BAGHDAD – The chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq asserted on Wednesday that Iranian-made arms manufactured as recently as last year have reached Sunni insurgents here, marking, if true, a new development in the four-year-old conflict.
Citing testimony from detainees in U.S. custody, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said Iranian intelligence operatives were backing Sunni militants in Iraq while at the same time training Shiite extremists in Iran.
“We have, in fact, found some cases recently where Iranian intelligence services have provided to some Sunni insurgent groups some support,” Caldwell told reporters, adding that he was aware of only Shiite extremists being trained inside Iran. Caldwell cited a collection of munitions on a nearby table that he said were made in Iran and found two days ago in a majority Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad.
Khalil Sadati, media adviser for the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad, denied his government was backing militant groups inside Iraq. For months, U.S. officials have alleged that Iranian entities have provided Shiite militias with weapons, including potent roadside bombs the military calls “EFPs,” or explosively formed penetrators, that have killed dozens of U.S. soldiers. Wednesday marked the first time that U.S. officials have claimed that Sunni insurgents were also receiving arms from Iran.
It was unclear what motivation Iran, a Shiite theocracy, would have for backing Sunni insurgents, many of whom are staunchly anti-Iranian and fear the rise of Shiite power in the region.