Wednesday, February 14, 2007

More Doubts on Iran Weapons Evidence; Bush Calls Doubts "Preposterous"

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

CentCom's commander joins Gen. Peter Pace in openly voicing doubts about the provenance of Iranian weapons in Iraq:

On Sunday, anonymous administration officials presented evidence purportedly showing that weapons have been smuggled into Iraq with “the approval of senior Iranian officials.” Yesterday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace seemed to contradict this claim, saying that he has not seen evidence that the Iranian government “clearly knows or is complicit” in the weapons smuggling.

Today on CNN, CentCom Commander William Fallon, the top commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, was asked about the administration’s claim. Fallon said, “I have no idea who may be actually with hands-on in this stuff.”

The Boston Globe quotes the Iraq Study Group's executive director:

Daniel Serwer, a specialist at the US Institute for Peace, a Washington-based think tank, said he was not convinced that the Iranian government had decided "at the highest levels" to provide weapons to target US troops, as the three US officials told reporters.

"The question is not so much about whether there are Iranian weapons inside Iraq," said Serwer, who served as executive director of the Iraq Study Group, the bipartisan commission on Iraq. "Sure there are. The question is whether there is a conscious policy by the Iranian government or some part of the Iranian government to support lethal attacks against Americans. I haven't seen any proof of that yet."

Some experts are questioning the timing of the Bush administration's accusations: Why now?

US officials in Iraq and their British counterparts have known for more than two years that armor-piercing explosives were being smuggled from Iran, but had never displayed them to the media until Sunday, prompting critics to ask why the administration is choosing this moment to highlight the alleged misdeeds of the Iranian regime.

Noah Schachtman points out that the weapons in Sunday's show-and-tell are nothing new:

The U.S. government's claim yesterday, that the Iranians are supplying weapons to Iraqi militants, was met with a huge amount of skepticism -- and with good reason, given the Administration's lousy intel-interpreting track record, and the strange conditions of Sunday's presentation. (More on that, in a second.) But, for what it's worth, Defense Tech has been hearing about these weapons -- especially the "explosively-formed projectiles," or EFPs -- for the last eighteen months. Many of the government's assertions track, at least loosely, to what we've heard.

Soldiers in Iraq were already encountering EFPs -- and the closely-related "shaped-charges" -- back in the summer of '05, when I visited the country.

David Hambling is surprised by the crudeness of the weapon the Pentagon says is killing our troops:

The pictures released last week of Iraqi high-tech explosives surprised me. These special 'superbombs' that have caused so many US casualties -- they look like they had been assembled in someone's garage.

These bombs belong to a class known as EFP --'Explosively Formed Projectile' or 'Explosively Formed Penetrator,' depending on who you're talking to. They compress a metal liner into a slug and fire it at the target some distance away.
No doubt the Russians and Chinese have their own versions ..., and these have probably been copied too. So you might expect a rougher, cheaper copy to appear in Iraq if it was supplied from the outside.

But as has been observed here, anyone can make crude and simple EFP munitions in a basic workshop. All you need is a lump of plastic explosive and a piece of copper. Shape the copper into a saucer, put the explosive under it, and you're there. Obviously this will be a lot less efficient, accurate and reliable than something like SLAM (optimal design of the the metal 'lens' is an art requiring a lot of computer power), but you can compensate by making it ten times bigger if you need to.

Maybe the insurgents should be given some credit for being able to build their own gear, or maybe there's more intelligence we don't know. But if EFP mines were being supplied by an outside source, you might expect to see somethng a lot slicker.

Judith Yaphe thinks it's about the troop surge:

... Yaphe, a Middle East expert at the National Defense University, said the Bush administration is raising these charges now to shore up political support for its decision to send an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq.

“They need to shift the public debate from the issue of the surge and spread the blame” for the spreading chaos, she said.

Anonymous Liberal posted yesterday about the logic (or lack thereof) in the government's Iran rhetoric. For example, who are these "extremist groups" in Iraq who are supposedly being supplied by the Iranian government with weapons to kill Americans?
The military power point presentation asserts that Iran is providing "EFPs to Iraqi extremist groups." That's cryptic as hell. What do they mean when they say "extremist groups"? Surely they don't mean al Qaeda or Baathist insurgents, right? After all, those groups are in the business of killing Iraqi Shiites allied with Iran.

