US lacks 'explosive'
evidence against Iran
By Gareth Porter
01/17/06 "IPS' -- -- WASHINGTON - For 18 months, the
administration of US President George W Bush has
periodically raised the charge that Iran is supplying
anti-coalition forces in Iraq with arms.
Previously, high administration officials have always
admitted that they had no real evidence to support these
claims. Now, they are going further. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice told reporters on her current Middle
Eastern trip, "I think there is plenty of evidence that
there is Iranian involvement with these networks that
are making high-explosive IEDs [improvised explosive
devices] and that are endangering our troops, and that's
going to be dealt with."
However, Rice failed to provide any evidence of official
The previous pattern had been that US and British
officials suggested that Iranian government involvement
in the use by Sunni insurgents or Shi'ite militias of
"shaped charges" that can penetrate US armored vehicles
was the only logical conclusion that could be drawn from
the facts. But when asked point blank, they admitted
that they had no evidence.
That allegation serves not just one Bush administration
objective, but two: it provides an additional
justification for aggressive rhetoric and pressure
against Tehran and also suggests that Iran bears much of
the blame for the sectarian violence in Baghdad and high
levels of US casualties from IEDs.
The origins of the theme of Iranian complicity strongly
suggest that it was a propaganda line aimed at reducing
the Bush administration's acute embarrassment at its
inability to stop the growing death toll of US troops
from shaped charges used against armored vehicles by
The US command admitted at first that the Sunnis were
making the shaped charges themselves. On June 21, 2005,
General John R Vines, then the senior US commander in
Iraq, told reporters that the insurgents had probably
drawn on bomb-making expertise from the late Iraqi
president Saddam Hussein's army.
A Pentagon official involved in combating the new IEDs
also told the New York Times that the first such bombs
examined by the US military had required considerable
expertise, and that well-trained former government
specialists were probably involved in making them. The
use of infra-red detonators was regarded as a tribute to
the insurgents' "resourcefulness", according to the
But some time in the next six weeks, the Bush
administration made a decision to start blaming its new
problem in Iraq on Tehran. On August 4, 2005, Pentagon
and intelligence officials leaked the story to the
National Broadcasting Co (NBC) and the Columbia
Broadcasting System that US troops had "intercepted"
dozens of shaped charges said to have been "smuggled
into northeastern Iraq only last week".
The NBC story quoted intelligence officials as saying
they believed the IEDs were shipped into Iraq by Iranian
Revolutionary Guards or Hezbollah, but were "convinced
it could not have happened without the full consent of
the Iranian government".
These stories were leaked to coincide with public
accusations by then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld
and US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad that Iran was
meddling in Iraqi affairs. A few days after the stories
appeared, Rumsfeld declared that these shaped charges
were "clearly, unambiguously from Iran" and blamed
Tehran for allowing the cross-border traffic.
But the US administration had a major credibility
problem with that story. It could not explain why Iran
would want to assist the Sunnis, enemies of the militant
Shi'ite parties in Iraq that are aligned with Iran.
British troops in Shi'ite southern Iraq, where the
shaped charges were apparently used by Shi'ite militias,
had an equally embarrassing problem with the IEDs
penetrating their armored vehicles. An unnamed senior
British official in London told the British Broadcasting
Corp on October 5, 2005, that the shaped charges that
had killed British troops in southern Iraq had come from
Hezbollah in Lebanon via Iran.
The following day, British Prime Minister Tony Blair
took the occasion of a joint press conference with Iraqi
President Jalal Talabani to declare that the
circumstances surrounding the bombs that killed British
soldiers "lead us either to Iranian elements or to
Hezbollah". But Blair conceded that he had no evidence
of such a link.
Privately, British officials said the only basis for
their suspicions was that the technology was similar in
design to the shaped charges used by Hezbollah in its
war to drive Israel out of southern Lebanon in the
Anthony Cordesman, a highly respected military analyst
at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in
Washington, explained why the storyline blaming Iran for
the IED problem in Iraq didn't hold water. "A lot of
this is just technology that is leaked into an informal
network," he told the Associated Press. "What works in
one country gets known elsewhere."
The Blair government soon dropped that propaganda line.
The Independent reported on January 5, 2006, that
government officials acknowledged privately that there
was no "reliable intelligence" connecting the Iranian
government to the more powerful IEDs in the south.
However, the US administration continued to push that
accusation, and Bush himself raised the theme for the
first time at a press conference last March 13. "Some of
the most powerful IEDs we're seeing in Iraq today," he
said, "came from Iran."
Bush quoted the then-director of national intelligence,
John Negroponte, as testifying, "Tehran has been
responsible for at least some of the increasing
lethality of anti-coalition attacks by providing Shi'ite
militia with the capability to build improvised
No reporter has followed up on what Negroponte meant by
providing the "capability" to build such devices or why
the militias would need to go outside Iraq to find that
The day after Bush's press conference, General Peter
Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted at
a Pentagon news conference that he had no evidence of
the Iranian government sending any military equipment or
personnel into Iraq. Rumsfeld, appearing with Pace,
said, "All you know is that you find equipment in a
country that came from the neighboring country."
Last November, as the release of the Iraq Study Group
Report approached, Bush administration officials again
planted the story of intercepted Iranian-made weapons
and munitions it had leaked in mid-2005. The American
Broadcasting Co reported on November 30 that a "senior
defense official" had told the network of "smoking-gun
evidence of Iranian support for terrorists in Iraq:
brand-new weapons fresh from Iranian factories".
The new twist in the story was that the weapons
allegedly had manufacturing dates in 2006. The story
continued, "This suggests, say the sources, that the
material is going directly from Iranian factories to
Shi'ite militias, rather than taking a roundabout path
through the black market."
The assumption underlying the anti-Iran Defense
Department spin that a private market for weapons or,
more likely, components, could not move them from Iran
across the porous border to Iraq in a few months is
At about the same time, Bush apparently gave orders that
the US military should seize any Iranians in the country
in an effort to get some kind of evidence to use in
support of its propaganda theme. The first such
operation came in central Baghdad just before Christmas,
and a second raid against Iranian diplomats in Irbil was
carried out to coincide with the president's speech on a
new Iraq policy on January 10.
These raids, presented to the public as part of a
campaign against targets supposedly identified through
good intelligence, were clearly aimed at trying to
substantiate an anti-Iran line for which the Bush
administration has no credible evidence. Those raids now
create a requirement to produce something new to justify
Gareth Porter is a historian and national-security
policy analyst. His latest book is Perils of Dominance:
Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam.
Copyright Inter Press Service