IRAQ: The elusive Iranian weapons
There was something interesting missing from Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner's introductory remarks to journalists at his regular news briefing in Baghdad on Wednesday: the word "Iran," or any form of it. It was especially striking as Bergner, the U.S. military spokesman here, announced the extraordinary list of weapons and munitions that have been uncovered in recent weeks since fighting erupted between Iraqi and U.S. security forces and Shiite militiamen.
Among other things, Bergner cited 20,000 "items of ammunition, explosives and weapons" reported by Iraqi forces in the central city of Karbala; an additional Karbala cache containing 570 explosive devices, nine mortars, four anti-aircraft missiles, and 45 RPGs; and in the southern city of Basra alone, 39 mortar tubes, 1,800 mortars and artillery rounds, 600 rockets, and 387 roadside bombs. Read his remarks here.
Not once did Bergner point the finger at Iran for any of these weapons and munitions, which is a striking change from just a couple of weeks ago when U.S. military officials here and at the Pentagon were saying that caches found in Basra in particular had revealed Iranian-made arms manufactured as recently as this year. They say the majority of rockets being fired at U.S. bases, including Baghdad's Green Zone, are launched by militiamen receiving training, arms and other aid from Iran.
Today brought fresh attacks, including an unusual barrage fired at a military base used by British and U.S. forces in Basra, in southern Iraq. A statement said "several" rockets hit the base during the afternoon, and that initial reports indicated two civilian contractors were killed, and four soldiers and four civilians injured.
It was the first reported attack of its kind since March 27 in Basra.
Iraqi officials also have accused Iran of meddling in violence and had echoed the U.S. accusations of new Iranian-made arms being found in Basra. But neither the United States nor Iraq has displayed any of the alleged arms to the public or press, and lately it is looking less likely they will. U.S. military officials said it was up to the Iraqis to show the items; Iraqi officials lately have backed off the accusations against Iran.
A plan to show some alleged Iranian-supplied explosives to journalists last week in Karbala and then destroy them was canceled after the United States realized none of them was from Iran. A U.S. military spokesman attributed the confusion to a misunderstanding that emerged after an Iraqi Army general in Karbala erroneously reported the items were of Iranian origin.
When U.S. explosives experts went to investigate, they discovered they were not Iranian after all.
Iran, meanwhile, continues to seethe after an Iraqi delegation went to Tehran last week to confront it with the accusations. It has denied the accusations, and it says as long as U.S. forces continue to take part in military action in Iraq's Shiite strongholds, it won't consider holding further talks with Washington on how to stabilize Iraq.
—Tina Susman in Baghdad
Photo: Made in Iran? Not necessarily. Iraqi forces prepare to detonate weapons found earlier this month in Karbala. (Army Sgt. 1st Class Tami Hillis)