Monday, February 12, 2007

Iran is supplying deadly shoulder-fired missiles and armor-piercing bombs to Iraqi insurgents, along with TNT, triggering devices, rockets and other weapons that are killing and injuring hundreds of U.S. and allied troops, a U.S. military intelligence report made public yesterday says.

The detailed briefing report, titled “Iranian Support for Lethal Activity in Iraq,” stated that Iranian Misagh-1 portable anti-aircraft missiles were found after a failed attempt to shoot down a plane at Baghdad’s airport in 2004.

Disclosure of the Iranian provision of anti-aircraft missiles comes as six U.S. helicopters have been shot down by insurgents in the past three weeks. It is not known whether Iranian missiles were used in the attacks.

The armor-piercing bombs have killed at least 170 American and allied troops in Iraq, defense officials told reporters in Baghdad, where the report was released.

“More than 170 U.S. and coalition troops have been killed by these things, and 620 wounded. There was a significant increase in their use over the past six months,” one defense official said.

“The weapons had characteristics unique to being manufactured in Iran. … Iran is the only country in the region that produces these weapons,” said a defense official who briefed reporters in Baghdad, adding that Tehran was using Shi’ite cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army as a surrogate in Iraq.

The report stated that the Iranians involved in supporting Iraqi extremists are members of the Qods Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, Tehran’s Islamist paramilitary shock troops. The Qods Force is known to back terrorists throughout the Middle East, according to the 16-page report.

A senior defense official said the Iranian terrorist support is “coming from the highest levels of the Iranian government.”

Much of the intelligence in the report was obtained in the past several months, including an identity card of a Qods Force member who was captured along with four other Iranian agents in a raid on the group’s office in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil last month. The identity card bore the logo of the Qods Force.

“Over the last 60 days, Iranian and Iraqi detainees have told us that the Qods Force provides support to extremist groups in the form of money and weapons,” the report said. “Their information included references to Iranian provision of weapons to Iraqi militants engaged in anti-coalition violence, as well as weapons and training to these same militants.”

The briefing is the first Bush administration effort to expose details of Iranian support for extremists that has been a growing problem, especially with the introduction in 2004 of what the military is calling “explosively formed penetrators,” or EFPs, that were shown in the report to have blown through the armor plating on the side of a U.S. Humvee.

“There is a growing body of evidence pointing to Iranian supply of EFPs to Iraqi extremist groups. Additional evidence suggests that Iran is also providing training and other forms of weaponry to extremist groups,” the report said.

But congressional Democrats on yesterday’s political talk shows were immediately skeptical on many points.

“Explosives seem to be flowing into Iraq from Iran, but does it stem from a deliberate government policy or rogue elements within the Iranian government?” asked Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat and Armed Services Committee member, on Fox News.

Both Democratic Sens. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Ron Wyden of Oregon said they feared the Bush administration had doctored the intelligence to support a belligerent policy against Iran.

“I’m worried about that. That’s how we got into the mess in Iraq,” Mr. Dodd said on CBS, with Mr. Wyden telling CNN that “the administration is engaged in a drumbeat with Iran that is much like the drumbeat that they did with Iraq. We’re going to insist on accountability.”

But Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, dismissed such suggestions, saying that the United States is using military interdiction to block Iranian interference in Iraq, while continuing diplomatic dialogue with Tehran.

“We are talking to them in a variety of ways. Just because you don’t have a grand meeting doesn’t mean you’re not communicating,” Mr. Lott said. “Diplomacy is an arcane world that I guess you have to be in to really understand. But I don’t think the American people ought to be concerned that some precipitous action is fixing to occur.”

The report contains a map showing the route used by Iranian agents to funnel cash and weapons into Iraq.

“Money and weapons are escorted across the border using different vehicles that only travel at night,” the report said, noting the shipments happen “regularly.”

“The money is transported through Mehran, Iran,” the report said. “Named individuals provided two of the IEDs from Iran that can go through armor.”

The shaped charges were described in the report as can-shaped high-explosives that send out a melted-metal projectile that can penetrate armor plating. It is a new type of improvised explosive devices, the deadly roadside bombs that have caused most of the deaths among U.S. and allied forces in Iraq since 2003.

In addition to shaped charges, the report shows that the Iranians have supplied cash and triggering devices for bombs, including a relatively sophisticated “passive infrared trigger” that was recovered by U.S. forces near the southern city of Basra and traced to Iran.

Large amounts of TNT were also recovered and found to have Farsi writing, an indication they were manufactured in Iran. Additionally, 88 mm mortar rounds found in Iraq were traced to Iran by serial numbers and shown to have been manufactured as late as September.

“Comparison of the seized mortar container markings to known Iranian samples indicates they are of Iranian production,” the report said.

Iranian armor-piercing rocket-propelled grenades also are being sent to Iraq, according to the report. New PG-7AT-1 grenades were found in Baqouba in November and in Baghdad in January.

Senior administration officials in the past have complained of the Iranian weapons support, but until now they have been reluctant to make the details public.

The report was held up for more than a week as the result of an internal dispute between intelligence and policy officials. Senior U.S. intelligence officials within the office of the director of national intelligence sought to play down the intelligence of Iranian involvement, fearing the report will be used as a basis to launch an attack on Iran.

Policy and military leaders pressed to have the report made public to expose Iranian duplicity. Tehran officials have said publicly that they want to see a stable Iraq while they are covertly supporting insurgents through the Qods Force activities.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports

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