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    Middle East
     Feb 15, 2007
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US's smoking gun on Iran misfires
By Gareth Porter

WASHINGTON - The first major effort by the administration of US President George W Bush to substantiate its case that the Iranian government has been providing weapons to Iraqi Shi'ites who oppose the occupation undermines the administration's political line by showing that it has been unable to find any real evidence of an Iranian government role.

Contradicting recent claims by both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that

US intelligence had proof of Iranian government responsibility for the supply of such weapons, the unnamed officials who briefed the media on Sunday admitted that the claim is merely "an inference" rather than based on a trail of evidence.

Although it was clearly not the intention, moreover, the briefing revealed for the first time that the Iranians and Iraqis detained by US forces in recent months did not provide any evidence implicating either the Iranian government or the Islamic Revolutionary Guards in the acquisition of armor-piercing explosive devices and other weapons by Iraqi Shi'ite groups.

In the end, the administration presentation suggested that there could be no other explanation for the presence of Iranian-made weapons than official government sponsorship of smuggling them into Iraq. But in doing so, they had to ignore a well-known reality: most weapons, including armor-piercing projectiles, can be purchased by anyone through intermediaries in the Middle East.

Indeed, General Peter Pace, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview published while he was on a visit to Indonesia that he did not know whether Iranian-made material used to assemble roadside bombs in Iraq had been supplied on Tehran's orders. And speaking on CNN, CentCom Commander William Fallon, the top commander of US forces in the Middle East, was asked about the administration's claim over Iran supplying weapons to Iraq. "I have no idea who may be actually hands-on in this stuff," Fallon said.

The briefing in Baghdad on Sunday displayed a number of weapons or photographs of weapons said to have been found in Iraq, including what were called "explosively formed penetrators" (EFPs), which the officials said were smuggled into the country by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Quds Force. The RPG-7s and 81-millimeter mortar rounds shown to reporters did indeed have markings showing that they had been recently manufactured, and there is no reason to doubt that those weapons were manufactured in Iran.

The argument for Iranian official responsibility assumes that such weapons are so tightly controlled that Shi'ite groups could not purchase them in small numbers on the black market in Iran, Syria or Lebanon. It is well documented, however, that the Shi'ites have resorted to black-market networks to obtain EFPs.

An article in Jane's Intelligence Review last month by Michael Knights, chief of analysis for the Olive Group, a private security-consulting firm, reports that the British discovered that there was indeed an organization in Basra engaged in arranging for the purchase and delivery of imported EFPs and that it was composed entirely of police officials, including members of the Police Intelligence Unit, the Internal Affairs Directorate and the Major Crimes Unit. They found that members of the organization followed no specific Shi'ite faction, but included members from all the factions in Basra.

The Washington Post quoted one of the US officials at the briefing as saying that there was no "widespread involvement" of the Iraqi government in supplying weaponry, thus implicitly conceding that some Iraqi government officials are indeed involved in the weapons traffic.

By insisting that the Iranian government was involved, the Bush administration has conjured up the image of a smuggling operation so vast that it could not occur without official sanction. In fact, as Knights points out, the number of EFPs exploded monthly has remained at about 100, which clearly would not require high-level connivance to maintain a flow of imports.

The PowerPoint slides presented to the press in Baghdad ended with a slide that in essence confirms that the evidence points not

Continued 1 2 

Death Street: A prelude to madness (Feb 14, '07)

US shrugs off Iran's revolutionary spirit (Feb 13, '07)

How the US is doing Iran's killing in Iraq (Feb 13, '07)

Gas: Iran turns up the heat (Feb 10, '07)


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