US lacks 'explosive' evidence
against Iran By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON - For 18 months, the
administration of US President George W Bush has
periodically raised the charge that Iran is
supplying anti-coalition forces in Iraq with arms.
Previously, high administration officials
have always admitted that they had no real
evidence to support these claims. Now, they are
going further. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
told reporters on her current Middle Eastern trip,
"I think there is plenty of evidence that there is
Iranian involvement with these networks that are
making high-explosive IEDs [improvised explosive devices]
that are endangering our troops, and that's going
to be dealt with."
However, Rice failed to
provide any evidence of official Iranian
The previous pattern had been
that US and British officials suggested that
Iranian government involvement in the use by Sunni
insurgents or Shi'ite militias of "shaped charges"
that can penetrate US armored vehicles was the
only logical conclusion that could be drawn from
the facts. But when asked point blank, they
admitted that they had no evidence.
allegation serves not just one Bush administration
objective, but two: it provides an additional
justification for aggressive rhetoric and pressure
against Tehran and also suggests that Iran bears
much of the blame for the sectarian violence in
Baghdad and high levels of US casualties from
The origins of the theme
of Iranian complicity strongly suggest that it
was a propaganda line aimed at reducing
the Bush administration's acute embarrassment
at its inability to stop the growing death toll
of US troops from shaped charges used against armored
vehicles by Sunni insurgents.
command admitted at first that the Sunnis were
making the shaped charges themselves. On June 21,
2005, General John R Vines, then the senior US
commander in Iraq, told reporters that the
insurgents had probably drawn on bomb-making
expertise from the late Iraqi president Saddam
A Pentagon official
involved in combating the new IEDs also told the
New York Times that the first such bombs examined
by the US military had required considerable
expertise, and that well-trained former government
specialists were probably involved in making them.
The use of infra-red detonators was regarded as a
tribute to the insurgents' "resourcefulness",
according to the Pentagon source.
time in the next six weeks, the Bush
administration made a decision to start blaming
its new problem in Iraq on Tehran. On August 4,
2005, Pentagon and intelligence officials leaked
the story to the National Broadcasting Co (NBC)
and the Columbia Broadcasting System that US
troops had "intercepted" dozens of shaped charges
said to have been "smuggled into northeastern Iraq
only last week".
The NBC story quoted
intelligence officials as saying they believed the
IEDs were shipped into Iraq by Iranian
Revolutionary Guards or Hezbollah, but were
"convinced it could not have happened without the
full consent of the Iranian government".
These stories were leaked to coincide with
public accusations by then defense secretary
Donald Rumsfeld and US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay
Khalilzad that Iran was meddling in Iraqi affairs.
A few days after the stories appeared, Rumsfeld
declared that these shaped charges were "clearly,
unambiguously from Iran" and blamed Tehran for
allowing the cross-border traffic.
But the US
administration had a major credibility problem with
that story. It could not explain why Iran would
want to assist the Sunnis, enemies of the militant
Shi'ite parties in Iraq that are aligned with
British troops in Shi'ite southern
Iraq, where the shaped charges were apparently
used by Shi'ite militias, had an equally
embarrassing problem with the IEDs penetrating
their armored vehicles. An unnamed senior British
official in London told the British Broadcasting
Corp on October 5, 2005, that the shaped charges
that had killed British troops in southern Iraq
had come from Hezbollah in Lebanon via Iran.
The following day, British Prime Minister
Tony Blair took the occasion of a joint press
conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to
declare that the circumstances surrounding the
bombs that killed British soldiers "lead us either
to Iranian elements or to Hezbollah". But Blair
conceded that he had no evidence of such a link.
Privately, British officials said the only
basis for their suspicions was that the technology
was similar in design to the shaped charges used
by Hezbollah in its war to drive Israel out of
southern Lebanon in the 1980s.
Cordesman, a highly respected military analyst at
the Center for Strategic and International Studies
in Washington, explained why the storyline blaming
Iran for the IED problem in Iraq didn't hold
water. "A lot of this is just technology that is
leaked into an informal network," he told the
Associated Press. "What works in one country gets
The Blair government
soon dropped that propaganda line. The Independent
reported on January 5, 2006, that government
officials acknowledged privately that there was no
"reliable intelligence" connecting the Iranian
government to the more powerful IEDs in the south.
However, the US administration continued
to push that accusation, and Bush himself raised
the theme for the first time at a press conference
last March 13. "Some of the most powerful IEDs
we're seeing in Iraq today," he said, "came from
Bush quoted the then-director of
national intelligence, John Negroponte, as
testifying, "Tehran has been responsible for at
least some of the increasing lethality of
anti-coalition attacks by providing Shi'ite
militia with the capability to build improvised
No reporter has
followed up on what Negroponte meant by providing
the "capability" to build such devices or why the
militias would need to go outside Iraq to find
The day after Bush's press
conference, General Peter Pace, chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted at a Pentagon news
conference that he had no evidence of the Iranian
government sending any military equipment or
personnel into Iraq. Rumsfeld, appearing with
Pace, said, "All you know is that you find
equipment in a country that came from the
Last November, as
the release of the Iraq Study Group Report
approached, Bush administration officials again
planted the story of intercepted Iranian-made
weapons and munitions it had leaked in mid-2005.
The American Broadcasting Co reported on November
30 that a "senior defense official" had told the
network of "smoking-gun evidence of Iranian
support for terrorists in Iraq: brand-new weapons
fresh from Iranian factories".
twist in the story was that the weapons allegedly
had manufacturing dates in 2006. The story
continued, "This suggests, say the sources, that
the material is going directly from Iranian
factories to Shi'ite militias, rather than taking
a roundabout path through the black market."
The assumption underlying the anti-Iran
Defense Department spin that a private market for
weapons or, more likely, components, could not move
them from Iran across the porous border to Iraq in
a few months is far-fetched.
At about the
same time, Bush apparently gave orders that the US
military should seize any Iranians in the country
in an effort to get some kind of evidence to use
in support of its propaganda theme. The first such
operation came in central Baghdad just before
Christmas, and a second raid against Iranian
diplomats in Irbil was carried out to coincide
with the president's speech on a new Iraq policy
on January 10.
These raids, presented to
the public as part of a campaign against targets
supposedly identified through good intelligence,
were clearly aimed at trying to substantiate an
anti-Iran line for which the Bush administration
has no credible evidence. Those raids now create a
requirement to produce something new to justify
Gareth Porter is a
historian and national-security policy analyst.
His latest book is Perils of Dominance:
Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.