Monday, February 12, 2007

Top U.S. Military Commander Sees No Evidence Iran's Government Is Supplying Weapons to Iraq

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From Voice of America:

The top American military officer, General Peter Pace, declined Monday to endorse the conclusions of U.S. military officers in Baghdad, who told reporters on Sunday that the Iranian government is providing high-powered roadside bombs to insurgents in Iraq. General Pace made his comments during a visit to Australia, and VOA's Al Pessin reports from Canberra.

General Pace said he was not aware of the Baghdad briefing, and that he could not, from his own knowledge, repeat the assertion made there that the elite Quds brigade of Iran's Republican Guard force is providing bomb-making kits to Iraqi Shiite insurgents.

"We know that the explosively formed projectiles are manufactured in Iran. What I would not say is that the Iranian government, per se [specifically], knows about this," he said. "It is clear that Iranians are involved, 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."

No, nor can anyone else truthfully say they "know" that Iran's leaders know about the weapons smuggling or that they are involved in it; no one associated with the CIA or the Pentagon has shown any evidence, much less proof, that such claims are warranted. Unfortunately not many high-ranking defense or intelligence officials feel as constrained by such lack of hard evidence as Gen. Peter Pace does:

U.S. defense and intelligence officials today rolled out what they said was solid evidence that Iran was providing bombs to target U.S. and Iraqi troops and accused Iran's supreme leader of orchestrating the smuggling of such devices over the Iran-Iraq border.

At a briefing held under unusually secretive conditions here, the U.S. officials, who refused to be identified by name and did not allow cameras or recording devices inside a conference room, offered up tables laden with hardware and a slide show of documentation that they said bolstered the U.S. contentions of Iranian involvement in Iraqi unrest.

One of the officials, a military explosives expert, sat cradling the remnants of what he said was an Iranian-made explosively-formed penetrator, or EFP, on the table in front of him. The officer said that the device, which looked like a large coffee can stuffed with a gray, sandy substance, has been responsible for the deaths of at least 170 U.S. and other forces since first surfacing in Iraq in June 2004.

Also on display at the press conference were about three dozen tailfins of 60-milimeter and 81-milimeter mortars; two anti-tank rockets; shipping containers for mortars; a chunk of metal said to have been rocketed out of an Iranian-made explosive; and the identification cards, tucked into clear, plastic baggies, of two men arrested by U.S. agents in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil last month.

But beyond the displays of weapons, no evidence was presented to show that the weapons come from the Iranian government, or that Iran's leaders are authorizing their transfer to anti-American insurgents in Iraq.

Via Mahablog, Raw Story reports that Hillary Mann, an Iran expert and a former top official in the Bush administration, is accusing Pres. Bush of trying to provoke a war with Iran.

Over at Liberal Oasis, Bill Scher's "Sunday Talkshow Breakdown" contrasted Michael Gordon's administration-friendly New York Times piece -- "Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made By Iran, U.S. Says" -- with other major media coverage on Iran, most of which was much more circumspect about taking Pres. Bush's saber-rattling at face value.

For example, just one week before Gordon's article, "David Sanger and Mark Mazzetti wrote a NYT piece on how the Administration kept delaying a briefing about Iranian meddling in Iraq because of 'questions about the quality of the intelligence. ...' "

Another New York Times reporter, James Glanz, was at the dog-and-pony show in Baghdad yesterday, and he voiced considerable skepticism about the quality and completeness of the "evidence":

Today’s presentation of evidence is bound to generate skepticism among those suspicious that the Bush administration is trying to find a scapegoat for its problems in Iraq and, some political analysts and White House critics believe, is looking for an excuse to attack Iran. Tensions between the countries have been ratcheted up by disagreements over Tehran’s nuclear program, which Iranian officials say is focused on such peaceful uses as generating power, but which Washington asserts is being used to develop nuclear weapons.

During the briefing, the senior United States military officials were repeatedly pressed on why they insisted on anonymity in such an important matter affecting the security of American and Iraqi troops. A senior military official said that without anonymity, for example, the military analyst could not have contributed to the briefing.

The official also criticized recent news reports, saying they overstated the importance of today’s presentation, which had been previously announced and then delayed. The delay came about in part because officials in Washington had not been as persuaded as those in Baghdad that the original presentation was sufficiently strong. Officials here did not address that element of the internal debate.

“The reason we’re talking about this right now is the vast increase in the number of E.F.P.’s being found,” the official said. The American-led military forces, the official said, “are not trying to hype this up to be more than it is.”

Nevertheless, Glanz noted that "no direct evidence was presented of how the intelligence community [...] made that link" [between the weapons with Iranian markings found in Iraq, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which is directly connected to the Iranian government].

Liberal Oasis also links to an important Newsweek article by Michael Hirsh and Maziar Bahari, which points out the lack of "hard evidence that the weapons are provided by the Iranian government, rather than arms dealers or rogue Revolutionary Guard elements":

... "Iranian lethal support for select groups of Iraqi Shia militants clearly intensifies the conflict in Iraq," says the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. But the most that can be said with certainty is that Tehran is failing to stop the traffic. The Iranians themselves admit they're not trying as hard as they could. "I can give you my word that we don't give IEDs to the Mahdi Army," says an Iranian intelligence official who asked not to be named because secrecy is his business. "But if you asked me if we could control our borders better if we wanted to, I would say: 'Yes, if we knew that the Americans would not use Iraq as a base to attack Iran'."

Bill Scher ends his post with an observation that, in a sane government, would be common sense [emphasis in original]:

... Even if everything in the briefing is true, it doesn't follow that we should be gearing up for all-out war with Iran.

On CNN's Late Edition, former Defense intelligence analyst Pat Lang said:

...anybody who has been studying this knows the Iranians is playing a significant role in Iraq, as they're interested in a big way in the political outcome there. And the combat situation, of course, directly effects what the political outcome will be.

And I think there's not much doubt that they probably have been supplying material of one kind of another to the Iraqi Shia. I don't have a problem with believing that.

What I have a difficulty understanding ... is the idea that all of a sudden, that things which have probably been going on for months and months and months have taken on a whole new significance.

And we're beating the drum over and over again about the degree of Iranian participation and combat casualties amongst our troops when, in fact, the Iranians have been an ever-present factor from the beginning...

...there's kind of an eerie resemblance ... of what's going on in the continual iteration of statements concerning the Iranians, about their nuclear program, about their general menace in the world, about their actions in Iraq, all these kinds of things, which bears a kind of resemblance to what went on in '02, as part of the buildup to making people think that the Iraqis were such a menace that something had to be done...

The whole point of diplomatically engaging Iran and Syria is [to] turn them into forces of regional stability, not instability.

The possibility that they directly causing instability at the moment only heightens the urgency to reverse the situation.

Obviously, a US soldier faced with an Iranian attacker, as with any other attacker, has to act in self-defense.

But that possibility doesn't mean diplomats should sit on their hands.

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