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US tries to link bombs to Iran

Offers explosives found in raid

BAGHDAD -- In the latest attempt to link the deadliest form of roadside bombs in Iraq to components manufactured in Iran, US Army officers displayed plastic explosives yesterday they said were made in Iran and recovered during a raid Saturday in violence-racked Diyala Province.

An Army explosives analyst said the C-4 plastic explosives were used to make lethal bombs that the military calls EFPs -- explosively formed projectiles. The explosives were found alongside enough bomb-making materials to build 150 EFPs capable of penetrating heavily armored vehicles, according to the specialist, Major Martin Weber.

Mortars and rockets found in the same cache also were manufactured in Iran, Weber said. The cache included 150 machine-milled copper plates that form a shaped, concave lid on the projectile. When the weapons explode, those lids form balls of molten metal that can punch through the armor on vehicles.

The cache was believed to be the first EFP manufacturing site found inside Iraq, officers said. They had assumed that most EFPs were assembled outside the country and brought in nearly whole.

Officers said they did not know where the copper plates were manufactured, or by whom. They also said they could not prove who supplied the materials or who was building the EFPs.

The briefing was the third in two weeks in which US military officials set forth evidence that they said showed Iran's hand in Iraq's violence. By contrast with previous sessions, officers yesterday were careful not to accuse the Iranian government of involvement. US officials have had to backtrack from previous assertions of direct involvement by Iran's top government officials.

"I don't think there's any way for us to know if it's tied to any government," said Major Jeremy Siegrist, executive officer for the unit that recovered the materials. "That's a stretch too far."

But by summoning reporters to the display and providing Weber as an on-site specialist to assert that some items came from Iran, the military retooled the way it presented its evidence of Iranian links.

In a first attempt to lay out a detailed case connecting Iran to the imported munitions this month, military officials demanded anonymity and barred reporters from bringing cameras or tape recorders.

The Pentagon was forced to spend two weeks backtracking from that briefing after one of the unnamed officials asserted intelligence linked the central government in Tehran to the weapons. Pentagon officials were chagrined that public debate over the evidence focused more on the logistics of the briefing than on its content.

Weber said cutting, stamping, and milling the copper plates requires technical expertise, as does arming and triggering the EFPs. He said Iran has the necessary expertise. Iran provides weapons and technical support for Hezbollah, which has used similar explosive devices in southern Lebanon.

Referring to the C-4, rockets, and mortars, Weber said, "you can establish the country of origin, and that is a fact."

Captain Clayton Combs, the company commander whose First Cavalry unit recovered what officers called "an IED factory," using the military acronym for improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs, said he found it interesting that explosives, rockets, and mortars from Iran were including among EFP-making materials. Asked to elaborate, Combs replied, "I'm not willing to go beyond that."

The Bush administration is mounting a campaign to isolate and discredit Iran over its nuclear program and its role inside Iraq. It has accused the Al Quds Brigade, a unit of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, of supporting Shi'ite attacks against US forces in Iraq.