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- AFTER weeks of internal debate, senior US military officials have presented their first public evidence for the assertion that Iran supplies Shiite groups in Iraq with some of the most lethal weapons in the war.
The weapons included squat canisters designed to explode and spit out molten balls of copper that cut through armour like butter. The canisters, called explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, are perhaps the most feared weapon faced by US and Iraqi troops. They had been used to kill more than 170 and wound 620 Americans since June 2004, when one of the devices first killed a service member, the officials said.
In a news briefing held under strict security on Sunday, they displayed an EFP and an array of mortar shells and rocket-propelled grenades with visible serial numbers that they said linked the weapons directly to Iranian arms factories.
The officials also said, without providing direct evidence, that Iranian leaders had authorised the smuggling of those weapons into Iraq for use against the Americans. They said such an assertion was an educated guess by officials who had to remain anonymous.
Iran denied the accusations yesterday. An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, said: "What was presented is weak proof that even Americans themselves do not believe and is not acceptable."
He said the US was "designing artificial events" to justify their accusations.
"Iran's senior officials and others do not have anything to do with this issue and other issues.
"Any interference with Iraq's internal matters will weaken Iraq's government."
The officials at Sunday's briefing were repeatedly pressed on why they insisted on anonymity in such an important matter affecting the security of US and Iraqi troops.
A US military official said that without anonymity a senior Defence Department analyst who took part in the briefing could not have contributed.
The officials were defensive about the timing of disclosing such incriminating evidence, since they had known about it as early as 2004.
"The reason we're talking about this right now is the vast increase in the number of EFPs being found," one official said.
They said the EFP weapons arrived in Iraq in the form of what they described as a "kit" containing high-grade metals and highly machined parts - like a shaped, concave lid that folds into the ball while hurtling toward its target.