U.S. Sees New Weapon In Iraq: Iranian EFPs

1388451--Huge flames come out of a U.S. army Abrams battle tank east of Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, March 10, 2006, after a large explosion set fire to it. The U.S. military had no immediate information on the incident and on casualties. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban) AP Photo/Hadi Mizban

U.S. military officials charged on Sunday that the highest levels of the Iranian leadership ordered Shiite militants in Iraq to be armed with sophisticated armor-piercing roadside bombs that have killed more than 170 American forces.

The military command in Baghdad denied, however, that any newly-smuggled Iranian weapons were behind the five U.S. military helicopter crashes since Jan. 20 — four that were shot out of the sky by insurgent gunfire.

A fifth chopper crash has tentatively been blamed on mechanical failure. In the same period, two private security company helicopters also have crashed but the cause was unclear.

The deadly and highly sophisticated weapons the U.S. military said were coming into Iraq from Iran are known as "explosively formed penetrators," or EFPs.

U.S. intelligence says the weapons are going to Shiite militias that include rogue elements of Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army militia and a breakaway faction of the Badr Corps, the armed wing of a powerful Shiite party, reports CBS News chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan.

The Iraqi government not only knows but has asked the Iranian government to stop.

The presentation of evidence was the result of weeks of preparation and revisions as U.S. officials put together a package of material to support the Bush administration's claims of Iranian intercession on behalf of militant Iraqis fighting American forces.

Senior U.S. military officials in Baghdad said the display of evidence was prompted by the military's concern for "force protection," which, they said, was guaranteed under the United Nations resolution that authorizes American soldiers to be in Iraq.

Three senior military officials who explained the evidence said the "machining process" used in the construction of the deadly bombs had been traced back to Iran.

The experts, who spoke to a large gathering of reporters on condition that they not be further identified, said the supply trail began with Iran's Revolutionary Guards Quds Force, which also is accused of arming the Hezbollah guerrilla army in Lebanon. The officials said the EFP weapon was first tested there.

The officials said the Revolutionary Guard and its Quds force report directly to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The so-called Iran dossier, a small portion of which was revealed in Baghdad on Sunday, was revised heavily after officials decided it was not ready for release as planned last month. U.S. military officials in Baghdad had even scheduled a briefing for reporters only to cancel it a day later.

Senior U.S. officials in Washington — gun-shy after the drubbing the administration took for the faulty intelligence leading to the 2003 Iraq invasion — had held back because they were unhappy with the original presentation.

The display of evidence appeared to be part of the White House drive that has empowered U.S. forces in Iraq to use all means to curb Iranian influence in the country, including killing Iranian agents.

It included a Powerpoint slide presentation and a handful of mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades which the military officials said were made in Iran.

The centerpiece of the evidentiary display, however, was a gray metal pipe about 10 inches long and 6 inches in diameter, the exterior casing of what the military said was an EFP, the roadside bomb that shoots out fist-sized wads of nearly-molten copper that can penetrate the armor on an Abrams tank.

The U.S. officials said there was no evidence of Iranian made EFPs having fallen into the hands of Sunni insurgents who operate mainly in Anbar province in the west of Iraq, Baghdad and regions surrounding the capital.

"We know more than we can show," said one of the senior officials, when pressed for more evidence that the EFPs were made in Iran.

  • Scott Conroy On Twitter»

    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.

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