Iran Supplying EFPs to Shiites: The Evidence

The U.S. military yesterday presented a de-classified version of their case that Iran is supplying explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) to our enemies in Iraq. How persuasive that case was likely depends on one’s view of the Bush administration. Some excerpts from the major reporting below, with judgments and qualifiers emphasized in boldface.

James Glanz for the NYT:

After weeks of internal debate, senior United States military officials on Sunday literally put on the table their first public evidence of the contentious assertion that Iran supplies Shiite extremist groups in Iraq with some of the most lethal weapons in the war. They said those weapons had been used to kill more than 170 Americans in the past three years.

Never before displayed in public, the weapons included squat canisters designed to explode and spit out molten balls of copper that cut through armor. The canisters, called explosively formed penetrators or E.F.P.s, are perhaps the most feared weapon faced by American and Iraqi troops here.

In a news briefing held under strict security, the officials spread out on two small tables an E.F.P. and an array of mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades with visible serial numbers that the officials said link the weapons directly to Iranian arms factories. The officials also asserted, without providing direct evidence, that Iranian leaders had authorized smuggling those weapons into Iraq for use against the Americans. The officials said such an assertion was an inference based on general intelligence assessments.

That inference, and the anonymity of the officials who made it, seemed likely to generate skepticism among those suspicious that the Bush administration is trying to find a scapegoat for its problems in Iraq, and perhaps even trying to lay the groundwork for war with Iran.

Iran on Monday rejected the American allegations. “Such accusations cannot be relied upon or be presented as evidence. The United States has a long history in fabricating evidence. Such charges are unacceptable,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters. Mr. Hosseini said Iran’s top leaders were not intervening in Iraq and considered “any intervention in Iraq’s internal affairs as a weakening of the popular Iraqi government, and we are opposed to that.”

While the Americans displayed what they said was the physical evidence of their claims about Iran’s role in Iraq, they also left many questions unanswered, including proof that the Iranian government was directing the delivery of weapons.

The officials were repeatedly pressed on why they insisted on anonymity in such an important matter affecting the security of American and Iraqi troops. A senior United States military official gave a partial answer, saying that without anonymity, a senior Defense Department analyst who participated in the briefing could not have contributed.

The officials also were defensive about the timing of disclosing such incriminating evidence, since they had known about it as early as 2004. They said E.F.P. attacks had nearly doubled in 2006 compared with the previous year and a half. “The reason we’re talking about this right now is the vast increase in the number of E.F.P.s being found,” one official said. American-led forces in Iraq, the official said, “are not trying to hype this up to be more than it is.”

Whatever doubts were created about the timing and circumstances of the weapons disclosures, the direct physical evidence presented on Sunday was extraordinary. The officials said the E.F.P. weapons arrived in Iraq in the form of what they described as a “kit” containing high-grade metals and highly machined parts — like a shaped, concave lid that folds into a molten ball while hurtling toward its target.

For the first time, American officials provided a specific casualty total from these weapons, saying they had killed more than 170 Americans and wounded 620 since June 2004, when one of the devices first killed a service member. But then the officials went much further, asserting without specific evidence that the Iranian security apparatus, called the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force controlled delivery of the materials to Iraq. And in a further inference, the officials asserted that the Quds Force, sometimes called the I.R.G.C. – Quds, could be involved only with Iranian government complicity. “We have been able to determine that this material, especially on the E.F.P. level, is coming from the I.R.G.C. – Quds Force,” said the senior defense analyst. That, the analyst said, meant direction for the operation was “coming from the highest levels of the Iranian government.”

At least one shipment of E.F.P.s was captured as it was smuggled from Iran into southern Iraq in 2005, the officials said. Caches and arrays of E.F.P.s, as well as mortars and other weapons traceable to Iran, have been repeatedly found inside Iraq in areas dominated by militias known to have ties to Iran, the officials said. One cache of antitank rocket-propelled grenades and other items was seized as recently as Jan. 23, the officials said. The precise machining of E.F.P. components, the officials said, also links the weapons to Iran. “We have no evidence that this has ever been done in Iraq,” the senior military official said.

