RFE/RL: U.S. officials are not the first to make charges that Iran is connected to the most powerful roadside bombs -- in military jargon the "explosively formed penetrators" -- being used with deadly effect against coalition armored vehicles in Iraq. Could you recapitulate a bit the history of this story?
David Claridge: My first recollection of their use was against a private security company in the [Al-Basrah] area and then, fairly rapidly afterward, against British security military patrols there. And, to my recollection it was the British MOD [Ministry of Defense] that first highlighted, first of all, the use of the weapons, but also their potential connection to Iranian technology.
RFE/RL: These bombs have taken many British and U.S. lives since they were introduced. And many observers say their use has increased as U.S. forces, in particular, have put heavier armor on their vehicles to cope with the less powerful improvised explosive devices that characterized earlier phases of Iraq operations. Could you describe just how these bombs -- which are shaped to send a high-explosive charge directly into their target -- work?
Claridge: Effectively, it is an explosive charge within a tube which has a metal cap, usually a copper cap, and the enormous pressure of the explosion within the tube liquidizes the copper or other metal and, as it is forced out of the tube, it forms a liquefied, high-speed projectile which can pierce armor.
RFE/RL: Are these bombs improvised -- that is, being made in Iraq -- or are they coming direct from munitions factories, for example, in Iran?
Claridge: These devices can be constructed in an improvised fashion, but they do require the use of high explosives, which, obviously, is not always easy to acquire. And the knowledge of the technology and the triggering devices necessary is, I think, what the area of concern is and why there is a link made back to a state -- in this case Iran -- because of the level of sophistication involved in the knowledge and construction, rather than it necessarily being built in a munitions factory.
RFE/RL: There has been much prior attention to the sophistication of not just the bomb design, but the fact it is often triggered by equally sophisticated laser or infrared devices, so the bomb explodes exactly at the moment a vehicle is passing by and is most exposed. Similar technology is used by the Iran-supported Shi'ite Hizballah in Lebanon, and this, too, is often cited as evidence for an Iranian connection in Iraq. Do you agree with this?
Claridge: Well, the triggering device could be one of a number of things, and a charge of this nature could be set off manually, and it could be set off using a radio frequency, but the specific level of concern -- and this is where the issue about technology transfer comes in -- is around the use of laser or infrared triggering devices.
RFE/RL: As you have said, these kind of "shaped charges," and coalition concerns over Iranian involvement, have been around for some two years already. On February 11, U.S. officials added some new details, such as saying the weapons arrive in Iraq in the form of what they described as a "kit" containing high-grade metals and highly machined parts -- like the concave-shaped metal cap that penetrates the target. But if much of this story is not new, why is Washington warning Iran so publicly now?
Claridge: It is not only in respect to shaped charges that the Iranians are suspected of playing a part in the conflict in Iraq. The use of intelligence, the use of training, the use of funding to support the Shi'ite portion of the war in Iraq is something that the Americans have had considerable concern about for some time. And by bringing this into the open, they are, I guess seeking, to bring some level of international pressure to abate that.
RFE/RL: One irony in this situation is that the main Shi'ite militias are arms of the Shi'ite religious political parties that participate in the government in Baghdad. To what extent are the political parties themselves involved as Washington charges Iran with transferring deadly technology for attacks against coalition forces?
Claridge: My personal view is that there probably is some degree of connection between Iranian forces and Iranian political representatives and the political components of the main Shi'ite parties, but that the transfer of technology and the contacts between Iranian agents, if you like, and individual Shi'ite militia groupings on the ground is probably rather more ad hoc. So you have got some central direction, but also connection with Shi'ite militias who may be allied very closely, or officially part of, the larger Shi'ite militias, but which also act to some extent in their own territorial and political interest.
Iranian Shi'a protesting the Golden Mosque Bombing in Iraq on February 24
WHAT IS GOING ON? On March 8, RFE/RL's Washington office hosted a roundtable discussion on relations between Iraq and Iran. Although most analysts agree that Iran has been actively involved in Iraq since the U.S.-led military operation to oust former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, they continue to debate the nature, extent, and intent of that involvement.
The RFE/RL briefing featured WAYNE WHITE, former deputy director of the U.S. State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research's Office of Analysis for the Near East and South Asia, and A. WILLIAM SAMII, RFE/RL's regional analyst for Iran and editor of the "RFE/RL Iran Report."
LISTENListen to the complete RFE/RL briefing (about 75 minutes):
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