US Briefing on Iran Discredits the Official Line
    By Gareth Porter
    IPS News

    http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/021407D.shtml

    Washington - The first major effort by the George W. Bush administration
to substantiate its case that the Iranian government has been providing
weapons to Iraqi Shiites who oppose the occupation undermines the
administration's political line by showing that it has been unable to find
any real evidence of an Iranian government role.

    Contradicting recent claims by both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
and Secretary of Defence Robert Gates that U.S. intelligence had proof of
Iranian government responsibility for the supply of such weapons, the
unnamed officials who briefed the media Sunday admitted that the claim is
merely "an inference" rather than based on a trail of evidence.

    Although it was clearly not the intention, moreover, the briefing
revealed for the first time that the Iranians and Iraqis detained by U.S.
forces in recent months did not provide any evidence implicating either the
Iranian government or the Islamic Revolutionary Guards in the acquisition of
armour-piercing explosive devices and other weapons by Iraqi Shiite groups.

    Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace further underlined
the weakness of the administration's case by declaring Monday in an
interview with Voice of America, "It is clear that Iranians are involved,
and it's clear that materials from Iran are involved," he continued, "but I
would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is
complicit."

    In the end, the administration presentation suggested that there could
be no other explanation for the presence of Iranian-made weapons than
official government sponsorship of smuggling them into Iraq. But in doing
so, they had to ignore a well-known reality: most weapons, including
armour-piercing projectiles, can be purchased by anyone through
intermediaries in the Middle East.

    The briefing displayed a number of weapons or photographs of weapons
said to have been found in Iraq, including what were called "explosively
formed penetrators" (EFPs), which the officials said were smuggled into the
country by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard "Quds Force". The RPG-7s and 81
mm mortar rounds shown to reporters did indeed have markings showing that
they had been recently manufactured, and there is no reason to doubt that
those weapons were manufactured in Iran.

    The argument for Iranian official responsibility assumes that such
weapons are so tightly controlled that Shiite groups could not purchase them
in small numbers on the black market in Iran, Syria or Lebanon. It is well
documented, however, that the Shiites have resorted to black market networks
to obtain EFPs.

    An article in Jane's Intelligence Review last month by Michael Knights,
chief of analysis for the Olive Group, a private security consulting firm,
reports that the British discovered that there was indeed an organisation in
Basra engaged in arranging for the purchase and delivery of imported EFPs
and that it was comprised entirely of police officials, including members of
the Police Intelligence Unit, the Internal Affairs Directorate and the Major
Crimes Unit. They found that members of the organisation followed no
specific Shiite faction, but included members from all the factions in
Basra.

    The Washington Post quoted one of the U.S. officials at the briefing as
saying that there was no "widespread involvement" of the Iraqi government in
supplying weaponry, thus implicitly conceding that some elements of the
Iraqi government officials are indeed involved in the weapons traffic.

    By insisting that the Iranian government was involved, the Bush
administration has conjured up the image of a smuggling operation so vast
that it could not occur without official sanction. In fact, as Knights
points out, the number of EFPs exploded monthly has remained at about 100,
which clearly would not require high level connivance to maintain a flow of
imports.

    The power point slides presented to the press in Baghdad ended with a
slide that essentially confirms that the evidence points not to official
sponsorship of cross-border weapons smuggling but to private arms
trafficking networks.

    The slide, which can be viewed on the Talking Points Memo website,
includes the curious statement that information from detainees "included
references to Iranian provision of weapons to Iraqi militants engaged in
anti-coalition violence." That formulation carefully avoids stating that any
of the information implicated Iranian officials. Furthermore the slide's six
bullet points, representing the concrete "highlights" of the information,
fail to make reference to any official Iranian role in the smuggling of
weapons across the border.

    In fact, the slide reveals that the smuggling is handled by what it
calls "Iraqi extremist group members", not by the Qods Force of the Iranian
Revolutionary Guards. The oral presentation accompanying the power point
indicated that the smuggling had been carried out by "paid Iraqis", without
specifying who was paying them, according to the New York Times report.

    The final bullet point of the slide says, "Qods Force provides support
to extremist groups in Iraq by supplying money, training and propaganda
operations." But its silence on the question of supplying weapons to groups
in Iraq represents a serious blow to the credibility of the administration's
line.

    The EFPs used against U.S. and British troops in Iraq were the
centrepiece of the briefing. But the anonymous U.S. officials did not claim
that the finished products have been manufactured in Iran. Instead they
referred to machining of EFP "components" - referring to the concave metal
lids on the devices - as being done in Iran.

    That position parallels the testimony by Gen. John P. Abizaid on Mar.
16, 2006 to the Senate Armed Services Committee, which claimed only that
"sophisticated bomb-making material from Iran has been found in improvised
explosive devices in Iraq".

    It also raises an obvious question: if Iran has the technical ability to
supply the complete EFPs, why are only components being smuggled into Iraq?

    The absence of shipments of complete EFPs suggests that the components
that have been smuggled in have been manufactured in small workshops outside
the official system. Knights, the most knowledgeable and politically neutral
source on the issue, says
these components could have been manufactured by a
"small handful of external bomb-makers". He notes that the only source to
claim that the Iranian defence industry is the source of the EFP components
is the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran.

    The U.S. briefers argued that EFPs are not being manufactured within
Iraq. The New York Times quoted a "senior military official" as saying that
they had "no evidence" that the machining of components for EFPs "has ever
been done in Iraq".

    But Knights presents evidence in Jane's Intelligence Review that the
Iraqi Shiites have indeed manufactured both the components for EFPs and the
complete EFPs. He observes that the kind of tools required to fabricate EFPs
"can easily be found in Iraqi metalworking shops and garages."

    He also notes that some of the EFPs found in Iraq had substituted steel
plates for the copper lining found in the externally made lids. Knights
calculates the entire production of EFPs exploded thus far could have been
manufactured in one or at most two simple workshops with one or two
specialists in each - one in the Baghdad area and one in southern Iraq.

    "I'm surprised that they haven't found evidence of making EFPs in Iraq,"
Knights told IPS in an interview. "That doesn't ring true for me." Knights
believes that there was a time when whole EFPs were imported from outside,
but that now most, if not all, are manufactured by Iraqis.

    Taking into account the false notes struck by the anonymous officials,
the damaging admissions they made and the absence of information they needed
to make a case, the briefing appears to have been a serious setback to the
administration's propaganda campaign. It will certainly haunt administration
officials trying to convince Congress to support its increased
aggressiveness toward Iran.

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