Monday, February 12, 2007

The Iran-Iraq Link: US Shows its Hand

In a news briefing yesterday, US military officials laid out evidence to back up their controversial assertion that Iran is supplying weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq. The NYT reports:
"In a news briefing held under strict security, the officials spread out on two small tables an E.F.P. [explosively formed penetrators] 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."
Officials claim that these E.F.P.'s have been responsible for the deaths of 170 US servicemen since their debut in June 2004. That there are Iranian weapons in Iraq is nothing new, what I question is their assertion that the Iranian government is directly complicit in a large scale arms smuggling operation. That is the more damning of the accusations made by the administration and so far they have provided no evidence to support it. Are we expected to make this leap of faith based on the fact that Shiite militiamen were found with Iranian weapons? This is a very serious accusation and along with other brash actions on the US' part including the kidnapping of an Iranian diplomat and the arrest of five Iranian officials puts us on a collision course with Iran eerily similar to that which brought us into conflict with Iraq.

And what of the Sunni insurgents who have been responsible for the majority of coalition casualties? Why is the US not focusing on their funding and weapons sources? Perhaps because then this harsh light would be on our ally Saudi Arabia. According to the Iraq Study Group Report, "funding for the Sunni insurgency comes from private individuals within Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states."
"In one recent case, an Iraqi official said $25 million in Saudi money went to a top Iraqi Sunni cleric and was used to buy weapons, including Strela, a Russian shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile. The missiles were purchased from someone in Romania, apparently through the black market, he said." [more]
I am not saying that it is impossible that the Iranian government is involved in weapons smuggling, only that right now the evidence for it appears as flimsy as that used to accuse Saddam of having weapons of mass destruction. And we all know how that turned out.

addendum: Patrick Cockburn of the Independent writes:
"The statements from Washington give the impression that the US has been at war with Shia militias for the past three-and-a-half years while almost all the fighting has been with the Sunni insurgents. These are often led by highly trained former officers and men from Saddam Hussein's elite military and intelligence units. During the Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988, the Iraqi leader, backed by the US and the Soviet Union, was able to obtain training in advanced weapons for his forces."
He goes on to say:
"The US stance on the military capabilities of Iraqis today is the exact opposite of its position in four years ago. Then President Bush and Tony Blair claimed that Iraqis were technically advanced enough to produce long-range missiles and to be close to producing a nuclear device. Washington is now saying that Iraqis are too backward to produce an effective roadside bomb and must seek Iranian help."
Another update: the power point presentation shown to journalists at the news briefing. Closest we can get to it as voice and video recording was forbidden.

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