A.L quotes Juan Cole, who asserts that the administration's claim, transcribed by Michael Gordon in the New York Times, that Iranian-supplied EFPs were responsible for "... a significant portion of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq, though less than a quarter of the total ..." in the first three months of 2006 "is one hundred percent wrong":

... 25 percent of US troops were not killed fighting Shiites in those three months. Day after day, the casualty reports specify al-Anbar Province or Diyala or Salahuddin or Babil, or Baghdad districts such as al-Dura, Ghaziliyah, Amiriyah, etc.--and the enemy fighting is clearly Sunni Arab guerrillas. And, Iran is not giving high tech weapons to Baathists and Salafi Shiite-killers. ...

Although more U.S. troops are being killed in (Shiite) East Baghdad, "Over all, only a fourth of US troops had been killed [there] ... through the end of 2006":

But US troops aren't fighting Shiites anyplace else -- Ninevah, Diyala, Salahuddin -- these are all Sunni areas. For a fourth of US troops to be being killed or wounded by Shiite EFPs, all of the Baghdad deaths would have to be at the hands of Shiites!

The more likely scenario, Prof. Cole writes, is that the Sunni insurgents who are responsible for most U.S. combat deaths are killing American troops with American-made weapons:

Some large proportion of US troops being killed in Iraq are being killed with bullets and weapons supplied by Washington to the Iraqi army, which are then sold by desperate or greedy Iraqi soldiers on the black market. This problem of US/Iraqi government arms getting into the hands of the Sunni Arab guerrillas is far more significant and pressing than whatever arms smugglers bring in from Iran.
The attempt to blame these US deaths on Iran is in my view a black psy-ops operation. The claim is framed as though this was a matter of direct Iranian government transfer to the deadliest guerrillas. In fact, the most fractious Shiites are the ones who hate Iran the most. If 25 percent of US troops are being killed and wounded by explosively formed projectiles, then someone should look into who is giving those EFPs to Sunni Arab guerrillas. It isn't Iran.

Also via A.L., a January 13 article in The Guardian quotes Sunni insurgents who say that most of the fighting now is between Sunni and Shia, and Sunnis are killing Shiites with guns and ammunition obtained, via the black market, from Iraqi Army fighters:

One morning a few weeks ago I sat in a car talking to Rami, a thick-necked former Republican Guard commando who now procures arms for his fellow Sunni insurgents.
Rami was explaining how the insurgency had changed since the first heady days after the US invasion. "I used to attack the Americans when that was the jihad. Now there is no jihad. Go around and see in Adhamiya [the notorious Sunni insurgent area] - all the commanders are sitting sipping coffee; it's only the young kids that are fighting now, and they are not fighting Americans any more, they are just killing Shia. There are kids carrying two guns each and they roam the streets looking for their prey. They will kill for anything, for a gun, for a car and all can be dressed up as jihad."

Rami was no longer involved in fighting, he said, but made a tidy profit selling weapons and ammunition to men in his north Baghdad neighbourhood. Until the last few months, the insurgency got by with weapons and ammunition looted from former Iraqi army depots. But now that Sunnis were besieged in their neighbourhoods and fighting daily clashes with the better-equipped Shia ministry of interior forces, they needed new sources of weapons and money.

He told me that one of his main suppliers had been an interpreter working for the US army in Baghdad. "He had a deal with an American officer. We bought brand new AKs and ammunition from them." He claimed the American officer, whom he had never met but he believed was a captain serving at Baghdad airport, had even helped to divert a truckload of weapons as soon as it was driven over the border from Jordan.

These days Rami gets most of his supplies from the new American-equipped Iraqi army. "We buy ammunition from officers in charge of warehouses, a small box of AK-47 bullets is $450 (£230). If the guy sells a thousand boxes he can become rich and leave the country." But as the security situation deteriorates, Rami finds it increasingly difficult to travel across Baghdad. "Now I have to pay a Shia taxi driver to bring the ammo to me. He gets $50 for each shipment."

A.L. again:

Even if the part about the American officer is untrue (and I sure hope it is), two things are pretty clear: 1) the insurgency is getting much of its weaponry from the American-supplied Iraqi army and 2) there is a bustling black market for weapons in Iraq.

