On Wednesday, USA Today reported that in an interview Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said the U.S. had captured weapons in Iraq with "serial numbers . . . that trace back to Iran."[1]  --  An accompanying article cited a device known as "an explosively formed projectile (EFP)" that "U.S. officials have linked to Iran" and that has caused American deaths against heavily armored vehicles.[2]  --  No concrete evidence of an Iranian connection has been presented, however:  "U.S. officials have declined to say exactly how many have been killed or how the weapons have been traced to Iran," supposedly because "the military wants to limit the information available to insurgents about the effectiveness of their attacks,' according to a Pentagon spokeswoman.  --  USA Today also provided an inset portraying RPG-29s and Katyusha rockets, cited in the first article.  --  Simultaneously, the paper published an AP piece saying both the U.S. and Iran were "on tenterhooks" in a "behind-the-scenes struggle" in which the U.S. "has shifted to offense."[3]  --  Both sides are "already sparring on the ground" in a struggle that "could explode into open warfare over a single misstep."  --  Iraq has become a "proxy battleground."  --  Most ominously, AP quoted "a U.S. military official in the Gulf [who] likened the U.S.-Iran standoff to the buildup in hostility in Europe before World War I, when the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne triggered a tragic war that engulfed a continent.  --  'A mistake could be made and you could end up in something that neither side ever really wanted, and suddenly it's August 1914 all over again,' the U.S. officer said on condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the issue. . . . In Tehran, political analyst Hermidas Bavand said U.S. force increases were leading many Iranians to believe Washington is looking to pick a fight.  'It's an extremely dangerous situation,' Bavand said.  'I don't think Tehran wants war under any circumstances.  But there might be an accidental event that could escalate into a large confrontation.'" ...


1.

GENERAL SAYS U.S. HAS PROOF IRAN ARMING IRAQI MILITIAS
By Jim Michaels

USA Today
January 31, 2007

http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2007-01-30-iraq-iran_x.htm?csp=34

BAGHDAD -- Iran is supplying Iraqi militias with a variety of powerful weapons including Katyusha rockets, the No. 2 U.S. general in Iraq said Tuesday.

"We have weapons that we know through serial numbers . . . that trace back to Iran," Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said in an interview with USA TODAY.

His comments came as the Bush administration has been taking an increasingly tough stance against what it alleges is Iranian meddling in sectarian violence in Iraq. Last week, the White House confirmed that the president had authorized U.S. troops to take action against Iranian agents in Iraq who present threats.

INSURGENT WEAPONS: Iranian devices killing U.S. troops [See #4 below]

On Tuesday, President Bush vowed to crack down on those who supply Iraqi insurgents with arms, though he denied any plans to invade Iran.

"We'll deal with it by finding their supply chains and their agents and . . . arresting them. . . . In other words, we're going to protect our troops," Bush told ABC News.

Odierno did not provide further details on how weapons were linked to Iran. The Iranian government has denied providing weapons to Iraqi militias.

Most weapons supplied by Iran end up in the hands of Shiite extremists, Odierno said.

He said the weapons include:

•The RPG-29, a rocket-propelled grenade that can fire armor-piercing rounds. It is larger and more sophisticated than the RPG-7 more commonly found in Iraq.

•Katyusha rockets, so large they are generally fired from trucks.

•Powerful roadside bombs, known as explosively formed projectiles, which can pierce armor. The technological know-how and "some of the elements to make them are coming out of Iran," Odierno said.

Several Iranians have been detained in raids inside Iraq, and some remain in custody. The arrests have provided clues about Iranian operations, Odierno said.

"Every time you pick up individuals you learn about how they facilitate themselves within a country," he said.

He did not specify whether the Iranians in custody are cooperating, or whether evidence was seized during the arrest.

Iran's ambassador to Iraq told the *New York Times* this week that Iran was taking steps to expand military and economic ties with Iraq.

4.

U.S. BLAMES IRAN FOR NEW BOMBS IN IRAQ
By Tom Vanden Brook

USA Today
January 31, 2007

http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2007-01-30-ied-iran_x.htm

[INSET CAPTION: INSURGENT ARMS: A number of weapons found in Iraq have been traced to Iran, according to U.S. officials. Some of them: * 105mm RPG-29. Hand-held grenade launcher fires a projectile capable of penetrating tanks and buildings. * Katyusha rocket launcher. One type is the 300mm BM-30 multiple rocket launcher. * Explosively formed projectile. An explosively formed projectile is an armor-piercing bomb. It is made from common pipe, and its blast creates a molten projectile that can travel at up to 1.2 miles per second. The projectile can penetrate 4 inches of armor from 100 yards. Sources: KBP Instrument Design Bureau; GlobalSecurity.org; Air Force Research Library; Joint IED Defeat Organization; and wire reports. By David Evans and Karl Gelles, USA TODAY.]

