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Iraq increasingly finds itself caught between U.S. and Iran

The US military in Iraq says Iran continues to aid militants, but Iraqis now say that they want their own evidence.

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Gen. David Petraeus told the BBC last week that the number of weapons found "in the Baghdad area is even greater [than those found in southern Iraq], so there is huge concern." He listed more than 1,000 artillery rounds, "hundreds and hundreds" of rockets, and a number of explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) that the US claims are made in Iran.

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In mid-April, the US commander for Baghdad displayed numerous mortars and rockets—both 77mm and 122mm—and EFPs that he said bore markings tying them to Iran. But US officers say they have held off making a bigger show until after the Iraqis visited Iran with the "evidence."

Iran's declarations of support were presaged by Hussein Shariatmadari, a representative of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and editor of the hard-line Kayhan newspaper in Tehran. "When the Americans and Iraqis bring such accusations … they are facing difficulties in Iraq. When they face difficulties, they blame Iran for them and not themselves," Mr. Shariatmadari told the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, saying the "evidence" presented by the Iraqi delegation was "not conclusive."

"Today the Iranians and Iraqis want one thing: to end the [US] occupation and to see a stable and secure Iraq," asserted Shariatmadari, as translated by "The truth is that we support the government's effort to end all armed militias."

The US State Department reports a very different picture about Iran. The US charges that in Iraq, military hardware from Iran including "advanced rockets," sniper rifles, and sophisticated roadside bombs "have killed thousands of [US-led] Coalition and Iraqi Forces."

The report further charges that the Qods Force – an elite branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps responsible for operations abroad – has conducted training in advanced techniques both inside and outside Iraq. Western sources say the numbers involved are few, perhaps numbering dozens of trainees.

Amid the charges against Iran, former President Mohammad Khatami said that exporting violence was "treason" against the ideals of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and its leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

"What did Imam [Khomeini] want and what did he mean by 'exporting the revolution'? Taking up arms and causing explosions in other countries and establishing groups to carry out sabotage in other countries? Imam was strongly opposed to these behaviors," Khatami said in a speech published in Tehran's Kargozaran newspaper. "This is the biggest treason to Islam and the revolution."

Sadr's office downplayed the significance of the Iranian military hardware, in an area where rival Shiite militias have been fighting each other for years for political influence and control of petroleum profits. Spokesman Salah al-Ubaydi was quoted in Asharq al-Awsat saying the Iraqi government was "trying to find excuses" for poor fighting in Basra by blaming Iran.

The weapons caches in Basra are "quite normal because Iran sells weapons to anyone who wants and [the] al-Sadr movement, Al Qaeda, and the parties in Iraq's political process have Iranian weapons," Mr. Ubaydi told the newspaper. "Therefore it is quite natural to find Iranian weapons because they are sold and bought and any party can buy them."