On Sunday 11 February, anonymous
On Sunday 11 February, after days of press leaks, US military officials in
When it came to it, on 11 February, the â€˜senior US defence analystâ€™ presenting the â€˜evidenceâ€™ said (in an apparently little-reported admission â€“ see end of briefing) that there was â€˜no â€œsmoking gunâ€ linking
WHAT WAS PROMISED
A number of dramatic claims were made before the press conference. The Associated Press reported the day before that evidence to be presented included â€˜documents captured when U.S.-led forces raided an Iranian office Jan. 11 in
The New York Times reported on 10 February that the presentation would include â€˜information gleaned from Iranians and Iraqis captured in recent American raids on an Iranian office in Erbil and another site in
A few days earlier, a senior
Documents, possibly interviews, computer files, even â€˜shaped chargeâ€™ explosives. Much was promised.
WHAT WAS DELIVERED
According to the BBC account of the
What was on display, according to Reuters:
a) Fragments of an allegedly Iranian-made roadside bomb.
b) Fragments of fins from 81-mm and 60-mm mortar bombs. One grenade from a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
c) Slides showing other weapons, including a shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile.
d) Slides showing a complete mortar bomb, with serial and manufacturing number.
THE GENERAL ARGUMENT
There are two ways in which the
It was claimed in the New York Times that: â€˜The manufacture of the key metal components required sophisticated machinery, raw material and expertise that American intelligence agencies do not believe can be found in Iraq.â€™ In the Guardian, this gloss was offered: â€˜The briefers claimed the deadliest of the roadside bombs being used in
In the June 2006 Daily Telegraph report that first revealed the use of EFPs in Iraq, however, it says only that: â€˜this newspaper understands that Government scientists have established that the mines are precision-made weapons which have been turned on a lathe by craftsmen trained in the manufacture of munitionsâ€™.
No evidence has been produced that out of all the countries in the region, only
Anthony Cordesman, the respected US military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, responded to an earlier version of this claim by observing that Iraq's insurgents are probably just tapping a pool of common bomb-making technology, none of which requires special expertise: â€˜There's no evidence that these are supplied by Iran. A lot of this is just technology that is leaked into an informal network. What works in one country gets known elsewhere.â€™
THE 2006 MARKINGS
Specifically, it was said that some of the bombs and fragments on display were said to have Iranian factory markings - from 2006, no less: â€˜
As Gareth Porter of IPS pointed out in the Asian Times, this story was based on the claim that â€˜a private market for weapons or, more likely, components, could not move them from
At the 11 February Baghdad press conference, a US official said: â€˜We assess that these activities are coming from the senior levels of the Iranian government,â€™ pointing the finger at Iranâ€™s elite al-Quds brigade, a unit of the Revolutionary Guards, noting also that this unit reports directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei. However, this â€˜assessmentâ€™ does not have any basis in the evidence produced, apart from unsupported allegations that Iranians seized in Arbil and Baghdad have included members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the al-Quds brigade.
In mid-2005, at a more honest phase of the war, US Lieutenant General John R. Vines, Commander of the â€˜Multinational Corpsâ€™ in Iraq, conceded that the Iraqi insurgents were â€˜certainly getting some outside adviceâ€™, but he pointed out that there was â€˜some technical expertise that was resident in the Iraqi army, probably from their explosive ordnance personnel.â€™ He concluded: â€˜So, in terms of technical support, I donâ€™t see it from a government, I donâ€™t see support by other governments.â€™
A few months later, in November 2005 (after a high-level decision had been taken to blame Iran), there was still a relatively honest briefing from British Army Major General J.B. Dutton, the commander of the US-led forces in southeastern Iraq. General Dutton said the smuggling of the deadlier weapons had been difficult to stop because of the long, open border between
Even if we accept these unsubstantiated claims, they fail to demonstrate that the Iranian Government is authorizing or organizing these supplies. A number of press reports support the notion that arms are being smuggled into
To take only one example, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reported on this topic in the Guardian on 27 January 2007:â€˜Fadhel and other Mahdi army officers also describe a complex relationship with
This is evidence against a coordinated high-level Iranian government initiative. The variety of prices and weapons, and the dependence on the particular Iranian broker or donor all argue for an informal market place, with a mixture of criminals and sympathisers supplying weapons, rather than a â€˜high-technologyâ€™ ideologically-driven programme being run through an elite military force on the instruction of the head of state.
