US and Iraq try to contain Iran weapons smuggling
The US military steps up efforts to stop Iran from using the marshes of southern Iraq to smuggle weapons.
maysan PROVINCE, iraq
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The Iran-Iraq border in Maysan Province is straddled by more than 150 miles of desert and marshland that the US and Iraqi militaries allege to be a vital support corridor for Iraqi Shiite militants with ties to Iran.
US officers say that all roads from Shiite militant attacks in Baghdad lead back to here – even when there is no road.
"Everything that happens in Baghdad or Mosul by the sectarian Shiite groups is all tied to Iran – you have to cut the threads that tie them, and almost all of them start here," says Lt. Col. Scott Stephens, the intelligence officer of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.
Securing the border area has become such a priority for the Iraqi government that in August it moved its 10th Army Division headquarters from Nasiriyah to Amarah, the capital of Maysan. The Iraqi Army and border enforcement police, along with the US, are establishing a joint security station on the edge of the marshes.
"We think there is training being done in Iran," says Lt. Col. Robert Menist of San Francisco, commander of the 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment. Unemployed Iraqis from this area [of Iraq], he says, "are being trained on how to launch a rocket, how to launch an IED [improvised explosive device], and then sent to Amarah or further north to Baghdad or other places."
US and Iraqi officials are also trying to address the unemployment and poverty that makes smuggling one of the few options for people here.
US officials say the most lethal equipment used in attacks is being smuggled across the border: IEDs capable of sending molten slugs of metal through tank armor, trigger mechanisms for roadside bombs, and improvised rocket-assisted mortars.
Recent finds included improvised rocket launchers and parts to make hundreds more packed into banana crates from Iran.
The US says its claims are supported by the lot numbers and dates of manufacture on rockets and other seized weapons, information that points to Iran.
Iran denies that it is smuggling weapons or fighters into Iraq – though Iraqi officials disagree. Iraq recently arrested a man near Basra who, officials say, is a member of the Quds Force, a unit of the Islamic Republic's Revolutionary Guards that was originally formed to spread the Islamic revolution to neighboring countries. During the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, the Quds Force was used to attempt to infiltrate Iraq and continued to participate in harassing operations against the country after the war was over.