Sunday, February 11, 2007

Breaking: US "Reveals Iran Evidence"

And as expected, it falls far short of a "slam dunk" case. The anonymous briefing at which no recording devices were allowed involved a lot of claims and not a whole lot of actual evidence.

Here's the Reuters story.

U.S.-led forces in Iraq presented on Sunday what officials said was "a growing body" of evidence of Iranian weapons being used to kill their soldiers, as U.S. anger at Tehran's alleged involvement in the war rises.

A senior defense official from the U.S.-led Multinational Force in Baghdad told a briefing that 170 coalition forces had been killed by Iranian-made roadside bombs known as explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) that he said were smuggled into Iraq.

Officials showed journalists fragments of what they said were Iranian-manufactured weapons, including one part of an EFP -- which is strong enough to penetrate the armor of an Abrams tank -- and tail fins from 81 mm and 60 mm mortar bombs.

"The weapons had characteristics unique to being manufactured in Iran ... Iran is the only country in the region that produces these weapons," the senior defense official said in Baghdad, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity.
And the BBC's version:
US claims the bombs were smuggled from Iran cannot be independently verified.

The US officials, speaking off camera on condition of anonymity, said EFPs had also injured more than 620 US personnel since June 2004.

They said US intelligence analysts believed the bombs were manufactured in Iran and secretly sent to Iraqi Shia militants on the orders of senior officials in Tehran.

"We assess that these activities are coming from the senior levels of the Iranian government," one official said, pointing the finger at Iran's elite al-Quds brigade, a unit of the Revolutionary Guards, and noting that it reports directly to Ayatollah Ali Khamanei.

The US has claimed in the past that Iranian weapons were being used in Iraq, but it has never before accused Iranian government officials of being directly involved.

Tehran has repeatedly denied any involvement.

The US officials said that as well as bomb-making technology Iran was supplying Shia groups in Iraq with money and military training.

The BBC's Jane Peel attended the briefing in Baghdad, at which all cameras and recording devices were banned.

Examples of the allegedly smuggled weapons were put on display, including EFPs, mortar shells and rocket propelled grenades which the US claims can be traced to Iran.

"The weapons had characteristics unique to being manufactured in Iran... Iran is the only country in the region that produces these weapons," an official said.

A US defence official present said information seized when security forces detained a number of Iranians in Iraq had also added to their knowledge.
ABC News managed to excerpt only the first two paragraphs of the Reuters flash, missing out all the caveats, while the AP manages to add that:
The officer said American intelligence analysts believe the EFPs are manufactured in Iran and smuggled into Iraq on orders from the top of the Iranian government. He did not elaborate.

...During the briefing, the officer said that one of six Iranians detained in January in a raid on an office in the northern city of Irbil was the operational commander of the Quds Brigade, a unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards that trains and equips Shiite militants abroad.

He was identified as Mohsin Chizari, who was apprehended after slipping back into Iraq after a 10-month absence, the officer said.

The Iranians were caught trying to flush documents down the toilet, he said. Bags of their hair were found during the raid, indicating they had tried to change their appearance, he added.

He said the dates of manufacture on weapons found so far indicate they were made after fall of Saddam Hussein - mostly in 2006. He said the ``machining'' on the components was traceable to Iran but did not elaborate.

In a separate briefing Maj. Gen. Jim Simmons, deputy commander of Multinational Corps-Iraq, told reporters there was no indication Iranian weapons were behind the latest spate of helicopter crashes.
The Bush administration just failed the most basic benchmarks for credibility in their claims. No-one willing to stand up for the data by putting their name to it. no evidence put forward for smuggling, no evidence put forward for origin, no evidence put forward for Iranian government involvement, no description of sources for information (like the MeK for instance), no explaining why alternative and more likely explanations have been discarded.

As for the statement that "Iran is the only country in the region that produces these weapons", it is probably a deliberate attempt to mislead that this statement is unclear about exactly what weapons are being referred to. Whichever it is, they are being "economical with the truth".

Mortar shells of all calibres are ubiquitous in the Middle East, being manufactured by Iran and others including Israel and Turkey as well as imported from the US, Russia China and elsewhere. Likewise with RPG rounds. Other regional nations keep up-to-date stockpiles of such items. Iraq pre-invasion had received shipments from neighbours including U.S.-made munitions transferred there by other regional buyers such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It is not inconceivable that this could be happening again - especially when the black market for arms in the region is booming.

