Reuters: A senior U.S. general flew to Iraq’s vast desert frontier with Iran on Sunday and vowed to stop what he said was the smuggling of bomb materials from Iran that is wreaking havoc among American troops. By Ibon Villelabeitia
FORT TARIK, Iraq (Reuters) – A senior U.S. general flew to Iraq’s vast desert frontier with Iran on Sunday and vowed to stop what he said was the smuggling of bomb materials from Iran that is wreaking havoc among American troops.
Landing by helicopter under the gun sights of Iranian border guards perched on a watchtower across the frontier, Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, the No. 2 U.S. general in Iraq, said U.S. and Iraqi forces securing the border will do “all we can” to stop roadside bombs.
Known as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, the home-made bombs are the largest cause of U.S. casualties in Iraq, where more than 2,400 American troops have been killed since the U.S.-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Washington and London say there is evidence components of sophisticated IEDs behind attacks on British forces in southern Iraq were produced in Iran, a charge denied by Tehran.
“We will do all we can to stop IEDs from coming into Iraq,” Chiarelli told reporters in the border post of Fort Tarik, a spartan building surrounded by wastes of sun-drenched desert, once trodden by the caravans of the ancient Silk Route.
“We are very concerned about this border because of IEDs. The capabilities of the IEDs we are facing today are much more than what I saw in March 2004. We feel an urgency to stop components of IEDs that are coming from the borders.”
Seeking to combat foreign fighters joining the anti-U.S. struggle in Iraq and the smuggling of weapons, the U.S. military has built and equipped 258 border forts around Iraq’s porous borders with Iran, Syria, Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Trained by U.S. and other foreign troops, there are more than 20,000 members of the Iraqi National Border Forces.
The United States says the overwhelming majority of foreign fighters are coming across the Syrian border.
TENSION WITH IRAN
Chiarelli said a dispute between Western powers and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions has prompted U.S. and Iraqi forces to be more vigilant along the Iranian border.
U.S. Major Vic Lindemeyer, a border patrol adviser, said smugglers were using the area to transport explosive projectiles and AK-47s into Iraq.
“Rising tension with Iran has cautioned us to be concerned about illegal weapons and equipment in all borders,” Chiarelli said, adding U.S. border agents who patrol the U.S.-Mexican border have been sent to Iraq to train the Iraqis.
The Iraqis at Fort Tarik said they had intercepted 1,972 illegals trying to cross from Iran, mostly Iranian pilgrims heading for the holy Shi’ite cities of Najaf and Kerbala.
The 60 Iraqis posted at Fort Tarik, where temperatures climb well above 50 degrees Celsius during the long Iraqi summer, share the building with a contingent of Ukrainian and Polish soldiers, who sweat profusely in their combat uniforms.
Chiarelli and his military entourage were treated to a Bedouin-style lunch of mounds of rice with pieces of sheep, which is eaten with the fingers and standing up.
In one of the turrets of the fort, an Iraqi border policeman fixed his binoculars on a watchtower just across the border manned by Iranian border guards.
He said the Iranians on the tower are normally quiet but today seemed nervous with the arrival of Chiarelli and the media in half a dozen Black Hawk helicopters.
“My job is too keep an eye on the border and defend my country,” he said.