There are other reasons to be sceptical. â€˜Few doubt that
The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) is one of the two largest parties in the Iraqi parliament. It was based in
Patrick Cockburn, Baghdad reporter for the Independent, points out that the Shia group which is taking a confrontational approach, Muqtada al-Sadrâ€™s Mehdi Army, is not a natural ally of Tehran: â€˜the most powerful Shia militia, the Mehdi Army, is traditionally anti-Iranian. It is the [SCIRI] Badr Organisation, now co-operating with US forces, which was formed and trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.â€™
THE IRA CONNECTION
From a narrower perspective, when we are confronted with strong claims such as these, it is salutary to reflect on similar recent propaganda initiatives. Not long ago, it was being asserted confidently that Iraqi insurgents must be receiving technical assistance from Iran and its clients in Lebanon, the Hezbollah guerrillas, because roadside bombs were beginning to use sophisticated infra-red triggering devices (which could not be blocked by Western technology). This story abruptly disappeared from the media after the Independent on Sunday revealed that this technology actually originated from the IRA rather than Hezbollah, and that the IRA had been facilitated in developing it by the British Government itself.
A British intelligence source told the newspaper that the Army â€˜Force Research Unitâ€™ and officers from MI5 learned in the early 1990s that a senior IRA member in south
It may seem absurd that the security services were supplying technology to the IRA, but the strategy was sound,â€™ said an official source. â€˜Unfortunately, no one could see back then that this technology would be used to kill British soldiers thousands of miles away in a different war.â€™ A former British agent who infiltrated the IRA told the Independent on Sunday that the light-trigger technology reached the
We cited Anthony Cordesman earlier on this point: â€˜A lot of this is just technology that is leaked into an informal network. What works in one country gets known elsewhere.â€™
A TIMID EFFORT
A classified US intelligence report from 2006 cited in the New York Times said: â€˜All source reporting since 2004 indicates that Iranâ€™s Islamic Revolutionary Corps-Quds Force is providing professionally-built EFPs and components to Iraqi Shia militants. Based on forensic analysis of materials recovered in Iraq. Iran is assessed as the producer of these items.â€™ Speaking before the Baghdad press conference, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said: â€˜Well, I think that Iran is very much involved in providing either the technology or the weapons themselves for these explosively formed projectiles.â€™ Gates said that the markings on the explosives provided â€˜pretty goodâ€™ evidence that Iranians are supplying either weapons or technology for Iraqi extremists: â€˜I think thereâ€™s some serial numbers, there may be some markings on some of the projectile fragments that we found.â€™
Also speaking before the press conference, a US intelligence official â€˜said the U.S. is â€œfairly comfortableâ€ it knows the source of the explosives.â€™ During the press conference, a US official said: â€˜We assess that these activities are coming from the senior levels of the Iranian government.â€™
Also during the presentation, the â€˜senior US defence analystâ€™ present said that there was â€˜no â€œsmoking gunâ€ linking Tehran and Iraqi militantsâ€™.
What do we have? â€˜Assessmentsâ€™, â€˜indicationsâ€™, â€˜thoughtsâ€™, â€˜pretty goodâ€™ evidence that the US is â€˜fairly comfortableâ€™ with. No smoking gun. No real evidence.
THE BRITISH MEDIA REACTION
The British national â€˜qualityâ€™ dailies have sharply differing treatments of the Baghdad presentation, with one curious feature in common, however.
The Times puts the story on page 31, with no front page trail, and highlights in paragraph 3 the â€˜cautionâ€™ and â€˜suspicionâ€™ of journalists because of the timing of the presentation â€˜coinciding with Washington intensifying the pressure on Tehran over its nuclear programmeâ€™. Nevertheless, the claims are reported without qualification, and an accompany editorial is uncompromisingly hard-line, accepting the claims without a murmur.
After a straightforward no-questions-asked â€˜reporting the claimsâ€™ front-page trail, the Telegraph (the newspaper of the armed forces) has the most technically detailed report of all the newspapers on page 16. It also sounds a cautious note amidst the technicalities: â€˜This level of sophistication may point to Iran, as only a state arms company would have the ability to manufacture weapons of this kind.â€™
The Guardian has a front-page trail to a page 15 story. Rather than question the claims itself or seek out a Western (and more credible) sceptic, the paper puts criticisms in the mouth of the Iranian Government: â€˜Iran will dismiss the claims, saying it is hardly surprising there are Iranian weapons in Iraq given that the two countries fought between 1980 and 1988, and that Tehran had armed militia groups fighting Saddam Hussein.â€™
The Independent on the other hand (after devoting the entire front page to the story), leads with a sceptical analysis by Patrick Cockburn filling most of page 2. Among other points, Cockburn writes: â€˜The US stance on the military capabilities of Iraqis today is the exact opposite of its position in four years ago. Then President Bush and Tony Blair claimed that Iraqis were technically advanced enough to produce long-range missiles and to be close to producing a nuclear device. Washington is now saying that Iraqis are too backward to produce an effective roadside bomb and must seek Iranian help.â€™
The Financial Times relegates the entire production to three short agency paragraphs at the end of an unrelated story on page 6, indicating the lack of credibility and substance of the Baghdad presentation. The shell and component markings are not mentioned at all:
â€˜US-led forces in Iraq have presented what officials said was â€œa growing bodyâ€ of evidence of Iranian weapons being used to kill their soldiers, as US anger rises at Tehranâ€™s alleged involvement in the war, Reuters reports from Baghdad. A US defence official in Baghdad said 170 coalition troops had been killed by Iranian-made roadside bombs he said had been smuggled into Iraq. Tehran denies the charge and blames US soldiers for the violence and for inflaming tensions between Shia and once-dominant Sunni.â€™
One striking common feature to all of these stories is that none of them mentions the key admission made by the US â€˜senior defence analystâ€™, reported by Reuters, that there was â€˜no â€œsmoking gunâ€ linking Tehran and Iraqi militantsâ€™.
