Bombs tie Iran to Iraq extremists, U.S. says
MUNICH, Germany – Serial numbers and other markings on bombs suggest that Iranians are linked to deadly explosives used by Iraqi militants, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Friday in some of the administration’s first public assertions on evidence the military has collected.
While the Bush administration and military officials have repeatedly said Iranians have been tied to terrorist bombings in Iraq, they have said little about evidence to bolster such claims, including any documents and other items collected in recent raids in Iraq.
The assertions have been met with skepticism by some lawmakers still fuming over intelligence reports used by the administration to propel the country to war with Iraq in 2003. Gates’ comments came as a new Pentagon inspector general’s report criticized prewar Defense Department assertions of al-Qaida connections to Iraq.
Gates told reporters Friday that markings on explosives provide “pretty good” evidence that Iranians are supplying either weapons or technology for Iraqi extremists.
“I think there’s some serial numbers, there may be some markings on some of the projectile fragments that we found” that point to Iran, he said.
Gates’ remarks left unclear how the U.S. knows the serial numbers are traceable to Iran and whether such weapons would have been sent to Iraq by the Iranian government or by private arms dealers.
Explosives have been a leading killer of U.S. forces in Iraq, where more than 3,000 servicemen and women have died in the nearly four-year-old war.
In Iraq on Friday, the military reported three more American soldiers killed in combat, pushing the U.S. death toll to 33 in the first eight days of the month.
Separately, U.S. helicopters targeting insurgents mistakenly killed at least five allied Kurdish militiamen in the northern city of Mosul early Friday.
Last week, Gates said that U.S. military officers in Baghdad had been planning to brief reporters on what was known about Iranian involvement in Iraq but that he and other senior officials had delayed the briefing to assure the information was accurate.
On Friday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said such information would come from U.S. officials in Iraq, though she did not say when.
“There has been discussion about how to detail out some of that evidence,” she told reporters. “Decisions on that are being made out of Baghdad.”
State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Friday that officials hoping to publicly release the information face another problem as well.
He said, “Under the circumstances and given the attention that this has gotten, we want to make sure that we provide you the best information possible, but do so in a way that doesn’t compromise sources and methods, that doesn’t make it harder for us to deal with the situation that’s there.”
Gates, who traveled to Munich, Germany, late Friday to attend a security conference, also told reporters that he was surprised that raids last month by coalition and Iraqi forces in Iraq swept up some Iranians.
“I don’t think there was surprise that the Iranians were actually involved, I think there was surprise we actually picked up some,” he said.
He and other U.S. officials have said for some time that Iranians, and possibly the government of Iran, have been providing weapons technology and perhaps some explosives to Iraqi fighters.
Gates, who attended his first NATO defense ministers meeting in Seville, Spain this week, said Iran is “very much involved in providing either the technology or the weapons themselves for these explosively formed projectiles.”
He acknowledged the Iranian weapons are not a large percentage of the roadside bombs used in Iraq, but he said, “They’re extremely lethal.”
Gates said the recent raids combined with the movement of an additional U.S. aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf have created a stir, but he stated that the Bush administration had no intention of attacking Iran.
Asked about the Defense Department inspector general’s report criticizing the Pentagon’s use of prewar intelligence, Gates said he hadn’t yet read it.
But, he added, “based on my whole career, I believe that all intelligence activities need to be carried on through established institutions, and where there is appropriate oversight. And if the intelligence isn’t adequate, then changes need to be made in these institutions to improve the intelligence.”
While at the Seville conference Friday, Gates met privately with Russia Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and raised concerns about Russian foreign arms sales, according to a senior defense official.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private, said there are “areas where Russian foreign policy does not seem to be helpful.”
He declined to say which countries might be involved. Ivanov told Gates there were no harmful intentions in the sales, the official said.
During the meeting, Gates and Ivanov also disagreed over U.S. plans to deploy its missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, the official said.
Gates later dismissed Russian criticism of the plan, saying that a few weeks ago “Ivanov acknowledged our plans here in Europe for missile defense do not threaten Russia nor its strategic deterrent.” He added, “There’s clearly no danger to Russia, and I think we’ll work our way through it.”