A JNV Note
By Milan Rai
The US claims that Iran supplies Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDS) to Iraqi insurgents.
No serious evidence has been provided.
12 February 2007
On Sunday 11 February, anonymous US officials presented roadside bombs, and components and fragments of bombs, and other weapons used by Iraqi insurgents, claiming that they had been manufactured in Iran and smuggled into Iraq on the orders of the highest levels of the Iranian Government. The language used by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, and by the briefers themselves, however, was tentative rather than conclusive. Dramatic ‘evidence’ that had been promised failed to materialize. Claims that the serial numbers and quality of machining of weapons and components could only have originated in Iran were not substantiated with any detail. No evidence was produced that the weapons and components had come via government channels rather than through criminal markets or informal and irregular contacts with Iranian military units. The Iraqi party and militia closest to Iran has actually been recognized for its support for the US occupation. One previous claim as to the Iranian provenance of insurgent technology actually traces back to the IRA, who apparently acquired the bomb-triggering capability with the knowledge and facilitation of the British Government. Curiously, none of the British national ‘quality’ dailies reports the admission of one of the US briefers that there was ‘no “smoking gun” linking Tehran and Iraqi militants’.
On Sunday 11 February, after days of press leaks, US military officials in Baghdad made allegations of high-level Iranian Government involvement in the supply of weapons and training to Iraqi insurgents. Most of these allegations centred on the increasing sophistication of ‘improvised explosive devices’ (IEDs) used as roadside bombs by Iraqi insurgents targeting US military convoys. The ‘evidence’ produced to support these claims in fact amounted to little more than assertion. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the gap between what we had been promised and what was actually unveiled. Months earlier, it has been excitedly reported that there was ‘smoking-gun evidence of Iranian support for terrorists in Iraq: brand-new weapons fresh from Iranian factories.’
When it came to it, on 11 February, the ‘senior US defence analyst’ presenting the ‘evidence’ said (in an apparently little-reported admission – see end of briefing) that there was ‘no “smoking gun” linking Tehran and Iraqi militants’.
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 ‘documents captured when U.S.-led forces raided an Iranian office Jan. 11 in Irbil in northern Iraq’. According to this advance briefing, the materials to be displayed included ‘2 inches of documents’ demonstrating Iran’s role in supplying Iraqi militants with highly sophisticated and lethal improvised explosive devices and other weaponry.
The New York Times reported on 10 February that the presentation would include ‘information gleaned from Iranians and Iraqis captured in recent American raids on an Iranian office in Erbil and another site in Baghdad.’
A few days earlier, a senior US military intelligence official told reporters that ‘shaped charges’ had been discovered ‘in the presence of Iranians captured in the country.’ He declined to elaborate but noted that US operators who raided an Iranian office in the Iraqi Kurdish city of Arbil in January 2007 captured documents and computer drives he called a ‘treasure trove’ on Iran’s ‘networks, supply lines, sourcing and funding.’
Documents, possibly interviews, computer files, even ‘shaped charge’ explosives. Much was promised.
WHAT WAS DELIVERED
According to the BBC account of the Baghdad press conference, none of this materialized. There were no documents from the US raids in Arbil or Baghdad, certainly no ‘two-inch’ stack of documents. No massive intelligence-based ‘dossier’ was offered. US officials said at the press conference that incriminating documents had been discovered in these raids (including ‘inventory sheets of weaponry and equipment that had been brought into Iraq’), but none were produced for journalists to assess. There was no mention of any other evidence ‘gleaned’ from the Iranians or Iraqis kidnapped by the US in these raids. No ‘shaped charges’ captured with these alleged operators were presented or even referred to.
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 US has attempted to link Iran to these weapons. The first is a general argument. US concern centres on a new form of roadside bomb, described in Western military terminology as a ‘explosively formed projectile’ (EFP). The EFP is a tube of explosives with a concave lid of metal capping one end. The explosives fire and re-shape the lid into a high-speed, super-hot projectile that can punch its way through heavy armour.
It was claimed in the New York Times that: ‘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.’ In the Guardian, this gloss was offered: ‘The briefers claimed the deadliest of the roadside bombs being used in Iraq were from Iran: the machine-tooling was so sophisticated that the only place it could have been done in that part of the region was Iran.’
In the June 2006 Daily Telegraph report that first revealed the use of EFPs in Iraq, however, it says only that: ‘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 munitions’.
