- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2007

BAGHDAD — Iranian intelligence operatives have been training Iraqi fighters inside Iran on how to use and assemble deadly roadside bombs known as EFPs, a U.S. military spokesman said yesterday.

Commanders of a splinter group inside the Shi’ite Mahdi Army militia have told the Associated Press that as many as 4,000 members of their organization were trained in Iran and that the group has stockpiles of EFPs, which can penetrate heavily armored vehicles.

U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell would not estimate how many militia fighters had been trained in Iran but said that questioning of fighters captured as recently as this month confirmed that many had been in Iranian training camps.

“We know that they are being in fact manufactured and smuggled into this country, and we know that training does go on in Iran for people to learn how to assemble them and how to employ them. We know that training has gone on as recently as this past month from detainees’ debriefs,” Gen. Caldwell said at a weekly briefing.

EFP stands for explosively formed penetrator. The deadly roadside bombs hurl a fist-size lump of molten copper capable of piercing armor.

U.S. officials said in January that at least 170 U.S. troops had been killed by EFPs.

Gen. Caldwell said the U.S. military had evidence that Iranian intelligence agents were active in Iraq in funding, training and arming Shi’ite militia fighters.

“We also know that training still is being conducted in Iran for insurgent elements from Iraq. We know that as recent as last week from debriefing personnel,” he said.

The general would not say which arm of the Iranian government runs the training, but called the trainers “surrogates” of Iran’s intelligence agency.

Gen. Caldwell opened the briefing with photographs of what he said were Iranian-made mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenade rounds and rockets that were found in Iraq.

The U.S. military also announced the deaths of two more soldiers. One was killed and two were wounded by a roadside bomb yesterday in an eastern section of the capital, and another soldier died a day earlier in an attack in southern Baghdad. One soldier was wounded in that incident.

Also yesterday, Iraqi Cabinet ministers allied with radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr threatened to quit the government to protest the prime minister’s lack of support for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal.

Such a pullout by the bloc that put Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in office could collapse his weak government. The threat was issued two months into a U.S. effort to pacify Baghdad in order to give the al-Maliki government room to function.

Meanwhile, bodies lay scattered across two central Baghdad neighborhoods after a raging battle killed 20 insurgent suspects and four Iraqi soldiers and injured 16 U.S. soldiers, witnesses and officials said.

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