WASHINGTON -- A sophisticated type of roadside bomb that U.S. officials have linked to Iran has been used increasingly against U.S. troops in Iraq.

The device is called an explosively formed projectile (EFP). It is usually made from a pipe filled with explosives and capped by a copper disk. When the explosives detonate, they transform the disk into a molten jet of metal capable of penetrating armor. They perform in the same way that U.S. anti-tank missiles do.

"Properly handled, it goes through armor like a hot knife through butter," said John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, a military think tank in Alexandria, Va.

Officials such as Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq, and National Intelligence Director John Negroponte have said the new bombs are being provided by Iran and are killing U.S. troops. U.S. officials have declined to say exactly how many have been killed or how the weapons have been traced to Iran, which has denied supplying them.

Maj. Anne Edgecomb, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the military wants to limit the information available to insurgents about the effectiveness of their attacks. That's the same reason the Pentagon says it no longer identifies troops killed by Iraqi snipers.

Last week, the Pentagon announced for the first time that an explosively formed projectile had killed a U.S. soldier. The attack occurred Jan. 22 in Baghdad, according to the Pentagon's announcement. It killed Spc. Brandon Stout, 23, of Grand Rapids, Mich. The Pentagon later changed the announcement. It removed the reference to an EFP and said only that Stout had died in an attack by an improvised explosive device, the general term used to describe roadside bombs in Iraq.

Since Dec. 4, EFPs have killed four other soldiers, according to published reports and family memorials:

•On Dec. 4, Army Sgt. Jay Gauthreaux was killed by an IED explosion in Baqouba, Iraq, the Pentagon said. A Dec. 20 report in *U.S. News & World Report* magazine said his Humvee was hit by an EFP.

•On Dec. 25, Army Sgt. John Bubeck, Spc. Aaron Preston and Pfc. Andrew Nelson were killed by an IED in Baghdad, the Pentagon said. A website run by Preston's family said he was killed by an EFP.

USA TODAY could not independently confirm either the magazine report or the website information.

Negroponte told Congress on Jan. 18 that the new weapons have killed U.S., coalition and Iraqi troops.

The bombs must be machine-milled to precise specifications in order to work properly, said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., a member of the Armed Services Committee. There are indications that some explosively formed projectiles used in Iraq may have been manufactured in Iran, he said. "There's a lot evidence that there's some Iranian connection in producing or at least disseminating the technology," Reed said.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also a member of the Armed Services Committee, said he believed Iran was involved in supplying advanced IED technology to insurgents. "My concern is that we're dealing with a thinking enemy who has adapted his techniques to be more lethal in the area of IEDs," Graham said.

Reed and Graham did not cite specific evidence.

IEDs are the largest killer of U.S. troops in Iraq. According to Pentagon figures through Jan. 20, they have killed 1,327 troops and wounded 11,861 others.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week, "We are trying to uproot these networks that are planting IEDs that are causing 70% of our casualties."

3.

U.S.-IRAN TENSIONS COULD TRIGGER WAR

Associated Press
January 31, 2007

http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2007-01-31-us-iran-tension_x.htm

BAGHDAD -- Citing Iranian involvement with Iraqi militias and Tehran's nuclear ambitions, the Bush administration has shifted to offense in its confrontation with Iran -- building up the U.S. military in the Persian Gulf and promising more aggressive moves against Iranian operatives in Iraq and Lebanon.

The behind-the-scenes struggle between the two nations could explode into open warfare over a single misstep, analysts and U.S. military officials warn.

Iraq has become a proxy battleground between Washington and Tehran, which is challenging -- at least rhetorically -- America's dominance of the Gulf. That has worried even Iraq's U.S.-backed Shiite prime minister, who -- in a reflection of Iraq's complexity -- also has close ties to Iran.

Iran and the United States are already sparring on the ground.

On Jan. 20, militants kidnapped and killed four American soldiers in a raid in Karbala, and a fifth was killed in the firefight. A U.S. defense official said one possibility under study is that Iranian agents either executed or masterminded the attack, a suspicion based on the sophisticated and unusual methods used in the attack, including weapons and uniforms that may have been American.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe is ongoing.

There has been speculation that the Karbala assault may have been in retaliation for the arrest of five Iranians by U.S. troops in northern Iraq.

Those five Iranians, who were arrested in the northern city of Irbil, included two members of an Iranian Revolutionary Guard force that provides weapons, training and other support to Shiite militants in the Middle East, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said last week. Iraqi and Iranian officials maintain the five were diplomats.

