‘Deadliest Bomb in Iraq’: phony WMDs all over again?


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

February 10, 2007

Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says

WASHINGTON, Feb. 9 ‹ The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in 
Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is 
being supplied by Iran.

The assertion of an Iranian role in supplying the device to Shiite militias 
reflects broad agreement among American intelligence agencies, although 
officials acknowledge that the picture is not entirely complete.

In interviews, civilian and military officials from a broad range of government 
agencies provided specific details to support what until now has been a more 
generally worded claim, in a new National Intelligence Estimate, that Iran is 
providing ³lethal support² to Shiite militants in Iraq.

The focus of American concern is known as an ³explosively formed penetrator,² a 
particularly deadly type of roadside bomb being used by Shiite groups in attacks
on American troops in Iraq. Attacks using the device have doubled in the past 
year, and have prompted increasing concern among military officers. In the last 
three months of 2006, attacks using the weapons accounted for a significant 
portion of Americans killed and wounded in Iraq, though less than a quarter of 
the total, military officials say.

Because the weapon can be fired from roadsides and is favored by Shiite 
militias, it has become a serious threat in Baghdad. Only a small fraction of 
the roadside bombs used in Iraq are explosively formed penetrators. But the 
device produces more casualties per attack than other types of roadside bombs.

Any assertion of an Iranian contribution to attacks on Americans in Iraq is both
politically and diplomatically volatile. The officials said they were willing to
discuss the issue to respond to what they described as an increasingly worrisome
threat to American forces in Iraq, and were not trying to lay the basis for an 
American attack on Iran.

The assessment was described in interviews over the past several weeks with 
American officials, including some whose agencies have previously been skeptical
about the significance of Iran¹s role in Iraq. Administration officials said 
they recognized that intelligence failures related to prewar American claims 
about Iraq¹s weapons arsenal could make critics skeptical about the American 

The link that American intelligence has drawn to Iran is based on a number of 
factors, including an analysis of captured devices, examination of debris after 
attacks, and intelligence on training of Shiite militants in Iran and in Iraq by
the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and by Hezbollah militants believed to be 
working at the behest of Tehran.

The Bush administration is expected to make public this weekend some of what 
intelligence agencies regard as an increasing body of evidence pointing to an 
Iranian link, including information gleaned from Iranians and Iraqis captured in
recent American raids on an Iranian office in Erbil and another site in Baghdad.

The information includes interrogation reports from the raids indicating that 
money and weapons components are being brought into Iraq from across the Iranian
border in vehicles that travel at night. One of the detainees has identified an 
Iranian operative as having supplied two of the bombs. The border crossing at 
Mehran is identified as a major crossing point for the smuggling of money and 
weapons for Shiite militants, according to the intelligence.

According to American intelligence, Iran has excelled in developing this type of
bomb, and has provided similar technology to Hezbollah militants in southern 
Lebanon. The manufacture of the key metal components required sophisticated 
machinery, raw material and expertise that American intelligence agencies do not
believe can be found in Iraq. In addition, some components of the bombs have 
been found with Iranian factory markings from 2006.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates appeared to allude to this intelligence on 
Friday when he told reporters in Seville, Spain, that serial numbers and other 
markings on weapon fragments found in Iraq point to Iran as a source.

Some American intelligence experts believe that Hezbollah has provided some of 
the logistical support and training to Shiite militias in Iraq, but they assert 
that such steps would not be taken without Iran¹s blessing.

³All source reporting since 2004 indicates that Iran¹s Islamic Revolutionary 
Corps-Quds Force is providing professionally-built EFPs and components to Iraqi 
Shia militants,² notes a still-classified American intelligence report that was 
prepared in 2006.

³Based on forensic analysis of materials recovered in Iraq,² the report 
continues, ³Iran is assessed as the producer of these items.²

The United States, using the Swiss Embassy in Tehran as an intermediary, has 
privately warned the Iranian government to stop providing the military 
technology to Iraqi militants, a senior administration official said. The 
British government has issued similar warnings to Iran, according to Western 
officials. Officials said that the Iranians had not responded.

An American intelligence assessment described to The New York Times said that 
³as part of its strategy in Iraq, Iran is implementing a deliberate, calibrated 
policy ‹ approved by Supreme Leader Khamenei and carried out by the Quds Force ‹
to provide explosives support and training to select Iraqi Shia militant groups 
to conduct attacks against coalition targets.² The reference was to Ayatollah 
Ali Khamenei, the Iranian leader, and to an elite branch of Iran¹s Islamic 
Revolutionary Guards Command that is assigned the task of carrying out 
paramilitary operations abroad.

³The likely aim is to make a military presence in Iraq more costly for the 
U.S.,² the assessment said.

Other officials believe Iran is using the attacks to send a warning to the 
United States that it can inflict casualties on American troops if the United 
States takes a more forceful posture toward it.

