Two Defense Department officials and a mysterious analyst held an anonymous briefing for reporters Sunday to offer evidence of Iran’s involvement with hostile forces in Iraq. The three claimed Tehran is supplying militants with sophisticated weapons that they said had been used against U.S. forces for at least two years, but the analyst, whose exact job description was withheld, admitted the evidence was not a “smoking gun.”

“The smoking gun of an Iranian standing over an American with a gun, it’s never going to happen…. It’s plausible deniability, I mean, they invented it,” the anonymous explosives expert said.

The officials were careful to say they weren’t trying to hype the claim, but the timing is troubling. President Bush has been sharpening his rhetoric toward Iran, leading some to worry he’s building a case for military action. Surely he would be aware of such a briefing — this isn’t meeting-in-a-parking-garage anonymity. Furthermore, one of the weapons the expert pointed to as a strong indicator of Iran’s involvement, an armor-piercing device known as an EFP, has been in use in Iraq since 2004, according to the officials. So why wait until now to tell the American people about it?

Washington Post:

The officials said they would speak only on the condition of anonymity so the trio’s explosives expert and analyst, who would normally not speak to reporters, could provide more information. The analyst’s exact job description was not revealed to reporters. Reporters’ cell phones were taken before the briefing, and the officials did not allow reporters to record or videotape the proceedings.

An official at the Iranian embassy in Baghdad dismissed the U.S. officials contentions about Iran smuggling weapons into Iraq.

“This is only propaganda” said the embassy official, who did not identify himself, when asked about the allegations. “If they have any documents or proof . . . they can bring it up to us.”

The defense officials said many of the Iranian weapons components are smuggled through three main border crossings: at Meran, at Amarah and near the southern Iraqi city of Basra. The weapons are typically supplied to what officials called “rogue” elements of the Mahdi Army, the powerful Shiite militia led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

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