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Deadly Bombs' Long, Winding Trail

The U.S. government's claim yesterday, that the Iranians are supplying weapons to Iraqi militants, was met with a huge amount of skepticism -- and with good reason, given the Administration's lousy intel-interpreting track record, and the strange conditions of Sunday's presentation. (More on that, in a second.) But, for what it's worth, Defense Tech has been hearing about these weapons -- especially the "explosively-formed projectiles," or EFPs -- for the last eighteen months. Many of the government's assertions track, at least loosely, to what we've heard.efp_hole.JPGSoldiers in Iraq were already encountering EFPs -- and the closely-related "shaped-charges" -- back in the summer of '05, when I visited the country.

In the garden, there's a seemingly innocuous copper cylinder, concave on one end, about the size of a gallon of paint. It's called an explosively formed projectile, or EFP, and when it detonates, the concave end blows outward and melts into a bullet-shaped fragment that slices through armor and flesh. "Ten days ago, one of these sons-of-bitches took out an arm of a Humvee driver and both his legs," says Captain Greg Hirschey, the 717th's commander. "I get shivers up my spine every time I see one."
Back then, it was commonly assumed that the EFP-makers were getting some over-the-border help. After all, Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas have been using the weapons against Israeli tanks for some time.A few months later, David Axe caught word of a particularly nasty EFP in Anbar province: infrared "tripwire-activated IEDs disguised as rocks and apparently employing shaped-charge warheads." That sounds almost exactly like the "Fully Operational, Camouflaged Passive Infrared EFP" that the government, in its Iran presentation, said was found in the Basra area, last May.Still, does that mean there's a direct, tight connection between the Iranian government and the Iraqi bombers? Terrorists -- especially terrorist bomb-makers -- share best practices, from Colombia to Spain to Lebanon to Iraq. So it's not surprising to see one group's methods mimicked somewhere else. Take those infrared tripwires: they were first used by the Irish Republican Army. And I don't think we're about to send a carrier group to the Celtic Sea.What's more, when Iranian EFPs were first spotted in Iraq, the bombs were in the hands of Sunni insurgents. At the time, that "seem[ed] to suggest a new and unusual area of cooperation between Iranian Shiites and Iraqi Sunnis to drive American forces out - a possibility that the commanders said they could make little sense of, given the increasing violence between the sects in Iraq." But now, this looks like terror-makers sharing tricks of the trade, rather some grand, ecumenical alliance.Or, as Kevin Drum notes, Iran could just be trying to stoke chaos on all sides. "If I were in charge of Iran, it's probably what I'd be doing," he writes. And there's more than just the EFPs to tie Tehran to the conflict in Iraq. Iranian TNT and newly-minted mortars were also trotted out in the American presentation. "The evidence of Iranian meddling in Iraq," McClatchy notes, "is far more compelling than much of the administration's pre-war intelligence about Iraq."That said, if the case was ironclad, the administration wouldn't be resorting to silly maneuvers like these when it made its case for Iran's involvement:
The officials said they would speak only on the condition of anonymity, so the explosives expert and the analyst, who would normally not speak to the news media, could provide information directly. The analyst's exact title and full name were not revealed to reporters. The officials released a PowerPoint presentation including photographs of the weaponry, but did not allow media representatives to record, photograph or videotape the briefing or the materials on display.
Too much is riding on this evidence for such chicanery. Make the case cleanly, guys. Or don't make it at all.UPDATE 5:11 PM: As benjoya notes in the comments to a previous post, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Peter Pace doesn't agree with the administration's assessment.UPDATE 5:36 PM: Be sure to read Newsweek's cover story, too. But be ready to wince.
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