as to challenge some of the level of protection.”
Military officials say they are thwarting about 40 percent of the roadside bombs before they detonate, employing a range of countermeasures from jamming devices that disrupt the frequency of the explosives’ triggers, to heightened patrols. Last week, the military successfully cleared 115 roadside bombs, General Alston said. But such bombs remain the No. 1 killer of American troops in Iraq.
“It’s not just about the armor that you carry,” he said. “It’s about your tactics, and it’s about how you evolve and develop those and try to defend yourself before those things detonate as well.”
David S. Cloud contributed reporting for this article.