America today blamed Iran for the deaths of 170 US troops inside Iraq, accusing Teheran of supplying insurgents with increasingly sophisticated bombs.
Senior defence officials in Baghdad said that Iranian-supplied “explosively formed projectiles” were frequently being used against coalition forces.
They said the “highest levels” of Iran’s regime were responsible for giving them to Shia militias in Iraq.
These bombs are specially designed to penetrate heavily armoured military vehicles and are capable of crippling the US army’s main battle tank, the Abrams M1.
They have killed 170 US troops since June 2004, according to the American officials. They added that some weapons have been captured and they bore the hallmarks of having been manufactured in Iran.
Many were made as recently as last year – ruling out the possibility that they could have been left over from the many arms caches scattered across Iraq by Saddam Hussein’s regime.
The “machining” on the weapons could only have been completed in Iran, the officials added. They said that only the “highest levels” of Teheran’s regime would have authorised the transfer of these arms into Iraq.
A US helicopter was lost north of Baghdad today – the sixth to be shot down in the last three weeks.
The Apache attack helicopter was reportedly struck by a surface-to-air missile. There is no evidence that Iran has supplied weapons of this kind.
The latest allegations against Iran came as the Teheran regime delivered mixed messages about the future of its nuclear programme.
Speaking at a rally to celebrate the 28th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Teheran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed to press ahead with enriching uranium, a process which could produce the material needed to make a nuclear bomb.
“If you are willing to negotiate why do you insist on a suspension [of enrichment]? If we suspend our activities then what are we going to talk about?” asked Mr Ahmadinejad.
“If your nuclear plants are working 24 hours a day, why must Iran be pressured to shut ours down? We are ready to negotiate but under fair and even conditions.”
Last July, the United Nations passed Resolution 1696, giving Iran 30 days to “suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development”.
Teheran ignored this deadline and continued enriching uranium at Natanz nuclear plant.
Western governments say that Iran must abide by the UN’s demand before any deal can be reached.
But Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, told a security conference in Munich that he was willing to settle every issue by negotiation within weeks.
“The political will of Iran is aimed at a negotiated settlement of the case. We don’t want to aggravate the situation in the region,” he said.
Mr Larijani, whose official title is secretary of the supreme national security council, added that he wanted a rapid agreement with Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“I have written to Mr ElBaradei to say we are ready within three weeks to have the modality to solve all the outstanding issues with you,” he said.
Mr Larijani said Iran’s nuclear programme was solely for civilian purposes. But the IAEA has declined to endorse this claim and western governments believe Teheran is pursuing a nuclear capability.
Mr Larijani, 48, is a conservative figure who ran for president in 2005. A former western diplomat who served in Iran described him as an “apparatchik” and a “dedicated servant of the Islamic Republic”.
But Mr Larijani is also a pragmatic figure, “willing to explore what might work”.
The key question, said the former diplomat, was whether Mr Larijani was only a “Yes man – or is he willing to stand up to the powerful?”
Iran’s nuclear policy will be finally decided by its Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini.
Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, repeated the West’s demand that Iran must stop enriching uranium “without ifs and buts and without tricks”.
She added: “What we are talking about here is a very, very sensitive technology and so we need a high degree of transparency, which Iran has failed to provide. If Iran does not do this it risks falling deeper into isolation.”
HOW LUCKY FOR THE US MEDIA THAT THIS BOMB SUPPOSEDLY MADE IN IRAN BEARS ENGLISH MARKINGS
Also, Iran gets its weapons, including mortars, from Russia. Russian mortars do NOT use 81MM rounds! They use 82mm.
AND, Modern Iran uses a solar Hijri calendar that is 621 years less than the Western solar calendar, so if this munition were really made in Iran. the date should read 1385, rather than 2006!
The Bovine Excrement meter just exploded.