BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The U.S. military showed on Monday what it said was further evidence of Iranian-made weapons being used by Iraqi militants, including explosives linked to sophisticated roadside bombs.
The weapons, which included mortar bombs and 122 mm rockets, were found during a raid by U.S. forces and Iraqi police on Saturday near the volatile city of Baquba, north of Baghdad.
Washington, which accuses Iran of fanning violence in Iraq, is particularly concerned about what it calls “explosively formed projectiles” -- bombs which, on detonation, shoot out a copper plate that becomes a large bullet-like projectile capable of penetrating armored vehicles.
The U.S. military say such bombs, which it calls EFPs, have killed 170 U.S. soldiers in Iraq since 2004.
Military officials showed reporters in Baghdad 14 large rockets, 19 mortars and several bags of C4 plastic explosive they said were made in Iran since 2004. But they said there was no way to know if the Iranian government was involved in supplying them.
Other parts of the cache, which officers described as a bomb factory or supply depot capable of turning out scores of EFPs, were not directly linked to Iran and their origin was unclear.
U.S. officials said this month that the Quds Force, a unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, was supplying weapons to Shi‘ite militia groups in Iraq. Tehran denies it fuels violence in Iraq.
“I don’t think there is any way for us to know if it is tied to any government,” Major Jeremy Siegrist said of the cache.
Siegrist declined to link the cache to any particular militant group in Iraq, but said it was found near a village where gunmen of the Mehdi Army militia of anti-American Shi‘ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are strong.
“We know there are JAM members in the village,” he said, using a military acronym for the group.
Captain Clayton Combs, whose unit found the cache under tarpaulins and in two large freezers and a water tank buried in a palm grove, said he could not say where the components for making the explosively-formed projectiles came from.
“That’s the million dollar question. Originally it was thought they were made out of country, now we just don’t know,” he said. “We originally thought these (bombs) came into Iraq already created,” he said, adding that it now appeared militants were assembling the bombs locally.
One completed bomb was found as well as around 150 copper discs -- the key component of EFPs -- rolls of electrical wire, plastic pipes to use as casings, ball-bearings and batteries.
Major Marty Weber, an explosives expert, said the use of a narrow tube attached to the bomb as a simple sighting-device to aim it was characteristic of Iranian-linked devices used by militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon in recent years.
Washington calls the Mehdi Army the biggest threat to security in Iraq, where thousands of extra U.S. forces have been deployed, mostly in Baghdad, to quell sectarian violence.
Additional reporting by Ibon Villelabeitia