- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2007

12:08 p.m.

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

Commanders of a splinter group inside the Shi’ite Mahdi Army militia have said that as many as 4,000 members of their organization were trained in Iran and that they have stockpiles of EFPs, weapons that cause great uneasiness among U.S. forces here because they penetrate heavily armored vehicles.

U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell would not say how many militia fighters had been trained in Iran but said that questioning of fighters captured as recently as this month confirmed 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, a deadly roadside bomb that hurl a fist-size lump of molten copper capable of piercing armor.

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

Gen. Caldwell also 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 specifically which arm of the Iranian government was doing the training but called the trainers “surrogates” of Iran’s intelligence agency.

Gen. Caldwell opened the briefing by showing photographs of what he said were Iranian-made mortar rounds, RPG rounds and rockets found in Iraq.

Also today, Iraqi Cabinet ministers allied to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr threatened to quit the government to protest Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s lack of support for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal.

Such a pullout by the very bloc that put Mr. al-Maliki into office could collapse his already perilously weak government. The threat comes two months into a U.S. effort to pacify Baghdad in order to give Mr. al-Maliki’s government room to function.

Meanwhile, bodies lay scattered across two central Baghdad neighborhoods after a raging battle left 20 suspected insurgents and four Iraqi soldiers dead and 16 U.S. soldiers wounded, witnesses and officials said.

The fighting yesterday in Fadhil and Sheik Omar, two Sunni enclaves, was the most intense since a massive push to pacify the capital began two months ago.

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