Advocates of war, or some other kind of "punitive action," against Iran, should ask themselves if maybe "smoking guns" can come from international arms traders as well as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

... After all, American weapons are winding up in the hands of insurgents. Why are these not also "smoking guns"? And more importantly, doesn't this cast at least a little doubt on the White House's claims about Iran? Iran has no motive for supplying Sunni insurgents--who are responsible for the vast majority of U.S. casualties and are slaughtering Shiites by the hundreds--with weapons. If anyone is being intentionally supplied with weaponry and training, it is most likely the various Shiite paramilitary groups, and it is being done for the purpose of equipping them to fight the Sunnis, not the United States. To the extent Iranian-made weapons are falling into the hands of Sunni insurgents, isn't it far more likely that opportunistic Iranians and Iraqi Shiites are selling these weapons on the black market? That's exactly the kind of trade The Guardian reported was rampant in Iraq.

If the military wants to make the case that Iran is actively supplying America's enemies in Iraq, they need to provide more than pictures of confiscated weapons. They need to provide some sort of narrative that makes logical sense. They also need to be far more specific about their allegations. Who exactly are the Iranians giving these weapons to? Why are they doing it? Until the Bush administration answers these basic questions, and does so on the record, their claims should not be taken seriously.

Of course, the Bush administration has no intention of answering any of the questions that so many intelligence and defense experts have raised on this issue. This morning, he stated several times that "we know" Iran's Al Quds brigade is supplying weapons to Iraqi fighters who are killing Americans. He also said, in response to a question about what assurances he could give the public that the intelligence was accurate this time, that it was "preposterous" to suggest it was not accurate:

Q Thank you, sir. General Pace says that these bombs found in Iraq do not, by themselves, implicate Iran. What makes you so certain that the highest levels of Tehran's government is responsible?


Q And how can you retaliate against Iran without risking a war?

THE PRESIDENT: What we do know is that the Quds force was instrumental in providing these deadly IEDs to networks inside of Iraq. We know that. And we also know that the Quds force is a part of the Iranian government. That's a known. What we don't know is whether or not the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds force to do what they did. ...
I can say with certainty that the Quds force, a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated IEDs that have harmed our troops. And I'd like to repeat, I do not know whether or not the Quds force was ordered from the top echelons of government. But my point is what's worse -- them ordering it and it happening, or them not ordering it and it happening? And so we will continue to protect our troops.
Q -- using faulty intelligence to provoke Iran?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I heard your question, and I told you, I was confident that the Quds force, a part of the Iranian government, was providing weaponry into Iraq. And to say it is provoking Iran is just a wrong way to characterize the Commander-in-Chief's decision to do what is necessary to protect our soldiers in harm's way. And I will continue to do so.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. I want to follow up on Iran one more time. You saying today that you do not know if senior members of the Iranian government are, in fact, behind these explosives -- that contradicts what U.S. officials said in Baghdad on Sunday. They said the highest levels of the Iranian government were behind this. It also -- it seems to square with what General Pace has been saying, but contradicts with what your own press secretary said yesterday.

THE PRESIDENT: Can I -- let me -- I can't say it more plainly: there are weapons in Iraq that are harming U.S. troops because of the Quds force. And as you know, I hope, that the Quds force is a part of the Iranian government. Whether Ahmadinejad ordered the Quds force to do this, I don't think we know. But we do know that they're there, and I intend to do something about it. And I've asked our commanders to do something about it. And we're going to protect our troops.

Q But given some of contradictions, Mr. President --

THE PRESIDENT: There's no contradiction that the weapons are there and they were provided by the Quds force, Ed.

Q What assurances can you give the American people that the intelligence this time will be accurate?

THE PRESIDENT: Ed, we know they're there, we know they're provided by the Quds force. We know the Quds force is a part of the Iranian government. I don't think we know who picked up the phone and said to the Quds force, go do this, but we know it's a vital part of the Iranian government.

What matters is, is that we're responding. The idea that somehow we're manufacturing the idea that the Iranians are providing IEDs is preposterous, Ed. My job is to protect our troops. And when we find devices that are in that country that are hurting our troops, we're going to do something about it, pure and simple.

Now David says, does this mean you're trying to have a pretext for war? No. It means I'm trying to protect our troops. That's what that means. And that's what the family members of our soldiers expect the Commander-in-Chief and those responsible for -- responsible for our troops on the ground. And we'll continue do so.

No comments: