Arms that American military officials say appear to have been manufactured in Iran as recently as last year have turned up in the past week in a Sunni-majority area, the chief spokesman for the American military command in Iraq said Wednesday in a news conference.
The spokesman, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, said that detainees in American custody had indicated that Iranian intelligence operatives had given support to Sunni insurgents and that surrogates for the Iranian intelligence service were training Shiite extremists in Iran. He gave no further description of the detainees and did not say why they would have that information.
"We have in fact found some cases recently where Iranian intelligence sources have provided to Sunni insurgent groups some support," said General Caldwell, who sat near a table crowded with weapons that he said the military contended were largely of Iranian manufacture.
The weapons were found in a mostly Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad, he said, a rare instance of the American military suggesting any link between Iran and the Sunni insurgency. It has recently suggested a link with Shiite militants in Iraq.
...Critics have cast doubt on the American military statements about those bombs, saying the evidence linking them to Iran was circumstantial and inferential.
...It is unclear from the military's comments on Wednesday whether it is possible to draw conclusions about how the weapons that the military contends are of Iranian origin might have made their way into a predominantly Sunni area or why Shiite Iran would arm Sunni militants.
There are several possibilities, military officials who were not authorized to speak publicly for attribution said privately. One is that they came through Syria, long a transit route for Iranian-made weapons being funneled to the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah. Another possibility is that arms dealers are selling to every side in the conflict.
The weapons on the table next to General Caldwell were found two days ago, the general said, after a resident of the predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhood called Jihad, in western Baghdad, informed the local Joint Security Station run by Iraqi and American soldiers that there were illegal arms in the area.
The soldiers found a black Mercedes sedan and on its back seat, in plain view, a rocket of a type commonly made in China but repainted and labeled and sold by Iran, said Maj. Marty Weber, a master ordnance technician who joined General Caldwell at the briefing. In the trunk were mortar rounds marked "made in 2006."
In a nearby house and buried in the yard, the soldiers found more mortar rounds, 1,000 to 2,000 rounds of bullets, five hand grenades and a couple of Bulgarian-made rocket-propelled grenades, Major Weber said.
Interestingly enough, the US is not claiming that Bulgaria and China are supporting the insurgents. Likewise, many of the weapons used by groups like Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Palestine are made in the US and sold to Israel. Does anyone accuse the American or Israeli governments of supporting Islamic Jihad? Of course not.
If the US is going to claim that Tehran (and not Iranian or Iraqi arms dealers) is arming the Sunni insurgency, then it's going to have to do better than this.