Monday, February 12, 2007

Iran arming Iraqi insurgents?

It's a reasonable thing to suspect, and now the United States says it has evidence: captured Iranian munitions.

Never before displayed in public, the weapons included squat canisters designed to explode and spit out molten balls of copper that cut through armor. The canisters, called explosively formed penetrators or E.F.P.’s, are perhaps the most feared weapon faced by American and Iraqi troops here.

In a news briefing held under strict security, the officials spread out on two small tables an E.F.P. and an array of mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades with visible serial numbers that the officials said link the weapons directly to Iranian arms factories.

For it's part, Iran says "prove it."

The EFPs are pretty good evidence, and fairly alarming given the sophistication of the weaponry. The technology is 30 years old, but it still isn't the sort of thing people might cobble together in their garage. It requires fairly precise machining and design to create a shape that will deform into an aerodynamic projectile, as well as pack the explosives so that they will produce an explosion of the right amount and shape to do the deforming.

The mortar and RPGs are less compelling or surprising -- they're very common weapons, and could well have been introduced into Iraq long ago by Iran-supported groups fighting Saddam. Call them decent supporting evidence.

But merely having Iranian-produced weaponry doesn't prove Iranian complicity. To do that we have to show that the Iranian government is providing the munitions. That link appears to be shaky:

The officials also asserted, without providing direct evidence, that Iranian leaders had authorized smuggling those weapons into Iraq for use against the Americans. The officials said such an assertion was an inference based on general intelligence assessments.

An "inference"? That's not the most actionable piece of data, especially when it involves something as momentous as accusing another country of arming your enemies.

Further, there's a logic problem: most of these weapons are being used by Sunni insurgents. Why would Shiite Iran supply sophisticated weaponry to the Sunnis, weapons that could just as easily be turned against Iraq's Shiite majority -- and probably will be if Iran achieves its presumed objective of forcing the United States to leave Iraq?

The article says many of these weapons have turned up in weapons caches in areas dominated by Iran-friendly militias. Okay, that makes sense. But as far as I know, such militias aren't generally setting up IEDs to attack U.S. forces. So what we may have here is two sets of EFPs: Weapons with clear Iranian provenance being supplied to Iranian-backed groups, but others of unknown provenance being supplied to Sunni insurgents.

It's also possible that some of the weapons transfers are being done by Iranian intelligence, Hezbollah or Revolutionary Guard members without the knowledge or approval of the Iranian government.

Either way, more proof is needed. I'm entirely unsurprised that Iran might be arming groups it supports. but trying to blame Iran for Sunni IED attacks is an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary proof.

Update: Gen. Peter Pace, when asked about the briefing, said he could not support the assertions of Iranian involvement from his own experience. "It is clear that Iranians are involved," he said. "And it's clear that materials from Iran are involved, but I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit."

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Blogger hdrmax said...

I do not see any other choice but to confront Iran. This could lead to war, but they are killing our soldiers.

2/12/2007 8:44 PM  

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