- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

Lethal Iranian bomb technology spotlighted by U.S. officials in Iraq last week is being used by rogue elements of Shi’ite militias that are not under any kind of central command, the U.S. military says.

The evidence presented at a briefing in Baghdad last week further confuses an enemy landscape in which death is as likely to come at the hands of government-allied Shi’ite militias as from disgruntled former Ba’athist extremists and their al Qaeda allies.

U.S. military officials think members of Shi’ite militias — most of which have links with both Iran and Iraq’s Shi’ite-led government — are receiving and using the “explosively formed penetrators” (EFPs), or shaped bomb charges. Officials say the EFPs have killed about 170 coalition troops in the past two years — many of those in recent months.

“Our intelligence has assessed that they are Shia rogue elements of illegal armed groups,” Lt. Col. Christopher Garver told The Washington Times in an e-mail interview from Baghdad.

“The primary user is a radical splinter element within Jaysh al-Mahdi that has more than likely been perpetrating a majority of the attacks,” he said.

Jaysh al-Mahdi is the formal name for the Mahdi’s Army militia, the armed following of the radical Shi’ite cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr. The sheik’s political party has 30 seats in parliament, and he is a major political backer of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The other principal Shi’ite militia is the Badr Brigade, linked to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which is a major partner in the ruling coalition.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said Thursday that Sheik al-Sadr had ordered the heads of his Mahdi’s Army militia to leave Iraq, the Reuters news agency reported from Baghdad.

“I think many of his top Mahdi Army officials have been ordered to leave Iraq to make the mission of the security forces easier,” said a statement issued in the president’s name by his office.

According to a document purportedly smuggled out of the prime minister’s office, Mr. al-Maliki last month advised Shi’ite militia leaders to retreat to Iran and southern Iraq until the current U.S.-led security push is over.

The U.S. Embassy told The Times that the Iraqi government had declared the document a fake.

Tom Donnelly, a defense and security-policy analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said Sheik al-Sadr is “both inside and outside the tent, and sometimes he is a useful ally and sometimes a hated enemy of the prime minister.”

Sunni insurgents and disgruntled former Ba’athists, sometimes working with al Qaeda in Iraq, have long been blamed for most of the attacks on U.S. forces as well as waves of spectacular suicide attacks that have killed thousands of Shi’ites.

Bruce Reidel, senior fellow at the Saban Center of the Brookings Institution, said that roughly 90 percent of the anti-U.S. action to date had been from Sunni insurgents, but evidence pointed to a recent increase in Shi’ite attacks.

“The al Qaeda types hate us, but they also hate the Shi’ites. Sometimes other Sunni traditional clans and sheiks are enemies, but sometimes we are their only protectors from Shi’ite reprisals,” Mr. Donnelly said.

Col. Garver said the United States had seen “crude attempts” by other illegal armed groups and al Qaeda to copy the Iranian EFP technology, but that the resulting weapons were “not nearly as precise or lethal.”

In addition to killing more than 170 coalition troops, the Iranian technology has wounded more than 620 since 2004, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told reporters in Baghdad on Wednesday.

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