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Monday, February 23, 2009

Iran's continued weapons smuggling to Iraq seen as bid for deal with West

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military has reported that Iran continues to smuggle weapons to Shi'ite insurgents in Iraq.   

Officials said the U.S.-led coalition has found rockets, bombs and other weapons in Iraq that were recently manufactured in Iran, Middle East Newsline reported. They said the coalition has failed to block the flow of weapons from Iran to Iraq.

"We have found many Iranian-made munitions with a manufacture date as late as 2008," Col. Philip Battaglia, commander of the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division's 4th Brigade Combat Team, said.

The colonel's assertion appeared to differ with that of more senior commanders, who said the Iranian weapons flow to Iraq subsided significantly in late 2008. Officials said the senior commanders issued the assessment before the recent discovery of Iranian weapons caches in central and southern Iraq.

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On Feb. 21, a British diplomat said Teheran has offered to stop supporting insurgency strikes in Iraq in exchange for an end to the West's campaign against Iran's nuclear program.

"The Iranians wanted to be able to strike a deal whereby they stopped killing our forces in Iraq in return for them being allowed to carry on with their nuclear program," Britain's ambassador to the United Nations, John Sawers, said. "'We stop killing you in Iraq, stop undermining the political process there, you allow us to carry on with our nuclear program without let or hindrance.'"

In a Feb. 18 briefing, Battaglia, whose area of operations cover the Iraqi provinces of Dhi Qar, Maysan and Muthanna, said U.S. and Iraqi military units found hundreds of Iranian-origin 122 mm and 107 mm rockets as well as 500 improvised explosive devices.

"We have never captured any munitions being smuggled across the border, but the border is very open," Battaglia said. "There is movement across quite freely."

[On Feb. 23, at least eight people were killed or injured in a bombing in downtown Baghdad. Police said the improvised explosive device was detonated to strike a police patrol near a hospital.]

In a Feb. 21 interview to the British Broadcasting Corp., Sawyers said the Iranians relayed the proposal during meetings in London. He said other sessions with Iranian representatives were held in European capitals over the last year.

"There were various Iranians who would come to London and suggest we had tea in some hotel or other," Sawers said. "They'd do the same in Paris, they'd do the same in Berlin, and then we'd compare notes among the three of us."

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