Iran Weapons, Insurgents Is Iraq War Battleground

As Iraqi officials announced on Tuesday that four checkpoints along the country’s border with Iran would be temporarily closed in order to quell the violence in Iraq, there is some disagreement between the top US military officer and the White House about whether the Iranian government is involved in arming the insurgency.

Hours after a truck bomb killed 15 people and wounded 27 outside the Trade Ministry in Baghdad, Lt. Gen. Abboud Gambar gave a televised address on behalf of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in which he explained that Iraq’s borders with Iran and Syria would be closed for 72 hours, in an effort to restore control.

US and Iraqi officials have long maintained that weapons and insurgents have been entering Iraq through Iran and Syria.

US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, acknowledged that Iranian materials had been found in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq, and that Coalition forces had captured some Iranians fighting in Shiite militias; however, he said that does not amount to proof that the Iranian government is aware of or involved in these covert activities.

“That could not translate to that the Iranian government per se procured these or is directly involved in doing this,” said Gen. Pace. “What it does say is that things that are made in Iran are being used in Iraq to kill coalition soldiers and that some Iranians have been captured in the process of the coalition going after the networks.”

On Sunday, US officials in Baghdad met with journalists and displayed fragments of what they said were Iranian-manufactured weapons smuggled into Iraq. In particular, they pointed to “explosively formed penetrators”, factory-built explosives designed to cut through armor, which have been blamed for the deaths of 170 Coalition troops in Iraq. The officials said this proved that the highest-ranking officials in Iran are directly involved in arming the Iraqi insurgency.

However, Gen. Pace urged caution in what he still considers assumptions. “It is clear that Iranians are involved, and it’s clear that materials from Iran are involved, but I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit,” he said.

White House spokesman Tony Snow insisted on Monday that there is no conflict between Gen. Pace’s assessment and that of the White House and senior military officials. “We’re not on a different page,” he said.

Nevertheless, Mr Snow said that he is confident that the smuggling of the weapons into Iraq had the approval of the Iranian government. “Do we have a signed piece of paper from Mr. Khamenei or from President Ahmadinejad signing off on this? No,” said Mr Snow. “But are the Qods forces part of the government? The answer is yes. So the question is, I think this ends up being a semantic dispute about senior levels of the government or the government. And the fact is, the government knows about it.” Mr Snow said members of the Qods Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had played a destabilizing role in Iraq.

The US military has also recently said that the serial numbers found on rifles confiscated from Shiite militias had been traced back to Iran. On Tuesday, the UK’s Daily Telegraph reported that US troops had recovered more than 100 “Steyr .50 HS” rifles, which they said were part of an Austrian consignment of 800 guns delivered to Iran, despite US objections that they might be smuggled to insurgents. But Steyr CEO Franz Holzschuh said the company had yet to be approached to verify the serial numbers. He also said that the rifles could be replicas, thousands of which are now in circulation.

Tehran continues to deny any involvement in arming Shiite militias in Iraq and Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini has rejected the charge outright. “The US accusations from the past months concerning Iran’s implication in the troubles in Iraq are without foundation,” said Mr Hosseini. “They have made these allegations with the aim of creating propaganda.”

Fears have been mounting that the US is accusing the Iranian government of arming insurgents and developing nuclear weapons to lay the groundwork for a military strike. However, Mr Snow flatly denied that the US had any such plans.

“We’ve declared it over and over. We’re not going to war with them,” said Mr Snow. “Let me make that clear. So anybody who is trying to use this as ‘the administration trying to lay the predicate for a war with Iran’ – no, we’re committed to diplomacy with Iran. But we are also committed to protecting our forces.”

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