June 12, 2007

Burning the Smoking Gun

On February 12, Thomas Harding, Defense Correspondent of the U.K. Daily Telegraph, published what many regarded as evidence of the literal "smoking gun" proving Iranian government involvement in Iraq:

Austrian sniper rifles that were exported to Iran have been discovered in the hands of Iraqi terrorists, The Daily Telegraph has learned.

More than 100 of the.50 calibre weapons, capable of penetrating body armour, have been discovered by American troops during raids.

The guns were part of a shipment of 800 rifles that the Austrian company, Steyr-Mannlicher, exported legally to Iran last year.

The sale was condemned in Washington and London because officials were worried that the weapons would be used by insurgents against British and American troops.

Within 45 days of the first HS50 Steyr Mannlicher rifles arriving in Iran, an American officer in an armoured vehicle was shot dead by an Iraqi insurgent using the weapon.

Over the last six months American forces have found small caches of the £10,000 rifles but in the last 24 hours a raid in Baghdad brought the total to more than 100, US defence sources reported.

The find is the latest in a series of discoveries that indicate that Teheran is providing support to Iraq's Shia insurgents.

Other Iranian ordnance, such as explosively-formed penetrators designed to slice through armored vehicles and Iranian-manufactured mortar and artillery shells had previously been captured in Iraq, though with little solid evidence implicating the Iranian government.

Capturing more than 100 of the 800 Austrian rifles shipped to the Iranian government—over twelve percent of their entire purchase—would be the most direct evidence yet of the Iranian government supplying Iraqi insurgents with weapons to kill coalition forces.

But the U.S. military says not so much as a single Steyr-Mannlicher HS50 .50-caliber sniper rifle has ever been documented as having been captured from Sunni insurgents or Shia militias in Iraq.

In an exclusive to Confederate Yankee, U.S. Army Christopher C. Garver, Director of the Combined Press Information Center for Multinational Corps-Iraq, stated that no such rifles have ever been confirmed recovered by American military forces in Iraq.

"Ever since that article, we have queried our units to see if anyone can find any evidence of those Steyr-Mannlicher sniper rifles," said Garver.

"To date, we have not found one unit that has any knowledge of that find.

"I can't tell you that this didn't happen -- the possibility that the cache of rifles was destroyed before being completely documented does exist, though the chance of that happening is small -- but we have been able to find no evidence of it."

Independent embedded combat journalist Michael Yon, who has perhaps spent more time in Iraq than any member of the western media, also discounts the likelihood of the Daily Telegraph story as being consistent with his experience in Iraq.

Yon, a former Green Beret weapons specialist, wrote, "I've been on many raids and seen literally tons of munitions captured. RPGs, small arms and machineguns of many sorts, hand grenades of many sorts, surface to air missiles, artillery and mortar rounds by the thousands if not tens of thousands between places like Baquba and Mosul (the largest weapons ASP I have seen was in Baqubah at FOB Gabe), but I have never seen a .50 caliber sniper rifle in Iraq that did not belong to Americans."

Michael Fumento, another independent journalist who has spent time embedded with Coaltion forces in Iraq and NATO forces in Afghanistan, likewise stated, "I heard nothing about the use of .50 cal enemy sniper rifles."

For it's part, Steyr-Mannlicher, the Austrian company that sold the HS50 rifles to the Iranian government and was embargoed by the U.S. and British government as a direct result, posted a press release in March disputing the Daily Telegraph story.

Dozens of media outlets and blogs (including this one) had reported the Daily Telegraph story as proof of Iranian government involvement in Iraq. To date, there is no indication that the Daily Telegraph has issued a retraction for their apparently false claims.

(Author's note: A special thanks to Mark Tapscott, editorial page editor of the Washington Examiner and blogger at Tapscott's Copy Desk, and U.S. Army Col. Steven A. Boylan, PAO for MNF-I Commanding General David Petraeus, for their assistance in researching this story.)

Posted by Confederate Yankee at June 12, 2007 11:08 PM


At least I only said "Relatively credible" when you offered this as evidence...

(And by the way, hats off to you for publishing this. Left, right or middle, it is highly respectable.)

It strikes me that there are several strands of psychological war going on in and around Iraq. Jihadis, nationalist insurgents, Badr, Sadr, etc, etc. What is notable is that each of these organisations (with the possible exception of the Sadr) have only one line when they push their propeganda.

