In late November 2006, a senior intelligence official told both CNN and the New York Times that Hezbollah troops had trained as many as 2,000 Mahdi army fighters in Lebanon.
The fact that the Mahdi army's major military connection has always been with Hezbollah rather than Iran would also explain the presence in Iraq of the PRG-29, a shoulder-fired anti-armour weapon. Although U.S. military briefers identified it last February as being Iranian-made, the RPG-29 is not manufactured by Iran but by the Russian Federation.
According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, RPG-29s were imported from Russia by Syria, then passed on to Hezbollah, which used them with devastating effectiveness against Israeli forces in the 2006 war. According to a June 2004 report on the well-informed military website Strategypage.com, RPG-29s were already turning up in Iraq, "apparently smuggled across the Syrian border."
The earliest EFPs appearing in Iraq in 2004 were so professionally made that they were probably constructed by Hezbollah specialists, according to a detailed account by British expert Michael Knights in Jane's Intelligence Review last year.
By late 2005, however, the British command had already found clear evidence that the Iraqi Shiites themselves were manufacturing their own EFPs. British Army Major General J. B. Dutton told reporters in November 2005 that the bombs were of varying degrees of sophistication.
Some of the EFPs required a "reasonably sophisticated factory," he said, while others required only a simple workshop, which he observed, could only mean that some of them were being made inside Iraq.
After British convoys in Maysan province were attacked by a series of EFP bombings in late May 2006, Knights recounts, British forces discovered a factory making them in Majar al-Kabir north of Basra in June.
In addition, the U.S. military also had its own forensic evidence by fall 2006 that EFPs used against its vehicles had been manufactured in Iraq, according to Knights. He cites photographic evidence of EFP strikes on U.S. armoured vehicles that "typically shows a mixture of clean penetrations from fully-formed EFP and spattering..." That pattern reflected the fact that the locally made EFPs were imperfect, some of them forming the required shape to penetrate but some of them failing to do so.
Then U.S. troops began finding EFP factories. Journalist Andrew Cockburn reported in the Los Angeles Times in mid-February that U.S. troops had raided a Baghdad machine shop in November 2006 and discovered "a pile of copper discs, 5 inches in diameter, stamped out as part of what was clearly an ongoing order."
In a report on Feb. 23, NBC Baghdad correspondent Jane Arraf quoted "senior military officials" as saying that U.S. forces had "have been finding an increasing number of the advanced roadside bombs being not just assembled but manufactured in machine shops here."
Nevertheless, the Bush administration decided to put the blame for the EFPs squarely on the Quds Force of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, after Bush agreed in fall 2006 to target the Quds Force within Iran in order to make Iranian leaders feel vulnerable to U.S. power. The allegedly exclusive Iranian manufacture of EFPs was the administration's only argument for holding the Quds Force responsible for their use against U.S. forces.
At the Feb. 11 military briefing presenting the case for this claim, one of the U.S. military officials declared, "The explosive charges used by Iranian agents in Iraq need a special manufacturing process, which is available only in Iran." The briefer insisted that there was no evidence that they were being made in Iraq.
That lynchpin of the administration's EFP narrative began to break down almost immediately, however. On Feb. 23, NBC's Arraf confronted Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, who had been out in front in January promoting the new Iranian EFP line, with the information she had obtained from other senior military officials that an increasing number of machine stops manufacturing EFPs had been discovered by U.S. troops.
Odierno began to walk the Iranian EFP story back. He said the EFPs had "started to come from Iran," but he admitted "some of the technologies" were "probably being constructed here."
The following day, U.S. troops found yet another EFP factory near Baqubah, with copper discs that appeared to be made with a high degree of precision, but which could not be said with any certainty to have originated in Iran.
The explosive expert who claimed at the February briefing that EFPs could only be made in Iran was then made available to the New York Times to explain away the new find. Maj. Marty Weber now backed down from his earlier statement and admitted that there were "copy cat" EFPs being machined in Iraq that looked identical to those allegedly made in Iran to the untrained eye.
Weber insisted that such Iraqi-made EFPs had slight imperfections which made them "much less likely to pierce armour." But NBC's Arraf had reported the previous week that a senor military official had confirmed to her that the EFPs made in Iraqi shops were indeed quite able to penetrate U.S. armour. The impact of those weapons "isn't as clean," the official said, but they are "almost as effective" as the best-made EFPs.
The idea that only Iranian EFPs penetrate armour would be a surpise to Israeli intelligence, which has reported that EFPs manufactured by Hamas guerrillas in their own machine shops during 2006 had penetrated eight inches of Israeli steel armour in four separate incidents in September and November, according to the Intelligence and Terrorism Center in Tel Aviv.
The Arraf story was ignored by the news media, and the Bush administration has continued to assert the Iranian EFP charge as though it had never been questioned.
It soon became such an accepted part of the media narrative on Iran and Iraq that the only issue about which reporters bothered to ask questions is whether the top leaders of the Iranian government have approved the alleged Quds Force operation.
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Albion Monitor October
25, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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