For many months, the propaganda line that explosively
formed projectiles (EFPs) that could penetrate U.S. armored vehicles were coming
straight from Iran has been embraced publicly by the entire George W. Bush administration.
But when that argument was proposed internally by military officials in January
2007, it was attacked by key administration officials as unsupported by the
Vice President Dick Cheney was able to get around those objections and get
his Iranian EFP line accepted only because of arrangements he and Bush made
with Gen. David Petraeus before he took command of U.S. forces in Iraq.
The initial draft of the proposed military briefing on the issue of EFPs, which
asserted flatly that EFPs were being manufactured and smuggled to Iraqi Shi'ite
groups directly by the Iranian regime, was met with unanimous objection from
the State Department, Defense Department, and the National Security Council
(NSC) staff, as administration officials themselves stated publicly.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and National
Security Adviser Stephen Hadley tried to push back against Cheney's proposed
line because they recognized it as an effort to go well beyond the compromise
policy toward Iran that had been worked out in December and early January. The
compromise policy had been to focus on networks working on procuring EFPs within
Iraq and not to target Iran as directly responsible.
At his regular press briefing on Jan. 24, 2007, Assistant Secretary of State
for Public Affairs and Department Spokesman Sean McCormack revealed the primary
basis for the State, Defense, and NSC opposition to the Cheney line on EFPs.
Asked whether the U.S. government had any evidence that EFPs were manufactured
in Iran, McCormack did not answer directly but said, "You don't necessarily
have to construct something in Iran in order for it to be a threat to the U.S.
or British troops from the Iranian regime. There are lots of different ways
you can do that. You can bring the know-how. You can train other people in Iraq
to do that."
McCormack thus revealed that the State Department wasn't buying the accusation
that Iran was manufacturing EFPs and sending them to the Shi'ite forces of Moqtada
al-Sadr's Mahdi Army fighting against U.S. forces.
On Feb. 2, while briefing the news media on the new National Intelligence Estimate
on Iraq, Hadley asserted bluntly that the draft military briefing that had been
circulated in Washington had not been based on evidence.
"The truth is, quite frankly, we thought the briefing was overstated,"
said Hadley. "We sent it back to get it narrowed and focused on the facts."
Hadley did not tell reporters which points in the draft briefing paper had
not been based on the evidence, but the remarks by McCormack and Gates were
clear indications that the briefing had made claims of Iranian manufacturing
of weapons and smuggling them into Iraq that could not be supported.
Hadley further revealed that he, Gates, and Rice had tried to use the imminence
of a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq to force the issue of the briefing's
exaggerated claims. The briefing, he said was "an attempt to
some of the issues in the NIE in a briefing on intelligence of Iranian activity
in Iraq. And we thought, hey, why are we doing this?"
He said he and his associates wanted a briefing that "we're confident
everyone can stand behind." The national security adviser was implying
that the proposed briefing was not supported by the NIE on Iraq, and that the
drafters would therefore have to redraft it so that the intelligence community
could support it.
Hadley didn't say who he meant by "we," but Gates told reporters
the same day that he and Rice had joined Hadley in ensuring that the planned
briefing "is dominated by facts."
The declassified version of the NIE's main conclusions indicated that it did
not support the claim that Iran was exporting EFPs to the Mahdi Army. The only
sentence that related to the issue was, "Iranian lethal support for select
groups of Iraqi Shia militants clearly intensifies the conflict in Iraq."
But in the absence of any language alleging Iranian EFP manufacture and export
to Iraq, that phrase appears to be a reference to training of Mahdi Army officers.
Hadley, Rice, and Gates thus appeared to believe that the briefing would have
to reflect the NIE, and that they would be able to review the revised version
before it was presented to the press. On Feb. 9, State Department spokesman
McCormack said, "[W]hen the working-level folks at the deputies level
produce a presentation that they are comfortable with, I am sure that they'll
share it with Secretary Rice, Secretary Gates, and Steve Hadley over at the
NSC just for review."
But Cheney had a surprise for the opponents of his hard line on Iran. When
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino was asked on Feb. 9 about when the briefing
would be held, she replied, "Decisions on that are being made out in Baghdad."
That announcement came just as Gen. George W. Casey was to be replaced by Gen.
Petraeus as the new commander. Petraeus had only arrived in Iraq the day before
and the changeover ceremony came on Feb. 10.
The day after the ceremony, three military officers presented a briefing to
the press which not only asserted that the EFPs could only have been manufactured
in Iran but that Iran's Quds Force was behind the smuggling of those weapons
into Iraq. They strongly suggested, moreover, that the Iranian government knew
about the smuggling.
Cheney had used the compliant Petraeus to do an end-run around the national
security bureaucracy. Petraeus had already reached an agreement with the White
House to take Cheney's line on the EFPs issue and to present the briefing immediately
without consulting State or Defense
State and Defense tried to counter this maneuver. McCormack argued, rather
lamely, that the briefing had really been about "a threat to our troops
from these devices and from the networks that supply them." And the chairman
of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, responded by saying that he could
not "from his own knowledge" confirm the assertion that the Quds Force
was providing bomb-making kits to Shi'ite insurgents.
The U.S. command in Baghdad temporarily backed away from the briefers' charge
against Iran. The command spokesman, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell, who had been
one of the three military briefers, was forced to tell reporters on Feb. 14
that the purpose of the briefing had been to talk only about the threat to U.S.
troops, implying that briefers had gone beyond their brief in making statements
about Iranian complicity.
But the hardline position on EFP was the one that dominated press coverage.
Instead of the more cautious line focusing on the EFP networks inside Iraq,
which was what State, Defense, and the NSC and agreed to in January, Cheney
now had a potential casus belli against Iran.
And Cheney would continue to use his alliance with Petraeus to advance his
proposal for an attack on Quds Force bases in Iran. The very first episode in
the Cheney-Petraeus alliance sheds additional light on the nomination of Petraeus
to become the new Centcom commander later this year.
(Inter Press Service)