- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2007

1:28 p.m.

SEVILLE, Spain — Serial numbers and markings on explosives used in Iraq provide “pretty good” evidence that Iran is providing either weapons or technology for militants there, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates asserted today.

Offering some of the first public details of evidence the military has collected, Mr. Gates said, “I think there’s some serial numbers. There may be some markings on some of the projectile fragments that we found” that point to Iran.

At the same time, however, he said he was somewhat surprised that recent raids by coalition and Iraqi forces in Iraq swept up some Iranians.

Meanwhile in Iraq, U.S. helicopters today mistakenly killed at least five Kurdish troops, a group that Washington hopes to enlist as a partner to help secure Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

The Kurdish deaths occurred about midnight in eastern Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad. The U.S. military said the air strike was targeting al Qaeda fighters, but later issued an apology, saying the five men killed had been identified as Kurdish police.

Kurdish officials put the casualty toll at eight killed and six wounded and said the men were guarding a branch of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan — led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a key supporter of U.S. efforts in Iraq.

Just last week, Mr. Gates said that U.S. military officers in Baghdad were planning to brief reporters on what is known about Iranian involvement in Iraq but that he and other senior administration officials had intervened to delay the briefing in order to assure that the information provided was accurate.

Speaking to reporters at a defense ministers conference here, Mr. Gates said today, “I don’t think there was surprise that the Iranians were actually involved. I think there was surprise we actually picked up some.”

He and other U.S. officials have said for some time that Iranians, and possibly the government of Iran, have been providing weapons technology and possibly some explosives to Iraqi insurgents.

The improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have been a leading killer of U.S. forces in Iraq, where more than 3,000 servicemen and -women have died in the nearly four-year-old war.

The Bush administration has promised a detailed accounting of accusations that Iran is contributing to violence or instability in Iraq but has not yet released that dossier. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other officials have faced skeptical questions from lawmakers about the strength of the evidence and the parallels to administration claims about Iraq before the 2003 invasion.

“Under the circumstances and given the attention that this has gotten, we want to make sure that we provide you the best information possible but do so in a way that doesn’t compromise sources and methods, that doesn’t make it harder for us to deal with the situation that’s there,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey said today.

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