Except the US. In the US there seem to be two distinct brands of psych-war being fought.

Firstly there is the "Bomb-Iran, everything's coming up roses, just-one-more-push" brand. This seems to be coming out of the US government and is being skillfully placed in media outlets around the world. These guys have a real feeling for narrative (though less regard for facts) and create great storylines of good vs evil, progress and the general worthiness of the cause. These guys have central control of their message to such a degree that they might almost be sitting in the same office.

The other strand, "Iraq is a mess, but we're doing the best we can. We promise you that we are the good guys in this" seems to be coming from the military. These guys have almost no conception of what makes a good story and little central control over their message, but it is always the same message. They release news that is distinctly down at times, and when they release up news it is often confusing or complex (giving US arms to insurgents sounds bad in soundbite but is a damn fine idea in the shifting sands of Iraq, for example)

It is as if these strands are in direct competition. When one says something, the other contradicts it. It is quite bizarre when you think about it. Psych-war is as important as physical war in this sort of engagement. It is as if one group was saying "We need to take this hill" and the other was sending their troops down into the valley. This is about as close to insubordination and rebellion as you can get without actually starting to arrest people.

And the upshot is that the call for frank, in your face evidence is all the more important. We know that someone is making stuff up as they go along. We should probably assume that each strand is occasionally making stuff up for their own reasons. We don't know which is which until we actually see the evidence with our own eyes.

I think that this derives from the fact that the US military has finally come to terms with just how intractable the situation in Iraq is, and many of them consider complicating it by bombing Iran to be utter madness, even if Iran is one of the complicating factors in Iraq. Thus they are taking every opportunity to contradict the Washington storyline with facts and observation in the hope that they will be able to derail the support needed for such an action.

Thus the most potentially damaging effect is that the US military is starting to openly disagree and act against the Washington strategy. When you have a military deciding for itself what is the correct strategy, you have to beginnings of serious social strife. Hopefully they can keep it contained as they have been so far. If the crazies bomb Iran and US soldiers in Iraq start taking vastly increased casualties, all bets may well be off.

Posted by: Rafar at June 13, 2007 04:03 AM

I'm with Rafar. You've earned my respect for this and other postings, as well as your moderation of this blog.

I don't know what's happening in Iraq. I don't know what's happening in Iran.

I do know that the administration has not been straight with us for a long time and that the media is muddle-headed with fluff and obsessed with events vs. policy. So I read a lot on all sides of the issue and try to form my own conclusions based on sources I feel I can trust, which is a very small base to be sure.

That's why I appreciate it when you try to chase down the truth no matter where it falls.


Posted by: David Terrenoire at June 13, 2007 06:59 AM

I am beginning to sense a certain hoplessness about the whole affair. We have two parties that seem to be fighting each other more than a common enemy. We have a totally disfunctional president that does not command the respect of anyone and has obviously lost the ability to lead. We have a press that glories over every set back. There does not seem to be any game plan at all. We even phrase our commentment with an idiotic phrase of "a war on terror". Not focusing our war efforts on specfic countries or religious groups that mean us harm and making the average American citizen just as much of a enemy combatant as the obvious enemy. Our allies are actively selling guns and other implements to those that wish to do us harm and we do not have the power to influence this.

Something has to change. Soon.

Posted by: David Caskey,MD at June 13, 2007 09:03 AM

This post is about an official, under the direct chain of command to the President, stating there is no evidence that these sniper rifles are or have been in Iraq. Yet we have accusations of Government-planted stories, propaganda, by "these guys" that says the contrary. Who are these guys who can so mislead the Telegraph? Commenter Rafar even makes a verbose mystery with sinister implications of all this. What about asking the Telegraph, a UK publication about how this story came to be printed?

Posted by: Fred Beloit at June 13, 2007 10:57 AM

"Commenter Rafar even makes a verbose mystery with sinister implications of all this. "

Have you not been keeping up with current events? The fact that Washington has been planting stories with favoured journalists in order to promote their foreign policy agenda is hardly a revolutionary claim. It has been demonstrated in open court for goodness sake...

What is interesting is the number of times that these stories have been contradicted by military sources.

This particular arc goes;

1) Anonymous US official makes claims to favoured journalist who prints the scoop uncritically.

2) People start shouting about how this is all the evidence needed to convict the enemy du jour of evil intentions.

3) Named military sources state on the record that they have no evidence to support the claims and that, anyway, they don't make much sense.

