By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday that he has no information indicating Iran's government is directing the supply of lethal weapons to Shiite insurgent groups in Iraq.
"We know that the explosively formed projectiles are manufactured in Iran," Pace told Voice of America during a visit to Australia. "What I would not say is that the Iranian government, per se, knows about this."
"It is clear that Iranians are involved, and it's clear that materials from Iran are involved," he continued, "but I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit."
Pace's comments came a day after U.S. military officials in Baghdad alleged that the "highest levels" of the Iranian government have directed use of weapons that are killing U.S. troops in Iraq. No information was provided to substantiate the charge. Administration officials yesterday deflected requests for more details, even as they repeatedly implied Tehran's involvement.
In an interview yesterday with ABC's "Good Morning America," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the administration is "pointing fingers at others" when its troop presence in Iraq is the source of most of the country's problems.
While not denying that Iranian weapons may have been found in Iraq, Ahmadinejad implied that if they were, it was not his government's doing. "Can Americans close their long borders?" he asked, noting that "millions" of Iranians cross the border into neighboring Iraq each year. "The position of our government . . . and the position of the Revolutionary Guard is also the same: We are opposed to any kind of conflict in Iraq."
On Sunday, in a briefing for reporters, U.S. military officials in Baghdad offered a slide show and examples of armor-piercing explosives that they said bore writing and serial numbers from Iran. Briefers, speaking anonymously for what they said were security reasons, said the weapons had caused the deaths of 170 U.S. soldiers in the past two years. No cameras were allowed in the briefing room, and a transcript of the session was not provided.
The officials also showed what they said were false identity cards of Iranians whom U.S. forces had recently detained in Iraq. The men were described as members of the Quds Force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that U.S. officials believe is under the control of Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"We have been able to determine that this material," especially sophisticated roadside explosives called explosively formed penetrators, "is coming from the IRGC-Quds Force," said a briefer, identified only as a senior defense analyst. Direction for operations using the weaponry, he said, came from the "highest levels" of Iran's government.
Asked by reporters yesterday to provide more information on the charge, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, "The Iranians are up to their eyeballs in this activity." He called the Baghdad presentation a "very strong circumstantial case," saying he was "not going to try to embellish that briefing" and "any reasonable person . . . would draw the same conclusions."
White House spokesman Tony Snow offered similar responses. "Let me put it this way," he said. "There's not a whole lot of freelancing in the Iranian government, especially when it comes to something like that."
Pressed repeatedly, Snow answered, "Look, the Department of Defense is doing this. What I'm telling you is, you guys want to get those questions answered, you need to go to the Pentagon."
A call to the Defense Intelligence Agency brought a referral to the main Pentagon press office. That office referred a caller to the Washington office of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, which responded with an e-mailed copy of Sunday's briefing slides -- containing no mention of the "highest levels" allegation and a request for questions in writing. Written questions brought no response. An official from the Pentagon Joint Staff said last night that Pace had seen the briefing slides but had "no personal knowledge of any senior involvement by senior Iranian officials."
Members of Congress have repeatedly asked whether the administration is planning a repeat in Iran of its 2003 invasion of Iraq. Intelligence findings that Iraq's Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and had close ties to al-Qaeda turned out to be almost entirely false.
Sunday's briefing on Iran, originally scheduled for last month, had been delayed as officials said they were trying to avoid "overstating" what they could prove.
"There are certainly those who are in favor" of war with Iran, Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) said Sunday of the Bush administration on CBS's "Face the Nation." "We've seen that in the past that they would like nothing more than to build a case for that."
In recent weeks, the administration has denied any war plans, saying it is committed to a strategy of pressure and diplomacy against Iran's nuclear activities, operations in Iraq and other aggression.
In an interview yesterday with C-SPAN, President Bush described his policy as "comprehensive" and complained that charges he is planning to attack Iran are politically motivated and "typical Washington."