No evidence has been produced that out of all the countries in the region, only Iran possesses ‘lathes’ and ‘operators trained in the manufacture of munitions’. No evidence has been produced that Iraq lacks these ingredients for the production of EFPs. As for the ‘raw materials’, there is no lack of metal tubes or explosives in Iraq. An independent assessment of IEDs in Iraq, obtained by Defense News in 2006 and based on British military intelligence, said, ‘Based on current usage, there are enough stocks of illegal explosives to continue the same level of attack for 274 years without re-supply.’
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: ‘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.’
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: ‘U.S. officials say they have found smoking-gun evidence of Iranian support for terrorists in Iraq: brand-new weapons fresh from Iranian factories. According to a senior defense official, coalition forces have recently seized Iranian-made weapons and munitions that bear manufacturing dates in 2006. 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. “There is no way this could be done without (Iranian) government approval,” says a senior official.’
As Gareth Porter of IPS pointed out in the Asian Times, this story was based on the claim 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’.
At the 11 February Baghdad press conference, a US official said: ‘We assess that these activities are coming from the senior levels of the Iranian government,’ pointing the finger at Iran’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 ‘assessment’ 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 ‘Multinational Corps’ in Iraq, conceded that the Iraqi insurgents were ‘certainly getting some outside advice’, but he pointed out that there was ‘some technical expertise that was resident in the Iraqi army, probably from their explosive ordnance personnel.’ He concluded: ‘So, in terms of technical support, I don’t see it from a government, I don’t see support by other governments.’
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 Iraq and Iran. He added: ‘I think we don’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 controlled.’ Dutton also conceded: ‘We’re not completely certain where the manufacture takes place. We know where the technological know-how comes from, and we suspect where the parts come from.’ The bombs were of varying grades of sophistication, with some requiring a simple workshop to build and others ‘a reasonably sophisticated factory,” he said: ‘Some are probably put together in country [in Iraq]. Others may not be.’
At the Baghdad press conference, a US official asserted that the ‘machining’ on the bomb components was traceable to Iran – without elaborating further. Earlier, the new Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, had made the public claim that the serial numbers on the bomb components provided a link to Iran. As a wire report pointed out, ‘Gates’ remarks left unclear how the U.S. knows the numbers are traceable to Iran.’
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 Iraq across the border with Iran.
To take only one example, Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reported on this topic in the Guardian on 27 January 2007:‘Fadhel and other Mahdi army officers also describe a complex relationship with Iraq’s Shia neighbour. Iran, which backs a rival Shia faction to the Mahdi Army, secured a PR success when Mr Sadr upon his arrival in Tehran last year announced that the Mahdi Army would defend Iran if attacked by the US. One Mahdi Army commander told me: “The Iranians are helping us not because they like us, but because they hate the US.” The help comes in different forms. “We get weapons from them, mortar shells, RPG rounds, sometimes they give us weapons for free sometimes we have to buy. Depends on who is doing the deal,” said the same commander.’
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 ‘high-technology’ ideologically-driven programme being run through an elite military force on the instruction of the head of state.
IRAN, SCIRI AND THE OCCUPATION
There are other reasons to be sceptical. ‘Few doubt that Iran is seeking to extend its influence in Iraq. But the groups in Iraq that have received the most Iranian support are not those that have led attacks against U.S. forces. Instead, they are nominal U.S. allies.’
The Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) is one of the two largest parties in the Iraqi parliament. It was based in Iran during Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, and it is believed to be the largest beneficiary of Iranian support. This has not led it into militant opposition or insurgency, however. Quite the reverse. Since SCIRI returned to Iraq, it has effectively collaborated with the US occupation. President Bush played host to the head of SCIRI, Abdelaziz Hakim, at the White House in December 2006, and, as the Los Angeles Times points out, ‘administration officials have frequently cited Adel Abdul Mehdi, another party leader, as a person they would like to see as Iraq’s prime minister.’
Patrick Cockburn, Baghdad reporter for the Independent, points out that the Shia group which is taking a confrontational approach, Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army, is not a natural ally of Tehran: ‘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.’
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 ‘Force Research Unit’ and officers from MI5 learned in the early 1990s that a senior IRA member in south Armagh was working to develop bombs triggered by light beams. It was decided that the risks would be diminished if British intelligence knew what technology was being used, and therefore the IRA was permitted to purchase the required items in New York. ‘The thinking of the security forces was that if they were intimate with the technology, then they could develop counter-measures, thereby staying one step ahead of the IRA.