"What about asking the Telegraph, a UK publication about how this story came to be printed?"

Do you think that it is possible that an unnamed US official claimed it and the journalist failed to check up on it because it (a) fit his preconceptions and (b) was a nice scoop?

You want it short and simple?

Some factions in Washington want to bomb Iran. They are pushing stories about Iranian actions that support this.

Some factions in the US military don't want to bomb Iran. When they see false or misleading claims about Iranian actions, they contradict those stories.

Thus some factions in the US military are going aganist the foreign policies of some factions in Washington. This is interesting.

Simple enough?

Posted by: Rafar at June 13, 2007 11:11 AM

This said, I hope nobody comes to the conclusion that Iran is not helping out at the very least the Shia. It would be pretty crazy of them not to want to cultivate good relations with them, and supplying weaponry would be part of that. In fact, there's good evidence they're supplying the Taliban now. They actually were part of the anti-Taliban coalition in the late '90 and early 2000s because the Taliban are Sunni and expansionist-minded -- as in expanding into Iran. Their support for them now is simple: bleed America. I think the Iranians will try to bleed us anywhere and everywhere they can. Does that support attacking them? Not necessarily. Once we do that, they can take off the gloves and actually start sending over .50 cals, RPG-14s (assuming they aren't now) and lots of other nasty stuff.

Posted by: Michael Fumento at June 13, 2007 11:11 AM

"It has been demonstrated in open court..." What has? That a U.S. Government official has told the Telegraph, a U.K. publication, to print a false story and they obligingly did it? I'm afraid I missed that story, could you let me know where it appeared so I could read about it? How about I give it to you short and simple: the Iranian Government is doing everything it possibly can to ensure it is bombed, and with UN approval. And, Michael, I certainly didn't mean to say Iran is not supporting the enemy and isn't asking for it. They clearly are. It is just a very good idea to make sure all the Iran intel is correct. The MSM sharks are always on the lookout for fresh meat.

Posted by: Fred Beloit at June 13, 2007 12:15 PM

Good news, not in Iraq...yet.

Bad news, 800 sniper rifles still under the control of the Mullahs, Qods Force, and their proxies in who knows where(?). Maybe one in your town in Mid America New England or Kahleefornia.

Plus a million or more rounds of High Explosive Armor Piercing Incendiary ammuntion, ... Raufoss invented it, everybody else copied it.

Posted by: Econ-Scott at June 13, 2007 02:44 PM

takes a BIG MAN to admit a mistake!!!

that said there can be NO DOUBT that some in iran are involved with some in iraq at least shiaa groups

suppose someone invaded canada! even if the US Govt didnt get involved plenty private citizens WOULD

who knows if its cause for war time will tell

Posted by: Karl at June 13, 2007 04:42 PM

"What has? That a U.S. Government official has told the Telegraph, a U.K. publication, to print a false story and they obligingly did it?"

No. Perhaps once again I have not been simplistic enough. You see, the sentence "It has been demonstrated in open court for goodness sake..." applies to the preceeding sentence in the paragraph, "The fact that Washington has been planting stories with favoured journalists in order to promote their foreign policy agenda is hardly a revolutionary claim."

Paragrahs are usually used to contain a single concept or argument composed of several sentences you see.

If you don't believe that "Washington has been planting stories with favoured journalists in order to promote their foreign policy agenda" then you ought to read the transcripts of the Libby trial.

"the Iranian Government is doing everything it possibly can to ensure it is bombed, and with UN approval."

No, if it wanted to be bombed it could achieve that by simply openly arming Al-Q, or sending its forces to attack US forces directly, or even to develop nuclear weapons.

I find it odd that you imagine that the Iranian leadership actually want to be bombed. It seems to me that they are performing a tightrope act, continuing to pursue their goals while not doing too much to give the US an excuse to attack them.

Posted by: Rafar at June 14, 2007 03:41 AM

It seems the whole thing was a DOD fabrication; Something which has become all too common. See this Steyr-Mannlicher web page:

Posted by: Rusty Scalf at June 14, 2007 06:04 PM

Read the page, Rusty? the Steyr page was posted in the original article. What lacking is how you manage to jump into the claiming how an Austrian gun company refutation of a poorly researched and sourced English newspaper account is the fault of the American Department of Defense.

Does fire melt steel in your world, Rusty?

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at June 14, 2007 09:00 PM