Analysts: US May Not Be Primary Target of Iranian Arms in Iraq
(Source: Voice of America News; issued Feb. 12, 2007)
U.S. military officials in Baghdad are accusing the Iranian government of providing sophisticated explosives to Shiite militias in Iran. Iran has denied the charge. But, as VOA correspondent Gary Thomas reports, even if the accusation is true, the arms may not necessarily be destined for attacks on U.S. forces.

The allegation that Iran is providing arms to Iraqi insurgents is not new.

In his address on Iraq last month, President Bush bluntly blamed Iran for arming insurgents to attack American troops.

"Iran is providing material support for attacks on American troops," he said. "We will disrupt the attacks on our forces. We' will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq."

But Ken Katzman, a Middle East analyst at the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, believes U.S. troops are not the primary target of the smuggled munitions. He says the Iranians are arming Shiite militias. Yet, he points out, most of the attacks on U.S. forces come from Sunni insurgents.

He said, "Most of the I.E.D.s [improvised explosive devices], most of the roadside bombs, that are having the most effect on American troops are from Sunni insurgents." "And I have not seen any evidence presented from the military or elsewhere that these Iranian arms are going to Sunni insurgents, which leads me to question what really is the significance," he continued.

Wayne White, former deputy director of Near East affairs for State Department intelligence, disagrees. He notes that some of the arms displayed by officials in Baghdad are armor-piercing rockets - and only the U.S. and Britain have armored vehicles in Iraq.

"Why would anybody be arming anybody there with this kind of munition? Only to get somebody who has got the kind of vehicle that this munition is needed to open up like a can opener. And we are the only ones who have it. This is an anti-American weapon in Iraq," he said.

The U.S. officials contend that the approval to arm the militias comes from what they call the highest levels of the Iranian government, which would mean President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Ken Katzman says Iran is arming its co-religionist Shiite militias, Katzman believes, in anticipation of an all-out Sunni-Shia civil war. He said, "My working assumption is that it is broadly approved at the highest levels, which would mean Ahmadinejad, obviously, but also [former president] Rafsanjani and Khamenei, because my analysis is that these weapons are primarily to position Shiite militias for a coming all-out civil war with Sunnis."

"That would be something that all the factions would agree. All the factions in Iranian government want the Shiites to win any possible civil war in Iraq," he added.

The U.S. presentation made to reporters in Iraq marks the first time officials have produced what they say is clear evidence of direct Iranian involvement in the violence in Iraq.

Paul Pillar, a former senior Middle East analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, says it shows the United States is ratcheting up its anti-Iran rhetoric.

He said, "It is a rhetorical escalation. Clearly there have been other elements and other bits of rhetoric that would support that thesis as well. I think the bigger question then is, escalation for what purpose? Is it just trying to scare the Iranians into, one hopes, making greater concessions on the nuclear issue or something else? Is it more of a reminder to be more careful or constrained on what they do in Iraq? I do not know. It could be elements of those. But some people have speculated it is paving the way for perhaps a more forceful policy against Iran."

Ken Katzman, as well as other analysts, say the Sunni groups get their arms from private sources in the region, as well as from stockpiles from Saddam Hussein's army. (ends)


Top American General Disputes US Military Claim on Iran
(Source: Voice of America News; issued Feb. 12, 2007)
CANBERRA, Australia --- 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."

Military officers who spoke to reporters in Baghdad, Monday, on condition of anonymity, said the high-powered projectile bombs are made with parts manufactured in Iran and that intelligence indicates the parts are sent to Iraq with the approval of senior Iranian officials. The officials said the bombs, whose projectiles can pierce the skin of an armored vehicle, have killed 170 American troops.

General Pace also commented on an issue that has received a lot of attention in recent hours - the question of whether setting a specific timeline for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is a good idea. He says a withdrawal before Iraq's government and military can maintain stability would be disastrous and would have a 'spillover' effect in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The general commented shortly after meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, but without specific reference to Howard's long-distance dispute with U.S. presidential contender Barack Obama.

