The United States has determined that Iran has brought to Iraq advanced weaponry used by Hizbullah in the war against Israel.
Officials said U.S. military intelligence has detected the use by Iraqi insurgents of advanced Russian-origin anti-armor systems. They also reported the delivery of Chinese-origin rockets to Iraqi insurgency groups aligned with Iran.
“It’s hard to say in our part of the world that we operate in as to whether or not people have given U.S. a hint about things to come,” U.S. Central Command chief Gen. John Abizaid said.
In a September 19 briefing, Abizaid said U.S. troops have found in Iraq the Russian-origin RPG-29 rocket-propelled grenade, used by Hizbullah against Israel’s military in the war in August. He said the RPG-29, designed to penetrate Western main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers, was modified by and produced in Iran.
“The first time we saw it [RPG-29] was not in Iraq,” Abizaid said. “We saw it in Lebanon. So to me, it indicates, number one, an Iranian connection.”
At this point, Abizaid said, the U.S. military found a single RPG-29 system in Iraq. He said he did know whether other such weapons were in Iraq.
Iran was also believed to have smuggled Chinese-origin rockets to Iraqi insurgency groups. Abizaid said the unidentified rockets were long-range and appeared to have been taken from Iranian Army stockpiles. “It looked brand new to us,” Abizaid said. In 2005, Iran introduced a new shape-charge improvised explosive devices designed to penetrate the belly of U.S.-origin Abrams MBTs. Officials said the IEDs were smuggled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, responsible for the training and equipping of Shi’ite insurgency groups in Iraq.
Abizaid said Iran has the most powerful military in the Middle East. He said Teheran has developed hit-and run tactics as well as nonconventional weapons to battle the U.S. military in Iraq and the Gulf. The general said Central Command would maintain forces in Kuwait and other areas of the Gulf region to respond to Iran or another threat.
“Number one, they have naval capacity to temporarily block the Straits of Hormuz, and interfere with global commerce if they should choose to do so,” Abizaid said. “Number two, they’ve got a substantial missile force that can do a lot of damage to our friends and partners in the region.”
“Number three, they have a pretty robust terrorist surrogate arm that could in the event of hostilities cause problems not only in the Middle East but globally,” Abizaid continued. “And number four, they have a very substantial land army that, while it’s not offensively worrying, is certainly capable of conducting asymmetric warfare.”
Abizaid said Hizbullah has played a role in developing the capabilities of Shi’ite insurgency groups in Iraq. The leading Iranian-sponsored insurgency organizations were identified as the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army.
“There are clearly links between Lebanese Hizbullah training people in Iran to operate in Lebanon, and also training people in Iran that are Shia splinter groups that could operate against us in Iraq,” Abizaid said. “These linkages exist, but it is very, very hard to pin down with precision.”