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    Middle East
     Aug 12, 2005
Rumsfeld takes a shot at Iran
By Charles Recknagel

Iran has rejected charges by US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that Iranian arms are being smuggled to insurgents in Iraq.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Rumsfeld's comments were meant to cover US mistakes in Iraq. He said that under international pressure the US had invented a fictitious enemy.

Rumsfeld said on Wednesday that US intelligence believed a shipment of explosives discovered some two weeks ago in Iraq came from Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari said that security agencies would investigate the US claims. Jaafari promised that if these agencies proved the claims were true, "we will not hesitate to take up the matter with Iranian authorities".

Rumsfeld said coalition forces had unambiguous evidence that weapons and bombs were being sent across the border from Iran into Iraq. He stopped short of saying whether the Iranian government was directly involved in the arms transfers, which Washington says added to the instability in Iraq. The charges come despite recent progress by Iran and the Shi'ite-led Iraqi government to forge closer ties, including Iranian aid for building a new airport and an offer to help train Iraqi troops.

Rumsfeld suggested the Iranian government at least bore responsibility for failing to stop the activity. "It's a big border, and it's notably unhelpful for the Iranians to be allowing weapons of those types to cross the border," Rumsfeld said.

The charges come a week after US media quoted intelligence officials as saying that a large shipment of machine-manufactured bombs coming from Iran had been captured in northeastern Iraq late last month. It was reported that the shipment contained so-called shaped charges designed to destroy armored vehicles. Shaped charges focus the force of the bomb's explosive power in a specific direction to increase the chances of penetrating armor plating. Until now, most of the bombs targeting US armored vehicles in Iraq have been improvised explosive devices assembled from weapon stockpiles in Iraq itself.

In recent weeks, coalition officials have also reported the seizure of a shipment of mostly small arms sent from Iran into southern Iraq.

The recent evidence of these arms transfers prompted US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad to complain publicly last week that Iran was taking actions that undermine Iraqi security. "Iran is working along two contradictory tracks," he said. "On the one hand, Tehran works with the new Iraq. On the other, there is movement across its borders of people and material used in violent acts against Iraq."

Jonathan Lindley, who researches regional issues at the Royal United Services Institute in London, says it is not clear who in Iran would be sponsoring the weapons transfers. But he says US suspicion would almost certainly focus on such institutions as Iran's Islamic Revolution Guard Corps, which might or might not be acting with broader government approval.

"Iran tends to have a sort of multichannel administrative structure, and these sorts of issues of transnational support for Shi'ite groups tend to be linked to the Revolutionary Guards, the Pasdaran, and it would seem highly likely that any weapons that have been found are in some ways traceable back to them," Lindley told RFE/RL.

The Revolutionary Guards, a branch of Iran's armed forces, is often accused by the US of supplying help to the Lebanese Shi'ite Hezbollah. The New York Times reported that the seized shaped charges closely match those Hezbollah has used against Israel.

The finding of the shaped charges in northeast Iraq suggests that they were delivered to groups of Arab Sunni insurgents in that area and intended for use against US armored patrols.

The discovery also raises the question of whether the charges could be used by Arab Sunni insurgents against the Iraqi government - with which Iran has improving relations - or even against Iraqi Shi'ite targets. If so, Iran's supplying the bombs would appear paradoxical.

But Lindley said the shaped explosives would likely not be suitable for the kind of attacks that Arab Sunni insurgents have carried out previously against Iraqi security forces and that some al-Qaeda-linked groups have conducted on Shi'ite mosques. Those attacks have used car bombs or suicide bombers in explosive vests against nonarmored targets.

Meanwhile, the seizure of small arms from Iran in southern Iraq suggests continued Iranian support for Iraqi Shi'ite groups that forged close links with Tehran during the Saddam Hussein era.

These include two formerly exiled anti-Saddam groups that sheltered in Iran - the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Da'wa Party. SCIRI's militant wing, the Badr Brigades, was armed by Iran's Revolutionary Guards to conduct guerrilla operations in Iraq against Saddam.

Both SCIRI and Da'wa are today part of the US-supported Iraqi government, but they are reported to maintain close ties with Iran.
Lindley says Iranian goals in Iraq appear to include pressing the US military to leave Iraq without risking a war with Washington and trying to forge close ties with the emerging Iraqi government.

"It's quite conceivable that what one is seeing is different parts [of the Iranian] government pursuing their own strategies with regard to Iraq. But it would seem quite credible that there is both a desire to prevent direct conflict with the United States over Iraq but to ensure that the government that does eventually emerge in Iraq is one that is pro-Iranian. Or if not pro-Iranian, at least resolves Iran's continual security problems with Iraq," Lindley said.

Iran and Iraq fought an eight-year war in the 1980s and have yet to sign a full peace treaty. But relations have greatly improved since Iraqi Shi'ite politician Ibrahim Jaafari became Iraq's transitional prime minister in April.

In recent months, the two sides have discussed construction of a multimillion-dollar airport near the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf in southern Iraq. The project would be largely financed by a low-interest loan from Iran.

They have also announced plans to build an oil pipeline between al-Basrah and Abadan, in Iran; the possible return of some of the 153 civilian and military aircraft that Saddam sent for storage in Iran during the early days of the 1991 Gulf War; and an Iranian offer of military cooperation, including training Iraqi armed forces.

Copyright (c) 2005, RFE/RL Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC 20036

The Iranian nightmare (Aug 11, '05)

Basic questions about bases (Aug 6, '05)

Iraq exit on the agenda (Jul 27, '05)


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