Since the Karbala raid, U.S. saber-rattling has intensified. President Bush said this week that U.S. forces in Iraq would take action against Iranian operatives in the country, while insisting he had no intention of attacking Iran.

"If Iran escalates its military action in Iraq to the detriment of our troops and/or innocent Iraqi people, we will respond firmly," Bush told National Public Radio.

Although little evidence has been made public, U.S. officials have long insisted that Iran was supplying weapons and training to Shiite militias in Iraq, including some that have killed American troops.

The No. 2 U.S. general in Iraq told USA Today in an interview published Tuesday that Iran was supplying Iraqi Shiite militias with a variety of powerful weapons, including Katyusha rockets and armor-piercing rocket-propelled grenades.

"We have weapons that we know through serial numbers . . . trace back to Iran," Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said.

The Air Force is considering more forceful patrols on the Iraqi side of the border with Iran to counter the smuggling of weapons and bomb supplies, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing senior Pentagon officials.

The U.S. is also building up its military presence in the Gulf in what it says is a show of strength directed at Iran. A second aircraft carrier is heading for the region, and Patriot missile batteries are being deployed.

Since Bush announced his new Iraq strategy in early January, Iranian officials have raised the alarm repeatedly that the U.S. intends to attack. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran is "ready for anything" in its confrontation with the United States.

A newspaper close to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last week threatened retaliation for any U.S. military action -- including stopping oil traffic through the Gulf's strategic Hormuz Straits and attacks on U.S. interests. The top editor of the Kayhan daily warned that Iran will turn the Middle East into "hell" for the United States and Israel if America attacks.

Iran expert Ray Takeyh said the risks are all the greater because Tehran has an "unhealthy" disregard for American power, which "enhances the prospect of a miscalculation."

Prof. Gary Sick, a leading authority on Iran, believes the U.S. is seeking to divert world attention from the crisis in Iraq and organize a coalition of Israel and conservative Sunni Arab states to confront Iran.

"I see this as a very dangerous long-term policy because it promotes the idea that Sunnis and Shiites should be distrustful of each other, and I think that could come back and bite us later on," he said.

Iran and the U.S. also are in dispute over Tehran's nuclear program. The United States accuses Iran of secretly developing atomic weapons -- an allegation Tehran denies. Iran's defiant refusal to suspend uranium enrichment prompted the U.N. Security Council to impose limited economic sanctions.

The U.S. has also beefed up support for Lebanon's government in its power struggle with Hezbollah, the Shiite militia that Washington accuses of acting in Iran's interests.

But Lee Feinstein of the Council on Foreign Relations said the U.S. was finding it hard "to calibrate its message" to distinguish "between a stern message and a warning of attack."

The war of words has raised fears among both Democrats and Republicans in Congress that the United States and Iran are drifting toward armed conflict at a time when America is struggling against determined foes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It has also unnerved the Iraqi government, many of whose members have close ties to Iran.

"We have told the Iranians and the Americans, 'We know that you have a problem with each other but we're asking you, please, solve your problems outside of Iraq,'" Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, told CNN on Wednesday. "We do not want the American forces to take Iraq as a base to attack Iran . . . we will not accept Iran using Iraq to attack American forces. But does this exist? It exists and I assure you it exists."

As the rhetoric grows more strident, a U.S. military official in the Gulf likened the U.S.-Iran standoff to the buildup in hostility in Europe before World War I, when the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne triggered a tragic war that engulfed a continent.

"A mistake could be made and you could end up in something that neither side ever really wanted, and suddenly it's August 1914 all over again," the U.S. officer said on condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the issue. "I really believe neither side wants a fight."

Iranian coast guard vessels recently veered into territorial waters on the Arab side of the Gulf, an event that could have been viewed as either a mistake or a provocation, the officer said. Both sides are on tenterhooks. "A boat crosses a line . . . but what does it mean? You've got to be very careful about overreacting," the officer said.

Even if Iran pulled back from Iraq's conflict, it might not end the country's violence, said Kenneth M. Pollack, research director at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

"The truth is that Iraq is a mess. It is in a state of low-level civil war. And all of these groups are largely self-motivated," he said on the Council on Foreign Relations website. "But its much easier to blame it on the Iranians."

In Tehran, political analyst Hermidas Bavand said U.S. force increases were leading many Iranians to believe Washington is looking to pick a fight.

"It's an extremely dangerous situation," Bavand said. "I don't think Tehran wants war under any circumstances. But there might be an accidental event that could escalate into a large confrontation."