The British commander of coalition forces in southern Iraq says technology imported from Iran is helping Iraqi insurgents produce more sophisticated armor-piercing bombs that are killing more coalition troops. The commander spoke to reporters at the Pentagon on a video link from the southern Iraqi city of Basra.
Royal Marines Major General J.B. Dutton provided new details Friday about the more effective bombs insurgents have been using in several parts of Iraq. "These breakaway Shia terrorist groups, and they are Iraqis, have found a piece of technology which is working particularly well at the moment," he said.
General Dutton says the technology and some of the material is coming into Iraq by road from Iran, some of it in his area of responsibility in the south. "I simply don't know whether this is Iranian government policy or whether this is simply groups who are using Iran for their own purposes and not being controlled."
The general says his forces, including Iraqi troops, intercept some of the shipments, but not all.
The technology is known as a "shaped charge," or what the military calls an "explosively formed projectile."
"If you imagine a cylinder of varying diameter, with the length slightly more than the diameter, sitting on a stand, full of explosives, with either a copper or a steel shaped plate on the front, which, when detonated produces a slug of hot copper which then penetrates armor protection on vehicles," he said.
These shaped charges are, in many cases, defeating the main coalition countermeasure against roadside bombs - heavier armor on military vehicles. Coalition countries have also been working on other ways to prevent, detect and disable hidden bombs on roadsides, in vehicles and sometimes concealed in vegetable carts or even inside the carcasses of dead animals.
On Thursday, senior officials confirmed that the U.S. Defense Department is considering upgrading its 140-member task force on the problem to the level of three-star general.
But officials acknowledge that the insurgents respond to every step they take. And Pentagon statistics indicate that in recent months, hidden bombs have accounted for 60-percent of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq. General Dutton says the situation is similar in his area in southern Iraq, even though the overall level of violence is lower.
"If I showed you a graph of numbers of incidents of violence from 12 months ago, it was extremely high, but the fatality rate for coalition forces was extremely low. That position has now been entirely reversed. The number of incidents is extremely low, but the fatality rate is quite high, much higher than it was a year ago," he said.
General Dutton reports there have been no bombing deaths in his area since October first. October was one of the most deadly months of the war for U.S. forces elsewhere in the country.
The general also reports that normal contacts have been resumed with local officials in Basra following an incident in September in which two British soldiers were arrested by the local police, and then turned over to a militant group. British forces rescued the men by force.
In addition, General Dutton says he is working with the Basra police chief to cut the 13-thousand-member provincial force nearly in half, in part by weeding out officers who the general says have loyalty to various factions outside the government. He says he is now holding five or six policemen who were arrested with a group of militants.
The general says the training of Iraqi security forces in the south is going well, and that they already operate independently in many situations. But he could not predict when they might be ready to take over all security operations in the region.