WASHINGTON - Last April, top
George W. Bush administration officials, desperate to exploit any
possible crack in the close relationship between the Nouri al-Maliki
government and Iran, launched a new round of charges that Iran had
stepped up covert arms assistance to Shi'a militias.
of Defence Robert M. Gates suggested that there was "some sense of an
increased level of [Iranian] supply of weapons and support to these
groups." And Washington Post reporter Karen DeYoung was told by
military officials that the "plentiful, high quality weaponry" the
militia was then using in Basra was "recently manufactured in Iran".
But a U.S. military task force had been passing on data to the
Multi-National Force Iraq (MNFI) command that told a very different
story. The data collected by the task force in the previous six weeks
showed that relatively few of the weapons found in Shi'a militia caches
were manufactured in Iran.
According to the data compiled by the task force, and made available to
an academic research project last July, only 70 weapons believed to
have been manufactured in Iran had been found in post-invasion weapons
caches between mid-February and the second week in April. And those
weapons represented only 17 percent of the weapons found in caches that
had any Iranian weapons in them during that period.
The actual proportion of Iranian-made weapons to total weapons found,
however, was significantly lower than that, because the task force was
finding many more weapons caches in Shi'a areas that did not have any
Iranian weapons in them.
The task force database identified 98 caches over the
five-month period with at least one Iranian weapon, excluding caches
believed to have been hidden prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion.
But according to an e-mail from the MNFI press desk this week, the task
force found and analysed a total of roughly 4,600 weapons caches during
that same period.
The caches that included Iranian weapons thus represented just 2
percent of all caches found. That means Iranian-made weapons were a
fraction of one percent of the total weapons found in Shi'a militia
caches during that period.
The extremely small proportion of Iranian arms in Shi'a militia weapons
caches further suggests that Shi'a militia fighters in Iraq had been
getting weapons from local and international arms markets rather than
from an official Iranian-sponsored smuggling network.
The database was compiled by MNFI's Task Force Troy, which was directed
to examine all weapons caches found in Iraq beginning in early January
2008 to identify Iranian-made weapons. The database was released by
MNFI last July to the Empirical Studies of Conflict project,
co-sponsored by the U.S. Military Academy and Princeton University, and
was published for the first time by West Point's Counter-Terrorism
Centre last month as an appendix to a paper on Iranian strategy in Iraq
by Joseph Felter and Brian Fishman.
In late April, the U.S. presented the Maliki government with a document
that apparently listed various Iranian arms found in Iraq and
highlighted alleged Iranian arms found in Basra. But the U.S. campaign
to convince Iraqi officials collapsed when Task Force Troy analysed a
series of large weapons caches uncovered in Basra and Karbala in April
Caches of arms found in Karbala late last April and May totaled more
than 2,500 weapons, and caches in Basra included at least 3,700
weapons, according to official MNFI statements. That brought the total
number of weapons found in those former Mahdi Army strongholds to more
than 6,200 weapons.
But the task force found that none of those weapons were
Iranian-made. The database lists three caches found Apr. 19, but
provides no data on any of them. It lists no other caches for the
region coinciding with that period, confirming that no weapons had been
found to be of Iranian origin.
In announcing the weapons totals discovered in Basra to
reporters on May 7, Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner said nothing about the
provenance of the weapons, implicitly admitting that they were not
Only two months before the new high-level propaganda push on
alleged Iranian weapons supply to Shi'a militias, the U.S. command had
put out a story suggesting that large numbers of Iranian-supplied arms
had been buried all over the country. On Feb. 17, 2008, U.S. military
spokesman Rear Admiral Gregory Smith told reporters that Iraqi and
coalition forces had captured 212 weapons caches across Iraq over the
previous week "with growing links to the Iranian-backed special
The Task Force Troy data for the week of Feb. 9-16 show,
however, that the U.S. command had information on Iranian arms
contradicting that propaganda line. According to the task force
database, only five of those 212 caches contained any Iranian weapons
that analysts believed might have been buried after the U.S. invasion.
And the total number of confirmed Iranian-made weapons found in those
five caches, according to the data, was eight, not including four
Iranian-made hand grenades.
The task force database includes 350 armour-piercing explosively formed
penetrators (EFPs) found in Iraqi weapons caches. However, the database
does not identify any of the EFPs as Iranian weapons.
That treatment of EFPs in the caches appears to contradict claims by
U.S. officials throughout 2007 and much of 2008 that EFPs were being
smuggled into Iraq by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The
allegedly Iranian-manufactured EFPs had been the centrepiece of the
U.S. military's February 2007 briefing charging Iran with arming Shi'a
militiamen in Iraq.
Press reports of a series of discoveries of shops for
manufacturing EFPs in Iraq in 2007 forced the U.S. command to admit
that the capacity to manufacture EFPs was not limited to Iran. By the
second half of 2008, U.S. officials had stopped referring to Iranian
supply of EFPs altogether.
Felter and Fishman do not analyse the task force data in their
paper, but they criticise official U.S. statements on Iranian weapons
in Iraq. "Some reports erroneously attribute munitions similar to those
produced in Iran as Iranian," they write, "while other Iranian
munitions found in Iraq were likely purchased on the open market."
The co-authors note that Iranian arms can be purchased directly from
the website of the Defence Industries of Iran with a credit card.