It may seem absurd that the security services were supplying technology to the IRA, but the strategy was sound,’ said an official source. ‘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.’ A former British agent who infiltrated the IRA told the Independent on Sunday that the light-trigger technology reached the Middle East through the IRA’s co-operation with Palestinian groups. In turn, some of these groups used to be sponsored by Saddam Hussein and his Ba’ath party.
We cited Anthony Cordesman earlier on this point: ‘A lot of this is just technology that is leaked into an informal network. What works in one country gets known elsewhere.’
A TIMID EFFORT
A classified US intelligence report from 2006 cited in the New York Times said: ‘All source reporting since 2004 indicates that Iran’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.’ Speaking before the Baghdad press conference, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said: ‘Well, I think that Iran is very much involved in providing either the technology or the weapons themselves for these explosively formed projectiles.’ Gates said that the markings on the explosives provided ‘pretty good’ evidence that Iranians are supplying either weapons or technology for Iraqi extremists: ‘I think there’s some serial numbers, there may be some markings on some of the projectile fragments that we found.’
Also speaking before the press conference, a US intelligence official ‘said the U.S. is “fairly comfortable” it knows the source of the explosives.’ During the press conference, a US official said: ‘We assess that these activities are coming from the senior levels of the Iranian government.’
Also during the presentation, the ‘senior US defence analyst’ present said that there was ‘no “smoking gun” linking Tehran and Iraqi militants’.
What do we have? ‘Assessments’, ‘indications’, ‘thoughts’, ‘pretty good’ evidence that the US is ‘fairly comfortable’ with. No smoking gun. No real evidence.
THE BRITISH MEDIA REACTION
The British national ‘quality’ 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 ‘caution’ and ‘suspicion’ of journalists because of the timing of the presentation ‘coinciding with Washington intensifying the pressure on Tehran over its nuclear programme’. 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 ‘reporting the claims’ 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: ‘This level of sophistication may point to Iran, as only a state arms company would have the ability to manufacture weapons of this kind.’
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: ‘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.’
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: ‘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.’
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:
‘US-led forces in Iraq have presented what officials said was “a growing body” of evidence of Iranian weapons being used to kill their soldiers, as US anger rises at Tehran’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.’
One striking common feature to all of these stories is that none of them mentions the key admission made by the US ‘senior defence analyst’, reported by Reuters, that there was ‘no “smoking gun” linking Tehran and Iraqi militants’.
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: ‘I think we don’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 controlled’?
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 ‘treasure trove’ on Iran’s ‘networks, supply lines, sourcing and funding’? Did these documents ever exist, and if so what has happened to them?
5) What relevant information, if any, was ‘gleaned’ from Iranians and Iraqis captured in these US raids?
6) Were any explosives – in particular, ‘shaped charges’ - 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 Iran’s role in Iraq’s insurgency?
 The EFP differs from the ‘shaped charge’ (SC) in that it fires a solid object, whereas the SC fires a blast of superheated metal ‘gas’ (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 ‘Explosive Reactive Armour’) 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 ‘Explosive Reactive Armour’ without triggering the counter-explosion, and therefore achieve its full destructive effect. ‘INFANTRY 1, TANK 0: Hand-Held Anti-Tank Weapons’, SoldierTech, Military.Com 2004 http://tinyurl.com/3bxmbp.
 ‘Bombs in Iraq Getting More Sophisticated’, AP, 10 November 2005
 ‘Bombs in Iraq Getting More Sophisticated’, AP, 10 November 2005
 David Blair, Diplomatic Correspondent and Ben Rooney, ‘US presents “evidence” that weapons from Iran are being used in Iraq’, 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, ‘Gates plays down Putin attack on US policy’, 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, ‘Senior British officials, citing mistakes over Saddam Hussein’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 “not aware of a smoking gun” that would justify taking military action against Tehran.’ Times, 1 February 2007, http://tinyurl.com/ypl5kx.
IRAN/IRAQ: JNV has a new 12 page briefing IED LIES (html, pdf) on the US allegations of Iranian weapons supply to Iraqi insurgents (12 February 2007). We also have a normal format JNV Briefing Threatening Tehran on the background to allegations.