Josh Parlow, reporting for WaPo, provided a much more straightforward reporting of the presentation, with no editorial commentary until the eight paragraph:

With so much official U.S. buildup about the purported evidence of Iranian influence in Iraq, the briefing was also notable for what was not said or shown. The officials offered no evidence to substantiate allegations that the “highest levels” of the Iranian government had sanctioned support for attacks against U.S. troops. Also, the military briefers were not joined by U.S. diplomats or representatives of the CIA or the office of the Director of National Intelligence.

AP’s Steven Hurst also plays it straight, merely reporting what was said at the conference, not even hinting at any controversy until the 23rd paragraph, well after throwing in several paragraphs that were so tangentially related to the story that most would have long stopped reading:

The allegations against Iran were made briefing which had been set for last week. But U.S. defense officials said it was postponed so that the Pentagon could review the information.

That appeared aimed at avoiding the embarrassment suffered when evidence of Iraqi unconventional weapons presented by Secretary Colin Powell at the United Nations in 2003 proved to be wrong.

Cernig has excerpts from several other sources (with emboldened text of his own) and comes away far from persuaded: “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.”

Kevin Drum is similarly unimpressed: “Golly. I wonder why no one wanted their name publicly attached to this stuff? I mean, it’s ironclad, right?” Of course, he admits the threshold is high:

The current gang in the White House would have to provide videotape of the Ayatollah Khamenei himself attaching tailfins to one of these things and putting it in a box labeled “Baghdad — ASAP” before I’d be willing to take any action based on this latest dog and pony show. With any luck, in a couple of years we’ll have a president I don’t have to feel that way about.

There’s also anger over the mere fact that reporters agreed to the ground rules of the meeting. Ezra Klein guest Ankush thinks they should have collectively refused to go unless it was fully on-the-record. Greg Mitchell thinks that, notwithstanding the qualifiers, these “media outlets have joined in suggesting a slam dunk case for Iranian weapons killing Americans in Iraq.”

Spook86 and Bill Roggio, on the other hand, think the case was as good as it could be without compromising our intelligence gathering capabilities.

I’m far from an expert on weapons manufacturing but find the evidence that Iran manufactured and smuggled the weapons in question into Iraq incredibly convincing. Given the nature of the society we’re dealing with and the relationship of the Iranian government with the Shiite militia’s, it also strikes me as highly probable that the transfer was made with their approval if not on their orders. At the same time, I share Drum’s skepticism that the only ones getting these arms are the militias we happen to least like.

TPM has the PowerPoint slides from the brief. The last two pages (15 and 16) are the most interesting.

Brief on Iranian weapons in Iraq PowerPoint 15/16 Brief on Iranian weapons in Iraq PowerPoint 16/16
Click on thumbnails for full-sized slides.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. M1EK says:

    Or more importantly, that the Saudis aren’t going to soon be (or perhaps already are) similarly arming Sunni militias. But, of course, we love our Saudi friends, hey?

  2. I think a more important point right now is that even if we accept that Iran is arming Iraqi militants, what do we do about it?

    A large part of the conservative base seems convinced the solution is to invade Iran, a policy for with they seem to suffer the same delusion as for Iraq: that because we NEED to defeat Iran that we necessarily WILL defeat Iran.

    However, it’s not clear to me that we can handle Iran right now. It might be a case that we could eliminate their conventional military forces relatively easily (although I’m not even entirely sure of that with so much of our military tied up in Iraq), but it seems highly unlikely we can pacify both Iraq and Iran when we’re largely failing to control just Iraq.

    I’m rather concerned with how many people are busy trying to show a war with Iran is justified and no one is bothering with whether a war with Iran is feasible.

  3. ken says:

    The only reason this matters, if it matters at all, is its implications for US policy in the region.

    The Bush regime hopes this convinces people to support the war on Iran it is planning to launch.

    But the problem for Bush is that since the right policy is to remove our troops from Iraq his rational loses credence since we won’t be in the line of fire from Iran anyway.

    This is big problem for conservatives. If they cannot continue the war against Iraq they will have no excuse to launch another war against Iran.

  4. Triumph says:

    Bomb Iran immediately.

  5. RJN says:

    Shouldn’t it be said that 90% of the explosive devices deployed have been deployed by the Sunni. Thus, if I am informed correctly, the Shiite are involved with some of the remaining 10%.

  6. LJD says:

    We’ve heard about Iran’s role in Iraq for some time now. Given their recent comments about the U.S., it certainly is a believable story.

