General softens Iran assertions
WASHINGTON – A day after the U.S. military charged Iran’s government with shipping powerful explosive devices to Shiite Muslim fighters in Iraq for use against American troops, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Monday that he hasn’t seen any intelligence to support the claim.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace’s comment could make it harder for the Bush administration, its credibility about Iran questioned because of its false prewar claims about Saddam Hussein, to make its case that Iranian meddling in Iraq is fueling sectarian violence and causing U.S. casualties.
At a briefing Sunday in Baghdad, U.S. military officials said the al-Quds Force, an elite Iranian paramilitary organization, is sending arms into Iraq that include bombs that shoot molten metal jets through the armor of American tanks and Humvees.
They said these “explosively formed projectiles,” or EFPs, have killed 170 U.S. troops and wounded more than 600 others and are “coming from the highest level of the Iranian government.”
Asked about the briefing during a visit Monday to Canberra, Australia, Pace said he couldn’t substantiate the assertion that the clerical regime in Tehran is shipping such devices to Shiite militias in Iraq.
“We know that the explosively formed projectiles are manufactured in Iran. What I would not say is that the Iranian government per se knows about this,” Pace replied. “It is clear that Iranians are involved and it is clear that materials from Iran are involved. But I would not say based on what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit.”
Neither the White House nor the Pentagon responded to requests for an explanation of the apparent contradiction between the nation’s highest-ranking military officer and his subordinates in Baghdad.
A senior U.S. intelligence official told McClatchy Newspapers that U.S. intelligence agencies believe the al-Quds Force, a component of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, couldn’t conduct such a major undertaking without the knowledge of top leaders.
“Based on our understanding of the Iranian system and the history of the IRGC (Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps) operations, the IC (intelligence community) assesses that activity this extensive on the part of the Quds Force would not be conducted without approval from top leaders in Iran,” the senior intelligence official said.
The official requested anonymity because intelligence on Iran is highly classified. But his remarks, translated from intelligence parlance, indicate that the U.S. has no conclusive evidence that Iran’s leaders have directed the arms deliveries, as one briefer in Baghdad conceded on Sunday, but instead has concluded that they probably approved them.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denied Monday that Iran is supplying weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq or stirring up violence by majority Shiites against minority Sunni Muslims, contending that the U.S. military presence is to blame for the bloodshed.
“We are asking for peace, we are asking for security,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “We are opposed to any kind of conflict and also the presence of foreign forces in Iraq.”
“The U.S. administration and Bush are used to accusing others. The fact that you are showing us some pieces of papers and you call them documents – they do not solve any problem,” said Ahmadinejad. “There should be a court to prove the case and verify the case.”
President Bush and his top lieutenants contend that Tehran is supporting Shiite militias that have seized control of much of southern Iraq, attacked American forces and driven minority Sunnis out of large areas of Baghdad in response to Sunni insurgent attacks.
In response, U.S. forces have detained at least seven Iranian operatives in Iraq, and Bush has ordered a second U.S. aircraft carrier task force into the Persian Gulf.
Democratic lawmakers and other administration critics, including some former senior U.S. officials, are worried that the White House may be exaggerating its case against Tehran to justify a military strike on Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons facilities.
White House spokesman Tony Snow reiterated Monday that the United States has no plans to attack Iran.
“I don’t know how much clearer we can be: We’re not getting ready for war in Iran,” said Snow. “What we are doing is protecting our own people.”