Iran Is Helping Iraq Insurgents, U.S. Military Says

The top American military spokesman in Baghdad says they have new evidence that proves Iran is helping militants attack their forces. The U.S. military displayed weapons said to be made in Iran, and said Tehran was teaching insurgents how to make roadside bombs.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen, in for Madeleine Brand, who is on assignment.

Coming up, a help wanted sign at the White House - looking for someone new to run the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We'll talk with one of The Washington Post reporters who broke the story.

CHADWICK: First to Baghdad, where a senior U.S. general today raised new charges against Iran, the U.S. regional opponent and Iraq neighbor. The top military spokesman in Baghdad says there's new information about Iran helping insurgents in the use of roadside bombs, the favored technique for attacking U.S. forces.

NPR's Mike Shuster is in Baghdad. Mike, this was a report from General Caldwell, who's the top military spokesperson there. What did he say?

MIKE SHUSTER: Well, Alex, what he said was he reiterated charges that the U.S. military has been making here since the beginning of the year, that Iranian intelligence is supporting some of the active fighting forces in Iraq with weapons and with training and with money. But what was new today is that he specifically went on the record, charging that the Iranians were supporting the Sunni insurgents, providing them with support - specifically weapons.

He didn't say that the Iranians were providing the Sunni insurgents with these special roadside bombs that are particularly deadly that are known as explosively formed penetrators. But what he did say is that they've seized some weapons that were destined for Sunni insurgent hands that have come from Iran.

CHADWICK: Now, the Associated Press is also reporting on this same subject, that it has spoken with factions of the Shiite Mahdi Army that says 4,000 of its militia persons were trained in Iran with the use of these roadside bombs. It sounds as though they're supplying everybody.

SHUSTER: Well, it's not clear. General Caldwell today said the bulk of the support from the Iranians has been to Shiite groups, what he calls Shia extremists. It's clear that the Iranians have been supporting the Mahdi Army or splinters of the Mahdi Army, which is a Shiite militia.

Caldwell didn't say precisely to what extent the U.S. military believes that the Iranians are supporting the other side, in effect - the Sunni insurgents. But he made it clear that it was much less support than the Iranians had provided for the Shiites. And Caldwell, at the same time, also didn't suggest why the Iranians would want to support the Sunnis with weapons that could very well be used against the Shiites - Shiite civilians or Shiite militia - where the Iranians have a much closer relationship to the Shiites. It's a confusing picture, but the U.S. military seems to be edging further out on the record on this.

CHADWICK: Edging further out to say Iran is playing a significant role in arming the insurgents, both in training and in supplying these weapons.

SHUSTER: Yeah. It's not clear to me that this is entirely new. The Iranians supported these groups before - before Saddam Hussein was overthrown - when they were in exile in Iran and they clearly gave them, in those years, gave them training. I guess the emphasis that U.S. military is putting on this this time around is that - this is since the United States has entered Iraq, overthrew Saddam Hussein. And now, as this more sectarian conflict has emerged in Iraq, the U.S. military seems to be wanting to point to Iran as the source of all the trouble at this stage of the game.

CHADWICK: I see comments from General Caldwell reported on the newswires that they have captured people within the last 30 days who say we've been trained in Iran. That's very specific.

SHUSTER: Yes. He said that today, as well. But he didn't say specifically who they were and to what extent, how large a force the Iranians are training inside Iran for Iraq.

CHADWICK: NPR's Mike Shuster in Baghdad. Mike, thank you.

SHUSTER: You're welcome, Alex.

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