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U.S. accuses Iran of smuggling missiles

The U.S. military accused Iran on Sunday of smuggling surface-to-air missiles and other advanced weapons into Iraq for use against American troops.
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/ Source: The Associated Press

The U.S. military accused Iran on Sunday of smuggling surface-to-air missiles and other advanced weapons into Iraq for use against American troops.

The new allegations came as Iraqi leaders condemned the latest U.S. detention of an Iranian in northern Iraq, saying the man was in their country on official business.

Military spokesman Rear Adm. Mark Fox said U.S. troops were continuing to find Iranian-supplied weaponry including the Misagh 1, a portable surface-to-air missile that uses an infrared guidance system.

Other advanced Iranian weaponry found in Iraq includes the RPG-29 rocket-propelled grenade, 240 mm rockets and armor-piercing roadside bombs known as explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, Fox said.

An American soldier was killed Saturday and another wounded when an EFP hit their patrol in eastern Baghdad, the military said.

Iran has denied U.S. allegations that it is smuggling weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq, a denial that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” aired Sunday.

“We don’t need to do that. We are very much opposed to war and insecurity,” said Ahmadinejad, who arrived in New York Sunday to attend the U.N. General Assembly. “The insecurity in Iraq is detrimental to our interests.”

Tensions between Iran and the United States have worried Iraqi officials — many of whom are members of political parties with close ties to Tehran.

A 240 mm rocket was fired this month at the main U.S. headquarters base in Iraq, killing one person and wounding 11.

U.S. officials said the rocket was fired from a west Baghdad neighborhood controlled by Shiite militiamen.

On Thursday, U.S. troops arrested an Iranian in the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah. U.S. officials said he was a member of the elite Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards that smuggles weapons into Iraq.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki condemned the Iranian’s arrest, saying he understood the man, who has been identified as Mahmudi Farhadi, had been invited to Iraq.

“The government of Iraq is an elected one and sovereign. When it gives a visa, it is responsible for the visa,” he told The Associated Press in an interview in New York. “We consider the arrest ... of this individual who holds an Iraqi visa and a (valid) passport to be unacceptable.”

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, also demanded the Iranian’s release.

The U.S. military said the suspect was being questioned about “his knowledge of, and involvement in,” the transportation of EFPs and other roadside bombs from Iran into Iraq and “his facilitation of travel and training in Iran for Iraqi insurgents.” The military said no decision had been made about whether to file charges.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Farhadi was in charge of border transactions in western Iran and went to Iraq on an official invitation.

He said Iran expects the Iraqi government to provide security for Iranian nationals there and warned the arrest could affect relations between the two neighbors as well.

Iraqi authorities, meanwhile, said a shipment of chlorine had crossed the border from Jordan after concerns were raised about shortages of the chemical needed to prevent an outbreak of cholera from spreading.

Officials said earlier that as much as 100,000 tons of chlorine was being held up at the border for fear it would be hijacked and used in explosives. Several chlorine truck bombs blamed on suspected Sunni insurgents earlier this year killed scores of people.

Naeem al-Qabi, the deputy chief of Baghdad’s municipal council, said warehouses in the capital were preparing to accept the chlorine, which would help purify water supplies.

“There is some administrative work needed to be done and it will be finished very soon,” al-Qabi said.

Iraq now has a total of 1,652 confirmed cases of cholera after three new cases were confirmed in Salahuddin province, according to an update on the World Health Organization’s Web site on Sunday. Earlier, cholera was confirmed in the provinces of Sulaimaniyah, Tamim and Irbil, as well as a case each in Baghdad and in Basra.

“As the weather cools and becomes more favorable for transmission, the organism is expected to spread to other provinces,” the WHO’s country office in Iraq said on its Web site.

Cholera is endemic to Iraq, with about 30 cases registered each year. The last major outbreak was in 1999, when 20 cases were discovered in one day.

Also Sunday, Iraq’s minister of state for national security, Sherwan al-Waili, took over the security operations center in Basra as tensions rose in the southern city following the assassination of a local representative of Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

The region has been rocked by violence between rival Shiite militias linked to political parties, raising concerns about security as the British military has pulled back its troops from the city center to a nearby airport to allow Iraqi security forces to take over.

Al-Waili told reporters that he will temporarily head the operations center until a new security plan is implemented “very soon” in the city, 340 miles southeast of Baghdad.