U.S. Not Planning for War With Iran, Gates Says

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 2, 2007; 3:14 PM

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates denied today that the United States is planning for war with Iran, saying that U.S. military efforts are focused on countering alleged Iranian activities against American troops in Iraq.

In a Pentagon briefing with Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gates said the military is putting together details of the Iranian involvement, especially Iran's purported role in supplying sophisticated shaped explosive charges used in roadside bomb attacks on U.S. forces.

Gates also disputed a Congressional Budget Office study that estimates the size and cost of President Bush's planned "surge" of U.S. troops into Iraq at about double the existing figures. And he said the troop strength of the Iraqi forces now deploying as part of a new U.S.-Iraqi security plan for Baghdad is probably insufficient and needs to be increased.

The two officials took issue with the conclusion in a new National Intelligence Estimate that "the term 'civil war' accurately describes key elements of the Iraqi conflict." Gates said the words "oversimplify a very complex situation in Iraq" and stressed that the country does not have "a divided army, a divided government in the sense that I have always thought of a civil war."

Pace said using the term amounts to "putting a bumper sticker" on a highly complicated issue and "really doesn't help solve the problem."

The National Intelligence Estimate said that while the term "does not adequately capture the complexity of the conflict in Iraq," it nevertheless correctly applies to "the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities, a sea change in the character of the violence, ethno-sectarian mobilization and population displacements."

Asked about public suspicions that the Bush administration is gearing up to attack Iran, Gates said, "The president has made clear, the secretary of state has made clear, I've made clear -- nobody is planning -- we are not planning for a war with Iran. What we are trying to do is, in Iraq, counter what the Iranians are doing to our soldiers, their involvement in activities, particularly these explosively-formed projectiles that are killing our troops."

The United States is also trying to get Iran to stop its uranium enrichment program and is doing so "strictly through the diplomatic process," Gates said. He said that effort "seems to be showing some progress; at least the diplomatic process is working."

Gates said the recent deployment of a second U.S. carrier group in the Persian Gulf has fueled speculation of war preparations. However, "the purpose of that is simply to underscore to our friends, as well as to our potential adversaries in the region, that the United States has considered the Persian Gulf and that whole area and stability in that area to be a vital American national interest." He said friendly nations "can count on us having a presence and being strong in their area in protecting our interests and in protecting theirs."

Gates said it is "not clear yet" whether Iranians were involved in a brazen Jan. 20 attack on U.S. soldiers at a provincial center in Karbala, a city 30 miles south of Baghdad that is sacred to Shiite Muslims. Up to a dozen men wearing U.S. Army-style uniforms drove into the compound, fought U.S. troops with rifles and grenades and abducted four American soldiers who were later killed. Another American soldier was killed in the attack.

Asked if he had any indications that Iranians were involved in the planning or execution of the attack, Gates said, "I know there's a lot of speculation about this. I would just tell you flatly that the investigation is still going on, and the information that I've seen is ambiguous."

Pressed for evidence of any Iranian activities resulting in the death of U.S. troops in Iraq, Gates said that "we have seen evidence of Iranian involvement" in providing explosively formed projectiles, known as EFPs, that are used in powerful improvised explosive devices, the roadside bombs referred to by the military as IEDs. He said Iran has provided "either or both the technology and the weapons themselves that have been killing American soldiers."

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