Iran, al-Qaeda roles disputed in confused Iraq conflict

US military officials displayed another cache of “explosively formed penetrators” (EFPs) to reporters at a base outside Baghdad Feb. 26, saying the weaponry was clearly made in Iran. They admitted, however, there was no way to know if the Iranian government was involved in supplying the weapons. US officials make much of claims that the Quds Force, a unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, is supplying weapons to Shiite militia groups in Iraq—charges denied by Tehran. (Gulf News, UAE, Feb. 25) A day earlier, two people were killed and four wounded when an explosives-laden bus exploded in a parking lot in front of the Iranian embassy in central Baghdad, according to initial reports. However, Iran’s official news agency quoted anonymous officials in Tehran’s Foreign Ministry saying the blast “was not near Iran’s embassy.” The official stressed that no Iranian diplomats or embassy were wounded. (IRNA, Feb. 25)

Another 64 people were wounded in the truck bombing Feb. 24 outside a Sunni mosque in Habbaniyah, Anbar province. The apparent suicide attack was timed for when worshippers were leaving the building. The mosque’s imam had spoken out against the insurgents. On Feb. 16, another Anbar cleric who had spoken against the insurgents, Sheik Adbul Rahman Jawhar al-Karbouli, was gunned down as he prayed in a mosque in a village near the Syrian border. (AP, Feb. 26)

The Habbaniyah attack came hours after Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki praised the results of the new security strategy, claiming that Iraqi and coalition forces have killed 400 “terrorists” and detained more than 400 others. (Jurnalo, Feb. 25) But militant Shi’ite leader Moqtada al-Sadr publicly repudiated the new security plan Feb. 25 in a statement distributed by his aides that said the push to quell violence was doomed to fail as long as it was directed by the US military. That day, less than 24 hours al-Maliki called the security plan a “dazzling success,” 40 were killed and over 50 wounded in a suicide attack at Baghdad’s mostly Shi’ite Mustansiriya University. Most of the victims students, many of them women. The attack came at the busiest time of day, minutes before the start of afternoon exams. (NYT, Feb. 26)

On Feb. 23, US military officials said they had discovered car bomb factory where al-Qaeda militants were preparing to make crude chemical weapons using chlorine at Karma, east of Fallujah. Lt. Col. Valery Keaveny told reporters by video conference from Anbar province that US forces had found al-Qaeda propaganda leaflets and “interactive DVDs” at the factory. Keaveny said: “This is absolutely a display that al-Qaeda is trying to adjust its barbaric tactics. Is this a threat? Yes. Are we prepared to deal with it? Yes.” Two bombs using chlorine killed at least eight people in Baghdad and Taji last week. (Reuters, Feb. 24 via Qatar’s Gulf Times)

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