Iraq Investigates Weapons Allegations Against Iran
The Iraqi government plans to create a special committee to look into allegations that Iran is funneling arms to Shiite militia groups. The announcement came after five Iraqi parliament members traveled to Tehran last week to meet top Iranian leaders. U.S. military officials say there is evidence of Iranian-supplied munitions, but it's uncertain whether there is complicity by the Iranian government.
Iraq's special committee will look for hard evidence about who in Iran is shipping weapons, indicating that it will not just accept American information.
"We want to find some really good evidence and not evidence based on speculation," said Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Five Iraqi Parliament members just got back from Tehran, where they discussed those supposed weapons shipments with Iranian leaders.
"There were some questions and also news about interferences," al-Dabbagh said. "I think the delegation received clear answers from the Iranian side."
Later, al-Dabbagh called several reporters to clarify his remarks after their stories appeared because he said the stories indicated that he had seen no hard evidence of Iranian weapons shipments. He told NPR he is convinced that Iranian weapons are coming into Iraq. The question now is who is sending them. He is uncertain whether there is complicity by the Iranian government.
Rear Adm. Patrick Driscoll, an American military spokesman, appeared with al-Dabbagh at Sunday's news conference and talked about the way ahead.
"There is going to be a more formal dialogue between the government of Iraq and the government of Iran on this issue," Driscoll said.
That's more diplomatic than American officials have been in recent weeks.
CIA Director Michael Hayden has said he believes top Iranian leaders are approving the shipment of weapons that are being used to kill Americans. And the U.S. military says it has caught the Iranians red-handed.
The military says large caches of weapons have been found, mostly in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, where Iraqi government forces are fighting Shiite militia groups. These include missiles, mortars and bomb-making equipment, some of it bearing the stamp of Iranian manufacturers with a date of 2008. Also, there is testimony from captured Shiite militia fighters who say they were trained in Iran, according to a senior American officer here.
For its part, the Iranian government has always denied sending any weapons to Shiite militia fighters in Iraq.
U.S. military leaders in Washington, D.C., and Baghdad said they would display what it says are captured weapons at a news conference following the Iraqi lawmakers' trip to Tehran. Now Driscoll says there are no plans to do that while the Iraqi committee meets and prepares its report.
"It's currently not scheduled," Driscoll said of the news conference. "We'll see what happens in the future here with that brief. You'll have to wait and see. It's a bit of teaser for you."
The debate about whether Iran is funneling weapons has been settled in one quarter. Abu Mustaba, a senior commander with the Mahdi Army — the Shiite militia group led by anti-American cleric Muqtada al Sadr — told NPR that Iran is sending arms to his fighters, especially to Mahdi gunmen in Basra, not far from the Iranian border.
"The fighters in Basra received weapons from Iran because it's closer. ... Medium and small arms, mortars, Katyusha rockets, launchers that can be easily transferred," Mustaba said.
But he said the tight security around the Iraqi capital makes it hard to move Iranian weapons in.
"Now it's very difficult to receive weapons from Iran to Baghdad, but we are using the ones that reached Baghdad before this crisis. Any army without weapons is worth nothing," he said.
And the commander says the Mahdi Army will not lay down its arms, whether they're Iraqi or Iranian.
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