Friday, February 16, 2007

Senior defense and military leaders said yesterday that Iran’s government is behind the providing of deadly bombs to Iraqi insurgents, although it is difficult to say whether senior Iranian leaders approved the shipments.

“We know that the Quds force is involved. We know the Quds force is a paramilitary arm of the [Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)], so we assume that the leadership of the IRGC knows about this,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters.

“Whether or not more senior political leaders in Iran know about it, we don’t know,” he said. “And frankly, for me, either way it’s a worry. Either they do know and have approved it, or they don’t know and the IRGC may be acting on their own in Iraq.”

Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, qualified earlier comments that he doubted high-level Iranian government linkage to special armor-piercing bombs and rockets found in Iraq.

“What I tried to say when I said I didn’t know about the Iranian government, I’m talking about the top two or three people in the government,” Gen. Pace said, noting that “we do not have proof that the senior leadership in Iran is directing these activities in Iraq.”

The level of Iranian government involvement is secondary to the danger the arms pose to U.S. and coalition forces, he said.

“We know that there are explosives and weapons being used inside of Iraq that were manufactured in Iran,” Gen. Pace said.

Also, on two occasions during operations to attack networks supplying improvised bombs, “we had policed up Iranians,” he said. “We know that those Iranians are Quds force members. Those are facts.”

The comments came after a senior defense official in Baghdad said Sunday that the Iranian arms shipments — including shaped charge explosives, shoulder-fired missiles and armor-piercing rockets — had been directed by the highest levels of the Iranian government.

Mr. Gates also cautiously defended the tentative nuclear deal with North Korea, saying it is “a very important first step.”

“The timelines are very tight … we’re talking months, not years for actions that have to be taken,” he said. “I think that if the deal is structured in a way that we will be able to monitor compliance before the United States or the other countries have had to do very much, in terms of whether the North Koreans are complying with the agreement that they’ve signed.”

Critics of the accord, including former U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton, have said the agreement makes too many concessions to North Korea.

Asked what steps were being taken to stop the flow of Iranian weapons, Mr. Gates said there is a major effort under way to disrupt the supply networks.

“The explosively formed projectiles are a real problem because they’re so lethal,” he said. “But the fact is that a bigger problem is the [improvised explosive device] problem in general, and those are coming from a lot of sources, including from inside Iraq.”

The Iranian-supplied armor-piercing IED are a relatively small percentage of the homemade bombs, he said.

“So our focus is more broadly on disrupting these IED networks throughout Iraq,” he said. “The Iranian responsibility for one set of them is a concern. We are taking action to try to deal with that, but it’s part of a much larger problem.”

On reports that Iraqi Shi’ite militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr has fled to Iran, Mr. Gates said there is no proof he is there but that as a result of current stepped-up operations in Baghdad “these guys will go to ground.”

Gen. Pace was asked about the release of U.S. Central Command documents from the start of the Iraq war and said one assumption that turned out wrong was the collapse of the Iraqi army.

“One assumption was that the Iraqi army, once freed of Saddam’s dictatorship, would become a force of good for the people and that it would be a standing army at the time of liberation,” Gen. Pace said. “As you know, it disintegrated in the very early hours of the fight, and therefore there was no army of some 400,000 Iraqis who were able to then provide security for their country.”

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