IED's, even sophisticated explosively-formed projectile (IFP) types, have a long and inglorious history. No-one has ever suggested that the IRA was supplied by Iran and no-one seems to have a problem with the idea that the IRA made it's IFP's locally and without sophisticated means of production. Hizboullah have also used such devices, as have the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Given the previous history of the Bush administration, fresh in the public's mind because of recent Congressional hearings, the only rational response is to view both this breifing and the "evidence" it has presented as being woefully short of even the minimum mark.

Update AFP has some more detail.
The men spoke on condition of anonymity for their security and cameras and recording devices were barred from the briefing, where an array of mortar shells and booby traps were laid out for inspection.
Reporters were issued with a disc containing photographs of alleged Iranian weapons seized in Iraq -- a Misagh-1 ground-to-air missile, EFPs and mortar shells -- showing manufacturing dates in late 2006.

A senior defence analyst said US-led forces had evidence that Iran had stepped up shipments of EFPs, factory-built explosives designed to cut through armour, to armed Iraqi Shiite groups.

He said four Iranians arrested in January in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil were Al-Qods force officers who had no diplomatic cover and had tried to flush documents down a toilet as they were arrested.

He added that the Al-Qods force's top operations officer was detained in December in the compound of leading Shiite politician Abdel-Aziz Hakim with an inventory of weapons to be shipped, including mortars and sniper rifles.

Hakim's party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, told the Americans that the weapons were meant for their protection, he added.
"We assess that these activities are coming from the senior levels of the Iranian government," he said, noting that the Al-Qods brigade reports to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei.
The Misagh-1 is an Iranian copy of a Chinese copy of the Russian SA-7 man-portable surface to air missile and has been in production since 1993. The rest of it is still a dollar short of credible, mostly for the reasons I gave above. No-one ever doubted there was arms smuggling from Iran, just as there was from Syria, Saudi Arabia and points farther afield. The idea was to prove Iranian government knowledge and direction and that has failed. There's no proof that the Quods guy or SCIRI are involved with the smuggling of IED's at all that I can find as being presented. There's no proof Quods is in fact involved in anything more than helping out their allies who now run the Iraqi government at the behest of the occupying Coalition. Let's not forget Hakim was Bush's new bestestest friend in Iraq only recently and that the same Quods guy had appointments with President Talibani and PM Maliki. I also find the ban on cameras and the issuing of a disc deeply suspect. What was wrong with the reporters taking their own pics of the items displayed? You can do anything in photoshop, as the uber-right are always keen to remind us whenever the subject of the Associated Press comes up.

Update 2 Larry Johnson of No Quarter emailled me pointing out that, by today's briefing's admission, 170 out of 2265 American soldiers killed in Iraq since June 2004 have been killed by EFP weapons and 620 out of 17,788 wounded. That amounts to 8% of fatalities and less than 4% of wounded attributable to these weapons.

Now one is one too many, which is why progressives have been saying the U.S. should withdraw for some time now, but there's a couple of realizations buried in those figures even if it were conclusively proven that such attacks were being orchestrated by the Iranian government.

The first is that, no matter what the uber-right would like us to believe, these attacks are not the difference between success and failure in Iraq. If these attacks suddenly stopped, Iraq would still be a quagmire.

The second is that no-one is giving figures for the number of deaths attributable to weapons smuggled from Saudi, the UAE, Syria or even Pakistan. Maybe Iran is a lesser problem compared to those but who can tell? Should we decide that Iran has given us a "causus belli" without that information as well as without real prooof of Iranian government direction?

Lastly, suppose it's all true, exactly as the Bush administration and the neocon pundits say it is. That would mean that almost the entire democratically elected government of Iraq, including its President, Prime Minister and bi-partisan leadership, had thrown it's lot in with Iran. (A couple of the Iranians arrested had just left the home of the leader of one of the major Sunni factions too.) At that point, do we declare war on Iran or do we leave them to what they would want, Iraq and Iran both? Who are we to occupy a nation and enforce at gunpoint what it's own democratic government is obviously against?

Update 3 Check out the first picture from the disc so thoughtfully provided to reporters by the U.S. at the briefing today. Spot the obvious question?

Update 4 Eason Jordan on the "anonymity" question:
But, wait, one of the three supposedly unnamed US officials apparently has been outed by an Iraqi news service, Voices of Iraq, whose report on the Baghdad news conference identified one of the three speakers as Major General William Caldwell, whose portfolio includes public affairs and who holds frequent news conference and grants one-on-one interviews. So, if the VOI report identifying Caldwell is correct, why did every other news organization apparently agree to grant anonymity to the general who's the official spokesman of the US-led Multi-National Force in Iraq? Why would Caldwell insist on not having his name associated with these allegations today?