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U.S.: Iran Training Iraqi Bombers

Iran has been training Iraqi fighters in the assembly of deadly roadside bombs known as EFPs, the U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday.

EFPs, or explosively formed penetrators, hurl a molten, fist-sized lump of molten copper capable of piercing armored vehicles.

"We know that they are being in fact manufactured and smuggled into this country, and we know that training does go on in Iran for people to learn how to assemble them and how to employ them," Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said at a weekly briefing. "We know that training has gone on as recently as this past month from detainees' debriefs."

In January, U.S. officials said at least 170 U.S. soldiers had been killed by EFPs.

Caldwell also said the U.S. military had evidence that Iranian intelligence agents were active in Iraq in funding, training and arming Shiite militia fighters.

"We also know that training still is being conducted in Iran for insurgent elements from Iraq. We know that as recent as last week from debriefing personnel," he said.

"The do receive training on how to assemble and employ EFPs," Caldwell said, adding that fighters also were trained in how to carry out complex attacks that used explosives followed by assaults with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms.

"There has been training on specialized weapons that are used here in Iraq. And then we do know they receive also training on general tactics in terms of how to take and employ and work what we call a more complex kind of attack where we see multiple types of engagements being used from an explosion to small arms fire to being done in multiple places," Caldwell said.

The general would not say specifically which arm of the Iranian government was doing the training but called the trainers "surrogates" of Iran's intelligence agency.

Caldwell opened the briefing by showing photographs of what he said were Iranian-made mortar rounds, RPG rounds and rockets that were found in Iraq.

In other developments:

  • The Defense Department is thinking about stretching the tour of duty for every active-duty U.S. Army unit in Iraq to 15 months instead of 12 as officials struggle to keep supplying enough troops for the conflict. Defense Secretary Robert Gates could make a decision on the proposal in the coming days, said a defense official on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been approved.
  • Iraqi Cabinet ministers allied to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr threatened Wednesday to quit the government to protest the prime minister's lack of support for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal. Such a pullout by the very bloc that put Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in office could collapse his already perilously weak government. The threat comes two months into a U.S. effort to pacify Baghdad in order to give al-Maliki's government room to function.
  • A roadside bomb killed one policeman and wounded three others in Hillah, about 60 miles south of Baghdad, police said. Another roadside bomb targeted a police patrol in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, killing another policeman and wounding two others, police said. Six civilians also were hurt, said Brig. Abdul Karim Khalaf.
  • Al-Maliki said Wednesday that his government alone sets Iraq's foreign policy and it was based on maintaining good ties with its neighbors, an obvious attempt to cool an exchange of heated rhetoric between Turkish leaders and the top official in Iraq's semiautonomous Kurdish region. The statement released by al-Maliki's office did not say specify any neighbor, but the comments coincided with bitter tit-for-tat remarks by Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani and Turkish officials over the fate of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
  • Meanwhile, the situation for civilians in Iraq is "ever-worsening," even though security in some places has improved as a result of stepped-up efforts by U.S.-led multinational forces, the international Red Cross said Wednesday.

    Thousands of bodies lie unclaimed in mortuaries, with family members either unaware that they are there or too afraid to go to recover them, according to a key official with the neutral agency. Medical professionals also have been fleeing the country after cases where their colleagues were killed or abducted, the group said.

    "Whatever operation that is today under way, and that may be taken tomorrow and in the weeks after, to improve the security of civilians on the ground may have an effect in the medium term," said Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of operations of the International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC.

    "We're certainly not seeing an immediate effect in terms of stabilization for civilians currently. That is not our reading," he said.

    Kraehenbuehl spoke in releasing a new ICRC report titled "Civilians Without Protection: The Ever-worsening Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq."

    "It is clear that the security situation has improved in certain instances," especially in southern Iraq, he said. But the central region, including Baghdad, remains greatly affected, despite American efforts to secure the capital, he added.

    Kraehenbuehl said it was so dangerous for Red Cross workers to move around in Baghdad that "we don't have on a day-to-day basis a full picture of absolutely every situation."

    The ICRC continues to operate in Iraq even though it has cut back operations since attacks on its staff and Baghdad headquarters in 2003. It has 415 Iraqis working for it in the country and has an additional 57 international staff based in Iraq and Amman, Jordan, but relies on the affiliated Iraqi Red Crescent for much of its information.

    Based on the Iraqi society's count, some 600,000 Iraqis have fled their homes since the upsurge in sectarian violence in February 2006, Kraehenbuehl said.

    "Hospitals and other key services are desperately short of staff," Kraehenbuehl said. "According to the Iraqi Ministry of Health, more than half the doctors are said to have already left the country."

    One of the key jobs of the ICRC is to visit detainees, and the number in custody has been growing as well, Kraehenbuehl said.

    "The number of people arrested or interned by the multinational forces has increased by 40 percent since early 2006. The number of people held by the Iraqi authorities has also increased significantly."

    The ICRC regularly visits people held by the multinational forces, and has seen 16,500 since January. Last year some 32,000 detainees were visited by the neutral agency, which also has access to those held by the Kurdish regional government. The ICRC has yet to reach agreement with the Iraqi authorities on visiting their detainees.

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