U.S. Sees Decline In Bombs In Iraq

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 2, 2007

Iran may be curtailing the flow into Iraq of lethal armor-piercing projectiles that have become a major killer of U.S. troops, although more time is needed to confirm the trend, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and senior military officials said yesterday.

The number of explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) that have been detonated or found in Iraq has dropped by nearly half in recent months, from a peak of 99 in July to 53 last month, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander in charge of day-to-day military operations in Iraq, said yesterday in a videoconference with Pentagon reporters.

Violence in Iraq has declined by several measures over the past four months, according to U.S. military data, a development that Gates hailed as a success. But in response to a question during a separate Pentagon briefing, he stopped short of saying the United States is "winning" in Iraq.

"Those end up being loaded words," Gates said. "We have been very successful. We need to continue being successful."

Iranian leaders have given assurances to the Iraqi government that they will try to stop the flow of the projectiles and other weaponry from Iran, Gates said, but he added: "I don't know whether to believe them." He also said, "It's too early to tell" whether the flow has been significantly reduced.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is "probably" aware of the weapons flow to Iraq, Gates said. "My guess is that the highest levels are aware," he said. "I don't know how they couldn't be," added Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Iran has denied providing weapons to Iraqi militia and insurgents.

U.S. forces have continued to find caches of EFPs, including one of the largest ever a week ago, Odierno said, but he noted that the uncovered shipments could pre-date any agreement to slow the flow of weapons. "In terms of Iran . . . it's unclear yet to me whether they have slowed down bringing in weapons and supporting the insurgency or not. I'll still wait and see," he said.

The Bush administration has ratcheted up pressure and rhetoric against Iran, including the imposition of financial sanctions last month, and President Bush recently warned of Iran's nuclear ambitions in the context of a possible World War III. Although senior Pentagon and military officials have stressed that military action against Iran would be a last resort, Gates said that there is no difference inside the administration over the principle of resolving conflicts with Iran diplomatically.

National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe emphasized that Iran has not "shown at this point any willingness to play a positive role in Iraq," and said it is too soon to determine whether Iran is playing any part in curtailing the flow of weapons into Iraq.

Gates also spoke of U.S. concerns regarding ballistic missiles he said that Iran has acquired with ranges of up to about 1,550 miles. He said Iran could conduct flight tests with those missiles "considerably sooner" than predicted by other countries such as Russia.

"When the Russians say that the Iranians might not have a missile that could hit Europe or the United States for 20 -- 15 or 20 years -- frankly, I don't know what they're talking about," he said. Recent discussions between Gates and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow focused on how soon Iran could have a ballistic missile capable of reaching Central or Western Europe, he said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company