Sophisticated Iranian-built bombs smuggled into Iraq have killed at least 170 US and allied soldiers since June 2004 and wounded 620 more, senior US defense officials said yesterday.
The allegation, made at a background briefing in Baghdad's Green Zone, comes as Washington steps up its criticism of Iran and will feed a fierce debate over relations with the Islamic republic.
"Iran is involved in supplying explosively formed projectiles or EFPs and other material to Iraqi extremist groups," a senior official from the US-led multinational coalition told journalists.
Three coalition officials met reporters to point the finger at the al-Qods Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, part of Tehran's elite forces.
"The Qods Force arms extremists and insurgents to carry out terrorist attacks and guerrilla warfare," he said. "The Qods Force provides advice, training and weapons to proxy forces in Iraq."
The men spoke on condition of anonymity at the briefing, where an array of mortar shells and booby traps were laid out for inspection.
A senior defense analyst said US-led forces had evidence that Iran had stepped up shipments of EFPs, factory-built explosives designed to cut through armor, to armed Iraqi Shiite groups.
He said four Iranians arrested last month in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil were al-Qods force officers who had no diplomatic cover and had tried to flush documents down a toilet as they were arrested.
He added that the al-Qods force's top operations officer was detained in December in the compound of leading Shiite politician Abdel-Aziz Hakim with an inventory of weapons to be shipped, including mortars and sniper rifles.
Hakim's party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, told the Americans that the weapons were meant for their protection, he added.
"We assess that these activities are coming from the senior levels of the Iranian government," he said, noting that the al-Qods brigade reports to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei.
also see story:
Congress ready to end Iraq War