QUESTIONS FOR THE GOVERNMENT
1) How are the serial numbers on the components and bombs retrieved in Iraq linked to Iran?
2) What is the evidence that components or weapons smuggled into Iraq from Iran are authorized by the Iranian Government, as opposed to criminal gangs or individuals within the Iranian armed forces? In other words, what new evidence has emerged since the press conference held by Major General J.B. Dutton in November 2005, in which he said: â€˜I think we donâ€™t know whether this is Iranian government policy or if this is splinter groups who are using Iran for their own purposes and not being controlledâ€™?
3) What is the evidence that components or weapons smuggled into Iraq that bear 2006 manufacturing dates could not have circulated via the informal arms market rather than via an official government channel?
4) What has happened to the documents allegedly captured when US-led forces raided Iranian offices in Arbil and Baghdad? In particular, what has happened to the documents and computer drives described as a â€˜treasure troveâ€™ on Iranâ€™s â€˜networks, supply lines, sourcing and fundingâ€™? Did these documents ever exist, and if so what has happened to them?
5) What relevant information, if any, was â€˜gleanedâ€™ from Iranians and Iraqis captured in these US raids?
6) Were any explosives â€“ in particular, â€˜shaped chargesâ€™ - discovered in the presence of Iranians seized in Iraq?
7) What is the evidence that political groups and militias supported by Iran are engaging in an armed campaign against the occupation?
8) What is the evidence that the Mehdi Army is receiving support of any kind from the Iranian Government?
9) Is it true that light trigger technologies being used by Iraqi insurgents can be traced back to technology that British intelligence allowed the IRA to acquire in the late 1990s?
10) Why, in January 2006, did the British Government withdraw its similar claims as to Iranâ€™s role in Iraqâ€™s insurgency?
 The EFP differs from the â€˜shaped chargeâ€™ (SC) in that it fires a solid object, whereas the SC fires a blast of superheated metal â€˜gasâ€™ (plasma) that can burn through heavy armour. Despite being more slow moving, the EFP has one key advantage over the SC. Modern tank armour has explosive panels which detonate when then SC gas starts to burn through the outer layers of armour. This counter-explosion (known as â€˜Explosive Reactive Armourâ€™) disrupts the SC attack and renders it much less efficient, allowing the armoured vehicle to survive. The advantage of the EFP is that because its metal projectile is at a lower temperature than an SC plasma it can break through â€˜Explosive Reactive Armourâ€™ without triggering the counter-explosion, and therefore achieve its full destructive effect. â€˜INFANTRY 1, TANK 0: Hand-Held Anti-Tank Weaponsâ€™, SoldierTech, Military.Com 2004 http://tinyurl.com/3bxmbp.
 â€˜Bombs in Iraq Getting More Sophisticatedâ€™, AP, 10 November 2005
 â€˜Bombs in Iraq Getting More Sophisticatedâ€™, AP, 10 November 2005
 David Blair, Diplomatic Correspondent and Ben Rooney, â€˜US presents â€œevidenceâ€ that weapons from Iran are being used in Iraqâ€™, Telegraph, 12 February 2007 http://tinyurl.com/2kgf2h, emphasis added.
 Emphases added. These paragraphs are not present on the web. Appended in the print edition to Demetri Sevastopulo and Stephen Fidler, â€˜Gates plays down Putin attack on US policyâ€™, Financial Times, 12 February 2007, p. 6.
 In January 2006, The Times and the Independent both reported that British officials in Iraq had withdrawn this claim, and in particular the assertion that Iran was supplying a new and more deadly design of roadside bomb with infrared triggers which cannot be disrupted by US/UK technology. BBC News Online, 10 January 2006 http://tinyurl.com/2wgxca. A year later, â€˜Senior British officials, citing mistakes over Saddam Husseinâ€™s alleged weapons of mass destruction, are voicing scepticism about US efforts to build an intelligence-based case against Iran... Amid signs of a concerted American operation to prove that Iran is threatening US troops in the region, British officials say that they are â€œnot aware of a smoking gunâ€ that would justify taking military action against Tehran.â€™ Times, 1 February 2007, http://tinyurl.com/ypl5kx.