[Marxism] US's smoking gun on Iran misfires, by Gareth Porter

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Thu Feb 15 18:12:56 MST 2007

I want to say how glad I am that Gareth Porter whom I remember from
Indochina Report and many other publications during the Vietnam War is still
in there pitching after all these years.  I'm sure I and many others on
these lists, who have grown long in the tooth, if we have any teeth (I
don't), in the struggle, appreciate his continuing contributions

By Gareth Porter


 Feb 15, 2007 
US's smoking gun on Iran misfires 
By Gareth Porter 

WASHINGTON - The first major effort by the administration of US President
George W Bush to substantiate its case that the Iranian government has been
providing weapons to Iraqi Shi'ites who oppose the occupation undermines the
administration's political line by showing that it has been unable to find
any real evidence of an Iranian government role. 

Contradicting recent claims by both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that US intelligence had proof of Iranian
government responsibility for the supply of such weapons, the unnamed
officials who briefed the media on Sunday admitted that the claim is merely
"an inference" rather than based on a trail of evidence. 

Although it was clearly not the intention, moreover, the briefing revealed
for the first time that the Iranians and Iraqis detained by US forces in
recent months did not provide any evidence implicating either the Iranian
government or the Islamic Revolutionary Guards in the acquisition of
armor-piercing explosive devices and other weapons by Iraqi Shi'ite groups. 

In the end, the administration presentation suggested that there could be no
other explanation for the presence of Iranian-made weapons than official
government sponsorship of smuggling them into Iraq. But in doing so, they
had to ignore a well-known reality: most weapons, including armor-piercing
projectiles, can be purchased by anyone through intermediaries in the Middle

Indeed, General Peter Pace, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff,
said in an interview published while he was on a visit to Indonesia that he
did not know whether Iranian-made material used to assemble roadside bombs
in Iraq had been supplied on Tehran's orders. And speaking on CNN, CentCom
Commander William Fallon, the top commander of US forces in the Middle East,
was asked about the administration's claim over Iran supplying weapons to
Iraq. "I have no idea who may be actually hands-on in this stuff," Fallon

The briefing in Baghdad on Sunday displayed a number of weapons or
photographs of weapons said to have been found in Iraq, including what were
called "explosively formed penetrators" (EFPs), which the officials said
were smuggled into the country by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Quds
Force. The RPG-7s and 81-millimeter mortar rounds shown to reporters did
indeed have markings showing that they had been recently manufactured, and
there is no reason to doubt that those weapons were manufactured in Iran. 

The argument for Iranian official responsibility assumes that such weapons
are so tightly controlled that Shi'ite groups could not purchase them in
small numbers on the black market in Iran, Syria or Lebanon. It is well
documented, however, that the Shi'ites have resorted to black-market
networks to obtain EFPs. 

An article in Jane's Intelligence Review last month by Michael Knights,
chief of analysis for the Olive Group, a private security- consulting firm,
reports that the British discovered that there was indeed an organization in
Basra engaged in arranging for the purchase and delivery of imported EFPs
and that it was composed entirely of police officials, including members of
the Police Intelligence Unit, the Internal Affairs Directorate and the Major
Crimes Unit. They found that members of the organization followed no
specific Shi'ite faction, but included members from all the factions in

The Washington Post quoted one of the US officials at the briefing as saying
that there was no "widespread involvement" of the Iraqi government in
supplying weaponry, thus implicitly conceding that some Iraqi government
officials are indeed involved in the weapons traffic. 

By insisting that the Iranian government was involved, the Bush
administration has conjured up the image of a smuggling operation so vast
that it could not occur without official sanction. In fact, as Knights
points out, the number of EFPs exploded monthly has remained at about 100,
which clearly would not require high-level connivance to maintain a flow of

The PowerPoint slides presented to the press in Baghdad ended with a slide
that in essence confirms that the evidence points not to official
sponsorship of cross-border weapons smuggling but to private
arms-trafficking networks. 

The slide, which can be viewed on the Talking Points Memo website, includes
the curious statement that information from detainees "included references
to Iranian provision of weapons to Iraqi militants engaged in anti-coalition
violence". That formulation carefully avoids stating that any of the
information implicated Iranian officials. Furthermore, the slide's six
bullet points, representing the concrete "highlights" of the information,
fail to make reference to any official Iranian role in the smuggling of
weapons across the border. 

In fact, the slide reveals that the smuggling is handled by what it calls
"Iraqi extremist group members", not by the Quds Force of the Iranian
Revolutionary Guards. The oral presentation accompanying the PowerPoint
indicated that the smuggling had been carried out by "paid Iraqis", without
specifying who was paying them, according to the New York Times report. 

The final bullet point of the slide says, "Quds Force provides support to
extremist groups in Iraq by supplying money, training and propaganda
operations." But its silence on the question of supplying weapons to groups
in Iraq represents a serious blow to the credibility of the Bush
administration's line. 

The EFPs used against US and British troops in Iraq were the centerpiece of
the briefing. But the anonymous US officials did not claim that the finished
products have been manufactured in Iran. Instead they referred to machining
of EFP "components" - referring to the concave metal lids on the devices -
as being done in Iran. 

That position parallels the testimony by General John P Abizaid last March
16 to the Senate Armed Services Committee, which claimed only that
"sophisticated bomb-making material from Iran has been found in improvised
explosive devices in Iraq". 

It also raises an obvious question: If Iran has the technical ability to
supply the complete EFPs, why are only components being smuggled into Iraq? 

The absence of shipments of complete EFPs suggests that the components that
have been smuggled in have been manufactured in small workshops outside the
official system. Knights, the most knowledgeable and politically neutral
source on the issue, says these components could have been manufactured by a
"small handful of external bomb-makers". He notes that the only source to
claim that the Iranian defense industry is the source of the EFP components
is the opposition National Council of Resistance of Iran. 

The US briefers argued that EFPs are not being manufactured within Iraq. The
New York Times quoted a "senior military official" as saying that they had
"no evidence" that the machining of components for EFPs "has ever been done
in Iraq". 

But Knights presents evidence in Jane's Intelligence Review that the Iraqi
Shi'ites have indeed manufactured both the components for EFPs and the
complete EFPs. He observes that the kind of tools required to fabricate EFPs
"can easily be found in Iraqi metalworking shops and garages". 

He also notes that some of the EFPs found in Iraq had substituted steel
plates for the copper lining found in the externally made lids. Knights
calculates that the entire production of EFPs exploded thus far could have
been manufactured in one or at most two simple workshops with one or two
specialists in each - one in the Baghdad area and one in southern Iraq. 

"I'm surprised that they haven't found evidence of making EFPs in Iraq,"
Knights said in an interview. "That doesn't ring true for me." Knights
believes that there was a time when whole EFPs were imported from outside,
but that now most if not all are manufactured by Iraqis. 

Taking into account both the false notes struck by the anonymous officials,
the damaging admissions they made and the absence of information they needed
to make a case, the briefing appears to have been a serious setback to the
Bush administration's propaganda campaign. It will certainly haunt
administration officials trying to persuade Congress to support its
increased aggressiveness toward Iran. 
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing in
US national-security policy. His latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance
of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in June 2005.

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