US military officials in Iraq warn of growing Iranian threat
American military officials say the upcoming US withdrawal has emboldened Iranian-backed militias, which they blame for recent deadly attacks and allege are stockpiling weapons.
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Buchanan says weapons used in attacks include Iranian-made rockets manufactured as recently as 2010 representing an increase in munitions coming across the Iranian border over the past eight months.Skip to next paragraph
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At a recent display for a small group of journalists last week at one of the military’s most secretive installations, military explosives experts displayed rockets, powerful roadside bombs, and timing devices recovered in attacks on US forces. The arms included an improvised rocket-assisted munition – known as an IRAM – used extremely effectively in attacks against American forces in the south. Only Iranian-linked groups use the mortars, made more lethal by attaching warheads from rockets, say officials.
[Edtior's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described an IRAM, an improvised rocket-assisted munition].
US explosive experts linked a fatal attack on US soldiers in June to the Iranian-backed group Kitaib Hizbollah. An explosives expert says fingerprints on the truck used in the rocket attack led them to a suspected militant who had been in US custody previously.
The explosives experts, who insisted on not being identified by name, would talk in only the most general terms on what features identify the rockets and bombs as having been made in Iran. Iranian officials deny arming or training militants in Iraq.
Buchanan said the Iraqi Army has found significant stockpiles of rockets and improvised explosive devices, including a cache of 49 fully ready EFPs – the most lethal roadside bombs – discovered in a Baghdad neighborhood two months ago but has proved less capable of stopping the supply lines.
“What we have not seen a lot of is intercept of any of these munitions while they’re in transit,” Buchanan says. He says many of the shipments seem to be coming across the legal border crossings, including in buses of Iranian religious pilgrims that are not checked by border authorities, he says.
Sadr's powerful position
Despite media reports of a major Iraqi government crackdown on southern Iraq's Shiite militias last month said to involve 2,000 Iraqi soldiers, they have not made significant inroads, according to US officials.
Analysts say that while Maliki significantly boosted his popularity in 2008 by sending in the Iraqi Army into Basra to retake the city from Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia, he is too reliant now on Mr. Sadr’s political support to do the same thing.
Sadr is in Iran where he is pursuing his religious studies but his political wing forms an essential part of Maliki’s coalition government while another of his militias, the Promised Day Brigade, is one of the groups blamed for attacks on US forces. Maliki emerged from elections 1-1/2 years ago with fewer seats than his nearest rival and managed to take power only by cobbling together a broad coalition.
“As long as there is this big unwieldy government, it is very unlikely that Maliki is going to turn on the militias the way the United States wants him to do,” says Reidar Visser, an Iraq expert at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs who also maintains Historiae.org.
The US has given assurances to Iraq it will not attack Iran from Iraqi territory. Despite the covert attacks, Iran is also believed to have assured Iraq it will not openly attack US forces.
“America accuses Iran and Iran accuses America. At the end, this is part of two decades of struggle between America and Iran,” says Abbas al-Bayati, a member of parliament from Maliki’s State of Law coalition. “But there are also indirect side agreements. If we didn’t have such agreements, Iraq now would be hell.”
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