    What is unbeleivable is that some in THIS country are making the same comments as the Iranian foreign minster. I wonder what they will think about the recent bloodshed in Iraq, and the escalation, knowing that much of the same was created by Iranian influence. For them to say this is all a smokescreen for Bush to initiate another war is just stupid, and frankly, borderline psychotic.

    The plan should be to seal the border with Iran, capture and kill Iranian agents operating in Iraq. If our troops are in danger, I would so so far as to deliver pinpoint and unverifiable strikes on staging areas in Iran if necessary.

  7. DC Loser says:

    The plan should be to seal the border with Iran, capture and kill Iranian agents operating in Iraq.

    There’s only one tiny problem with that idea. The Iraqis (remember them?) hate that idea. They WANT the Iranians to be there. Remember even the Kurds were pissed we did that raid in Irbil and they angrily demanded we release the Iranian agents because they were likely doing some kind of under the radar deal with the Iranians. Same for the Maliki government, which is bending over backwards to keep us away from the Iranians running around in their midst.

  8. LJD says:

    So, when do you propose we surrender?

  9. spencer says:

    So LJD, where do you propose we get the manpower to
    seal the border with Iran?

  10. DC Loser says:

    LJD – you’re the one who’s mentioning surrender. I’m just laying out the reality on the ground. Deal with it and not try to put new lipstick on the pig.

  11. Gosh, things will be so much better once there is a gang in the White House of which Mr. Drum approves.

    Is it possible to expect even a modicum of civility in our political discourse?

  12. ken says:

    Is it possible to expect even a modicum of civility in our political discourse?

    Ha ha, that’s funny coming from a conservatives.

  13. Triumph says:

    I’m far from an expert on weapons manufacturing but find the evidence that Iran manufactured and smuggled the weapons in question into Iraq incredibly convincing.

    James, you may find the report “incredibly convincing,” but the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has not backed these assertions.

    What information do you have access to that Peter Pace doesn’t?

  14. As a conservatives (sic), what if I concede that all conservatives think and act alike and that you are correct in having a guffaw at my expense. Now, can we get a modicum of civility in our political discourse or not?

  15. ken says:

    As a conservatives (sic), what if I concede that all conservatives think and act alike and that you are correct in having a guffaw at my expense. Now, can we get a modicum of civility in our political discourse or not?

    Although conservatives have taken political discourse to extremes of rudeness, hostility, dishonesty and triviality it need not be that way forever.

    If this is something you sincerely desire you can effect it best by helping us remove the conservatives from positions of power and influence. You must first realize that as long as conservatives remain in control their vicious nature will dominate political discourse.

    Otherwise you can just be civil yourself and you will probably be met with civility in return.

    In principal there is no reason a conservative cannot refrain from employing insult, lies and deceit. We have not seen it, but in theory it is possible.

  16. Thanks Ken, I’ll go put on a hair shirt to get the goodwill started as penance for a lifetime of evil. Can we buy indulgences by donating to the DNC?

  17. arky says:

    “At the same time, I share Drum’s skepticism that the only ones getting these arms are the militias we happen to least like.”

    And maybe that’s why we like them least…

  18. Wayne says:

    The problem from the start is that many have treated the war on terrorism as if it consist of one group Al Qaeda and the War with Iraq as if all we had to deal with was only Iraq. There are many terrorist groups and terrorist supporters that we need to deal with. The Iraq War is an areawide conflict and we are treating it with artifical borders of one country.

    Imagine during WW II if we kick the Axis out of France and stopped and the Russians did the same on the Eastern Front. The Germans could be sending troops and/or insurgents to harash us in France to this day. Unless of course if we retreated and gave them France back.

    We need to treat the war in the Middle East as an area-wide conflict otherwise Iran and Syria continue to send in insurgents. Do we need to invade them and take over their country then rebuild them? It is one option but not the only one. The biggest problem is they don’t think we have a will to do anything and they may be right. Of course it they thought we had the will to do it that may solve the problem from the get go.

  19. Gary Denton says:

    Not convincing, one of their Iranian shells is even in the wrong language and the wrong dating system. They also flat-out lied about the number of American casualties Iranian devices operated by Shiite militia had caused.

    This is more connected to creating a casus belli for when the USS Reagan arrives off Iran providing the third carrier and Bush-Cheney launches air strikes. According to media reports in Hawaii and California a reinforced battlefleet is headed to the Persian Gulf/Arabian Sea.