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.”
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.
UPDATE: TPM has the PowerPoint slides from the brief. The last two pages (15 and 16) are the most interesting.
Click on thumbnails for full-sized slides.