Published on Tuesday, January 16, 2007 by Inter Press Service

Bush's New Iran Policy - No Evidence for IED Charge
by Gareth Porter

http://www.commondreams.org/headlines07/0116-08.htm

WASHINGTON - For 18 months now, the George W. Bush administration has
periodically raised the charge that Iran is supplying anti-coalition forces
in Iraq with arms.

But in the past, high administration officials have always admitted that
they have no real evidence to support it. Now, they are going further.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters on her current Middle
Eastern trip, "I think there is plenty of evidence that there is Iranian
involvement with these networks that are making high-explosive IEDs
[improvised explosive devices] and that are endangering our troops, and
that's going to be dealt with."

However, Rice failed to provide any evidence of official Iranian
involvement.

The previous pattern had been that U.S. and British officials suggest that
Iranian government involvement in the use by Sunni insurgents or Shiite
militias of "shaped charges" that can penetrate U.S. armoured vehicles is
the only logical conclusion that could be drawn from the facts. But when
asked point blank, they admit that they have no evidence to support it.

That charge serves not just one administration objective but two: it
provides an additional justification for aggressive rhetoric and pressures
against Tehran and also suggests that Iran bears much of the blame for the
sectarian violence in Baghdad and high levels of U.S. casualties from IEDs.

The origins of the theme of Iranian complicity strongly suggest that it was
a propaganda line aimed at reducing the Bush administration's acute
embarrassment at its inability to stop the growing death toll of U.S. troops
from shaped charges fired at armoured vehicles by Sunni insurgents.

The U.S. command admitted at first that the Sunnis were making the shaped
charges themselves. On Jun. 21, 2005, Gen. John R. Vines, then the senior
U.S. commander in Iraq, told reporters that the insurgents had probably
drawn on bomb-making expertise from former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's
army.

A Pentagon official involved in combating the new IEDs also told the New
York Times that the first such bombs examined by the U.S. military had
required considerable expertise, and that well-trained former government
specialists were probably involved in making them. The use of infrared
detonators was regarded as a tribute to the insurgents' "resourcefulness",
according to the Pentagon source.

But sometime in the next six weeks, the Bush administration made a decision
to start blaming its new problem in Iraq on Tehran. On Aug. 4, 2005,
Pentagon and intelligence officials leaked the story to NBC and CBS that
U.S. troops had "intercepted" dozens of shaped charges said to have been
"smuggled into northeastern Iraq only last week".

The NBC story quoted intelligence officials as saying they believed the IEDs
were shipped into Iraq by Iranian Revolutionary Guards or Hezbollah, but
were "convinced it could not have happened without the full consent of the
Iranian government."

These stories were leaked to coincide with public accusations by then
Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay
Khalilzad that Iran was meddling in Iraqi affairs. A few days after the
stories appeared, Rumsfeld declared that these shaped charges were "clearly,
unambiguously from Iran" and blamed Tehran for allowing the cross-border
traffic.

But the administration had a major credibility problem with that story. It
could not explain why Iran would want to assist the enemies of the militant
Shiite parties in Iraq that were aligned with Iran.

British troops in Shiite southern Iraq, where the shaped charges were
apparently used by Shiite militias, had an equally embarrassing problem with
the IEDs penetrating their armoured vehicles. An unnamed senior British
official in London told BCC on Oct. 5, 2005 that the shaped charges that had
killed British troops in southern Iraq had come from Hezbollah in Lebanon
via Iran.

The following day, British Prime Minister Tony Blair took the occasion of a
joint press conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani to declare that
the circumstances surrounding the bombs that killed British soldiers "lead
us either to Iranian elements or to Hezbollah." But Blair conceded that he
had no evidence of such a link.

Privately British officials said that the only basis for their suspicions
was that the technology was similar in design to the shaped charges used by
Hezbollah in its war to drive Israel out of southern Lebanon in the 1980s.

Anthony Cordesman, a highly respected military analyst at the Center for
Strategic and International Studies in Washington, explained why the story
line blaming Iran for the IED problem in Iraq didn't hold water. "A lot of
this is just technology that is leaked into an informal network," he told
Associated Press. "What works in one country gets known elsewhere."

The Blair government soon dropped that propaganda line. The Independent
reported Jan. 5, 2006 that government officials acknowledged privately that
there was no "reliable intelligence" connecting the Iranian government to
the more powerful IEDs in the south.

However, the U.S. administration continued to push that accusation, and Bush
himself raised the theme for the first time at a press conference Mar. 13,
2006. "Some of the most powerful IEDs we're seeing in Iraq today," he said,
"came from Iran."

Bush quoted the director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, as
testifying, "Tehran has been responsible for at least some of the increasing
lethality of anti-coalition attacks by providing Shia militia with the
capability to building improvised explosive devices."

No reporter has followed up on what Negroponte meant by providing the
"capability" to build such devices or why it the militias would need to go
outside Iraq to find that know-how.

The day after Bush's press conference, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted at a Pentagon news conference that he had no
evidence of the Iranian government sending any military equipment or
personnel into Iraq. Rumsfeld, appearing with Pace, said, "All you know is
that you find equipment in a country that came from the neighbouring
country."

Last November, as the release of the Iraq Study Report approached,
administration officials again planted the story of intercepted Iranian-made
weapons and munitions it had leaked in mid-2005. ABC news reported Nov. 30
that a "senior defence official" had told them of "smoking-gun evidence of
Iranian support for terrorists in Iraq: brand new weapons fresh from Iranian
factories."

The new twist in the story was that the weapons allegedly had manufacturing
dates in 2006. The story continued, "This suggests, say the sources, that
the material is going directly from Iranian factories to Shia militias,
rather than taking a roundabout path through the black market."

The assumption underlying the anti-Iran defence department spin that a
private market for weapons or, more likely, components, could not move them
from Iran across the porous border to Iraq in a few months is far-fetched.

At about the same time Bush apparently gave orders that the U.S. military
should seize any Iranians in the country in an effort to get some kind of
evidence to use in support of its propaganda theme. The first such operation
came in central Baghdad just before Christmas, and a second raid against
Iranian diplomats in Erbil was carried out to coincide with the president's
speech last Wednesday.

These raids, presented to the public as part of a campaign against targets
supposedly identified through good intelligence, were clearly aimed at
trying to substantiate an anti-Iran line for which the administration has no
credible evidence. Those raids now create a requirement to produce something
new to justify them.

Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. His
latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in
Vietnam", was published in June 2005.