"I don't see precise timelines as being useful. It should not be an open-ended commitment. Certainly it's time for the Iraqis, as they are, to stand up and take on more of their own responsibility. But to put a precise timeline on it means that you are signaling to your potential enemies that, if they just hold their breath for this amount of time, then we'll all be gone and they can come back out of the woodwork."

The latest person to enter the race to become the Democratic Party's presidential candidate next year, Senator Obama, has called for a withdrawal of all American troops from Iraq by March of next year. The Australian prime minister said terrorists would support such a plan. From around the world, Obama shot back that, if Howard feels so strongly, he should send 20,000 more Australian troops to Iraq.

Australia has just 1,400 troops in Iraq, and its entire active duty military is only 52,000 strong. But General Pace told reporters Monday the Australian troops are making a valuable contribution, in spite of their low numbers.

"The fight we're in against terrorism is not about large armies versus large armies. It's about small groups of individuals - five, 10, 15, 20 - who are reaching out to assist those who are in need," he said. "And, in that regard, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, Australia should be able to take great pride."

The general says all nations that value freedom should participate in fighting the global terrorist threat. (ends)


Tehran Denies US Charge that it Supplies Bombs to Iraqi Insurgents
(Source: Voice of America News; issued Feb. 12, 2007)
Tehran has denied U.S. accusations that Iran's most senior leaders have ordered the delivery of sophisticated roadside bombs to insurgents in Iraq.

An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, said Monday the U.S. charges are "unacceptable" and accused Washington of fabricating evidence.

In an interview with the American television network ABC, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country tries to avoid conflict. He said peace would return to Iraq when U.S. and other foreign forces withdraw.

On Sunday, a group of senior U.S. officials in Baghdad showed journalists what they said was proof that Iranian-made roadside bombs were being used against American forces. The officials said the explosives had killed at least 170 coalition troops in Iraq since 2004.

The top U.S. military officer, General Peter Pace, said today that it is clear materials from Iran are involved, but he said he does not know if the Iranian government is complicit. General Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made his comments during a visit to Australia.

Several U.S. Democratic Party senators expressed skepticism Sunday about the U.S. government's findings, and cautioned the Bush administration to resolve any disputes with Iran diplomatically rather than militarily. (ends)


White House Stands By Iran Weapons Claim
(Source: Voice of America News; issued Feb. 12, 2007)
The White House says it stands by evidence showing a link between Iran and weapons found in Iraq. White House spokesman Tony Snow says the evidence is sound.

"There is evidence there has been some weaponry coming across the Iraqi border.”

Snow says the latest disclosure is in line with concerns voiced by President Bush that Iran may be trying to instigate violence in Iraq. He says the United States is releasing the evidence because it is determined to protect its troops, and not to make the case for possible military action against Iran.

"I do not know how much clearer we can be," he said. "We are not getting ready for war in Iran, but what we are doing is protecting our own people. And we are going to do it and we have made clear it is going to be a priority."

Snow notes that military investigators found serial numbers on weapons indicating they are of Iranian origin. They include the armor-busting roadside bombs that have claimed the lives of more than 170 coalition troops.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad was asked about the evidence during an interview aired on American television. He told ABC's Good Morning America that the United States is trying to shift the blame for the lack of security in Iraq, adding peace will only come when the Americans leave Iraq.

"We shy away from any kind of conflict and any kind of bloodshed, and we will be sad by such," said Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. "We are opposed to any kind of conflict and as we have said repeatedly, we think the world problem can be solved through dialogue, the use of logic and a sense of friendship. There is no need for the use of force."

When asked about Iran's desire for peace, White House spokesman Snow had a quick response. "Well, it has got funny ways of showing it," noted Tony Snow. "We think the Iranians, if they want to promote peace, need to stop funding Hezbollah, they need to stop funding terrorist organizations around the world."

Snow said America would love for the Iranians to be a force for peace in the region, and is waiting to see if President Ahmadinejad's words are followed by action.

-ends-




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