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IRAQ: Setting things straight on those Iranian weapons

May 18, 2008 |  2:31 pm

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On May 8, we posted an item on this blog looking at what the United States was and was not saying about the alleged presence of Iranian weapons in Iraq. We noted that the chief U.S. military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, had not cited Iran or Iranian influence during a news briefing May 7, when he gave a rundown of weapons caches uncovered during several weeks of fighting between Iraqi and U.S. forces, and Shiite militiamen.

This omission was notable because in the previous two weeks, both U.S. and Iraqi officials had been very vocal in accusing Iran of providing weapons -- some manufactured just this year -- to fighters involved in the latest battles.

Recently, we've been alerted to an item that appeared May 12 on MSNBC's Countdown program using that blog item as the basis for an inaccurate report attributed to the Los Angeles Times. Here is the link to the MSNBC piece.

This should set the record straight for those who have no plans to read the blog item or view the MSNBC report: the Los Angeles Times did not report that Bergner's May 7 briefing was supposed to be "the big day" that the American military showed off the Iranian weapons it has long said are being smuggled into Iraq. The Times did not report that Bergner had told us this briefing was going to be a "dog and pony show" offering conclusive evidence of Iranian involvement in Iraq's unrest.

As reported by us, this was just another of the regular briefings that Bergner and other U.S. military and Iraqi officials hold for the Iraqi and international media.  

The Times also did not report that U.S. officials had re-examined the caches listed by Bergner and found none of them to contain Iranian-made or Iranian-supplied items. We stated that one group of munitions -- not necessarily among those cited by Bergner -- had been scheduled for viewing by some media during an event in Karbala arranged by the Iraqi military. But U.S. explosives experts, taking a closer look at the items, concluded they did not include Iranian items.

This event had nothing to do with Bergner's briefing. In fact, that Karbala cache detonation occurred May 3, four days before Bergner's briefing, so the items he cited could not have been the same ones scheduled to be shown to the media since they already had been destroyed.

Bergner attempted to clear up the confusion at his last regular briefing, on May 14. See his comments here. 

As for the alleged Iranian weapons themselves, there's still no plan to show them off, even though both U.S. and Iraqi officials insist they have not backed off their allegations. The Iraqi government, though, has clearly decided it is better to tread softly when confronting its powerful eastern neighbor on such an inflammatory issue. As Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's advisor, Sadiq Rikabi, said recently, Iraq is the weakest member in the Iran-U.S.-Iraq party. Even if Tehran and Washington want to level accusations at one another, Iraq needs to get along with each of them and prefers quiet talks to public feuding.

Asked recently about alleged Iranian arms in Iraq, the No. 2 commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin III, said it was up to the Iraqis to unveil them, since they were captured on Iraqi territory by Iraqi forces. He said there was no question that arms "have continued to make their way across the border."

"I think the Iraqis will probably show them," Austin said. "They captured them."

—Tina Susman in Baghdad

Photo: Courtesy U.S. Army, 760th Ordnance Company. Munitions are blown up in Karbala on May 3.

P.S. The Los Angeles Times issues a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, the war in Iraq and the frictions between the West and Islam. You can subscribe by registering at the website here, logging in here and clicking on the World: Mideast newsletter box here.

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