Iran has publicly denied the allegations that it is providing military support 
to Shiite militants in Iraq. Javad Zarif, Iran¹s ambassador to the United 
Nations, wrote in an Op-Ed article published on Thursday in The Times that the 
Bush administration was ³trying to make Iran its scapegoat and fabricating 
evidence of Iranian activities in Iraq.²

The explosively formed penetrator, detonated on the roadside as American 
vehicles pass by, is capable of blasting a metal projectile through the side of 
an armored Humvee with devastating consequences.

American military officers say that attacks using the weapon reached a high 
point in December, when it accounted for a significant portion of Americans 
killed and wounded in Iraq. For reasons that remain unclear, attacks using the 
device declined substantially in January, but the weapons remain one of the 
principal threats to American troops in and around Baghdad, where five 
additional brigades of American combat troops are to be deployed under the Bush 
administration¹s new plan.

³It is the most effective I.E.D out there,² said Lt. Col. James Danna, who led 
the Second Battalion, Sixth Infantry Regiment in Baghdad last year, referring to
improvised explosive devices, as the roadside bombs are known by the American 
military. ³To me it is a political weapon. There are not a lot of them out 
there, but every time we crack down on the Shia militias that weapon comes out. 
They want to keep us on our bases, keep us out of their neighborhoods and 
prevent us from doing our main mission, which is protecting vulnerable portions 
of the population.²

Adm. William Fallon, President Bush¹s choice to head the Central Command, 
alluded to the weapon¹s ability to punch through the side of armored Humvees in 
his testimony to Congress last month.

³Equipment that was, we thought, pretty effective in protecting our troops just 
a matter of months ago is now being challenged by some of the techniques and 
devices over there,² Admiral Fallon said. ³So I¹m learning as we go in that this
is a fast-moving ballgame.²

Mr. Gates told reporters last week that he had heard there had been cases in 
which the weapon ³can take out an Abrams tank.²

The increasing use of the weapon is the latest twist in a lethal game of measure
and countermeasure that has been carried out throughout the nearly four-year-old
Iraq war. Using munitions from Iraq¹s vast and poorly guarded arsenal, 
insurgents developed an array of bombs to strike the more heavily armed and 
technologically superior American military.

In response, the United States military deployed armored Humvees, which in turn 
spawned the development of even more potent roadside bombs. American officials 
say that the first suspected use of the penetrator occurred in late 2003 and 
that attacks have risen steadily since then.

To make the weapon, a metal cylinder is filled with powerful explosives. A metal
concave disk manufactured on a special press is fixed to the firing end.

Several of the cylinders are often grouped together in an array. The weapon is 
generally triggered when American vehicles drive by an infrared sensor, which 
operates on the same principle as a garage door opener. The sensor is impervious
to the electronic jamming the American military uses to try to block other 
remote-control attacks.

When an American vehicle crosses the beam, the explosives in the cylinders are 
detonated, hurling their metal lids at targets at a tremendous speed. The metal 
changes shape in flight, forming into a slug that penetrate many types of armor.

In planning their attacks, Shiite militias have taken advantage of the tactics 
employed by American forces in Baghdad. To reduce the threat from suicide car 
bombs and minimize the risk of inadvertently killing Iraqi civilians, American 
patrols and convoys have been instructed to keep their distance from civilian 
traffic. But that has made it easier for the Shiite militias to attack American 
vehicles. When they see American vehicles approaching, they activate the 
infrared sensors.

According to American intelligence agencies, the Iranians are also believed to 
have provided Shiite militants with rocket-propelled grenades, shoulder-fired 
antiaircraft missiles, mortars, 122-millimeter rockets and TNT.

Among the intelligence that the United States is expected to make public this 
weekend is information indicating that some of these weapons said to have been 
made in Iran were carried into Iraq in recent years. Examples include a 
shoulder-fired antiaircraft missile that was fired at a plane flying near the 
Baghdad airport in 2004 but which failed to launch properly; an Iranian 
rocket-propelled grenade made in 2006; and an Iranian 81-millimeter mortar made 
in 2006.

Assessments by American intelligence agencies say there is no indication that 
there is any kind of black-market trade in the Iranian-linked roadside bombs, 
and that shipments of the components are being directed to Shiite militants who 
have close links to Iran. The American military has developed classified 
techniques to try to counter the sophisticated weapon.

Marine officials say that weapons have not been found in the Sunni-dominated 
Anbar Province, adding to the view that the device is an Iranian-supplied and 
Shiite-employed weapon.

To try to cut off the supply, the American military has sought to focus on the 
cells of Iranian Revolutionary Guard operatives it asserts are in Iraq. American
intelligence agencies are concerned that the Iranians may respond by increasing 
the supply of the weapons.

³We are working day and night to disassemble these networks that do everything 
from bring the explosives to the point of construction, to how they¹re put 
together, to who delivers them, to the mechanisms that are used to have them go 
off,² Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last 
week. ³It is instructive that at least twice in the last month, that in going 
after the networks, we have picked up Iranians.²

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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