Risking their lives, Iraqi shepherds are increasingly venturing into these deadly fields to dig up mines planted during the Iran-Iraq war two decades ago, according to U.S. soldiers, who say insurgents then use the mines to fashion roadside bombs that kill American troops.There may be as many as 16 million landmines still in the ground along the Iraqi border with Iran, according to experts - and they are supplemented by other cahes of arms and explosives dating from the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and unsecured by coalition forces.
With Iraq's economy still struggling, shepherds need the money. And the insurgents are looking for more sources of weapons and explosives as the war enters its fifth year.
``They're going out there and farming them,'' said Capt. Jesse Stewart of Seattle, Wash., who runs a training school for Iraqi border guards at this border station 90 miles northeast of Baghdad. ``Shepherds are digging them up and selling them on the black market.''
Old Iran-Iraq war era land mines were used in about 15 percent of the roadside bombs that exploded or were detected in northern Iraq during January, according to Navy Lt. Sarah Wilson, an explosives officer based in Tikrit.
Despite the recent spotlight on Iran, U.S. officials say the majority of weapons used by Sunni and Shiite extremists have been in this country for years and were looted from Iraqi military arsenals after the fall of Saddam in April 2003.Yet even this AP report doesn't do justice to US official's reluctance to discuss the true origins of most weapons being used to kill US and Iraqi troops - the failure to effectively police Saddam's stockpiles after the invasion. Even though that failure was arguably unavoidable because it would have taken more manpower and time than was available, the US military is uncomfortably aware that it could have done more than was actually done, instead of guarding empty Oil Ministry facilities.
About 30 percent of the insurgent weapons found here in Diyala province date back to the Iran-Iraq war, said Maj. Suzanne MacDonald, an intelligence officer with the 1st Cavalry Division's 3rd Brigade.
They include not only mines planted along the Iranian border but also weapons caches buried by the Iraqi military decades ago in a labyrinth of clay dunes and stone outcroppings, said MacDonald, 38, from Georgetown, Texas.
``Terrorists go and collect those weapons - land mines and mortars - that are left from the Iran-Iraq war,'' said Gen. Nazim Shareef Muhamed, a former Kurdish guerrilla fighter who heads the Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement in Khanaqin.
Newshog's intrepid news-gatherer, Kat, points to a C-Span video in which Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, chief of staff for the Multi-National Corps-Iraq, talks by live remote from Iraq to reporters in the Pentagon about operations in Iraq. There's no permalink to the clip itself but here's the C-Span page. Watch it while it's still there.
Luckily, Kat made a quick transcript for posterity. Brig.Gen. Anderson has to be pushed before he will admit that possible Iranian weaponry is the least of his troops' troubles.
Q: "Pauline [sounds like John or Jondu] of the Assoc. Press. Sir, these numerous caches of weapons -- Could you tell us a little about the origins? You know, we've been told about things coming in from Iran, but could you talk about... Are these "new" shipments of weapons into Iraq? Are these massive caches left over from previous days of Saddam Hussein's regime? -- Anything you know along those lines."Indeed, supporters of the narrative that Iran is a threat are being forced back even further as evidence emerges that they over-stepped the actual facts in their pronouncements. Now, far from "arming many Shiite militia groups", they are reduced to supposing - without any evidence yet again - that some new and independent creation of Iran's is entirely responsible for any and all EFP attacks and are coming up with some seriously tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories to explain their abandonment of Occam's Razor:
Anderson: "I sure can. Uhhh, I think you find 'em of both type. [sic] There's clearly still remnants of war from Iraq's 'Saddam days' all over this country -- uhh, munitions, weapons and the like. Uhh, the difference is, now, we're clearly finding the same types of munitions and weaponry that is clearly marked from Iran. And the other component of that is, there are components of IEDs, other bomb-making material, that clearly come into Iraq, are put together here to form these explosive devices, to cause destruction to the coalition and Iraqi security forces. So it's really a combination of both. Uhhh, and I don't think anything is 'fabricated' here in Iraq -- I think it's either shipped in, or it's from previous regime."
Q from Pauline J. of AP: "Do they know how much of it is left over, and how much of it is new? And, please, could you please tell us, other than Iran, that are sources?"
Anderson: "The main, uhh... The main things we're finding right now are, the stuff marked from Iran. There's also - there's still stuff you'll find here from - uhh - Desert Storm/Desert Shield days. You'll still find stuff that was shipped, and was used, in Kuwait. Uhhh, so stuff that's been around ten, fifteen, or more years, that you'll still find in boxes, containers, warehouses, bunkers, uhh, etc. But primarility, that is still the primary means of where all this stuff comes from. There are indicators of Iran. But we haven't found anything else, uhhh, marked anything else, from those two places - either Kuwait, Iran, or here in Iraq itself."
Pauline: "Do you think the bulk of it is old, or newly shipped?"
Anderson: "[Said some unintelligible word, then...] You'll have to say that again -- I couldn't hear that one." [Poking the earbud deeper into his right ear several times as he's talking.]
Pauline: "I still didn't understand. The bulk of this weaponry is old - from years ago - or newly coming in?"
Anderson: "The bulk is from years ago. The bulk, uhhh, the bulk of this stuff - a lot of this stuff is very old."
Iran has recruited its own network of Iraqi Shiite extremists to use armor-piercing weapons against U.S. and coalition forces rather than against Sunni rivals, current and former intelligence officials say.You'd think that, if there were some independent militia which was competing with the Badr and Al-Mahdi groups, someone in those groups or in their political wings (which run the Iraqi government) would have mentioned it. As for the possible motives - they only matter if you suspend both evidence and logic in pursuit of a narrative where Iran has to take the blame for neocon failings in planning the occupation competently.
The secretive Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has circumvented Shiite organizations like the Mehdi Army to enlist individual militants and train them in the use of explosively formed penetrators, the officials said.
The weapons, known as EFPs, have killed 170 U.S.-led coalition troops, according to the Pentagon. U.S. officials have said these weapons have come into greater use over the past year.
"The purpose appears not to be to shore up Iran’s political partners in Iraq against the Sunnis, but to cause problems for American troops," said a former intelligence official who closely monitors events in the Middle East.
...Some experts believe Iran has supplied traceable weapons to show the United States what ground troops might face in any military intervention.
"Tensions between these two countries have escalated dramatically since 2003, and everybody has suspected for a long time that Iraq could become a battlefield," said Vali Nasr, Middle East expert at the Naval Postgraduate School.
"I’m sure these (munitions) have been used to let it be known that the Iranians have these capabilities in Iraq."
Added an intelligence source: "They could be saying, ‘This is the merest taste of what you would face if you came across the border or bombed us or knocked out our nuclear reactors’."
...Others believe the increasing use of EFPs may be linked to Tehran’s suspicions of covert U.S. and British operations inside Iran, where tensions among minority Arabs, Kurds and others have led to violence.
Former intelligence officials who monitor the Middle East said a covert Pentagon operation set up by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld used ethnic separatists as U.S. proxies in Iran.
"Incidents, particularly among the Arab minority inside Iran, have caused the Iranians some problems," said one former official. "Speculation is that this is their tit-for-tat."