Monday, February 05, 2007

Anti-Iran rhetoric questioned

The Bush administration is escalating its confrontation with Iran, sending an additional aircraft carrier and minesweepers into the Persian Gulf as it accuses the Islamic regime in Tehran of arming Shiite Muslim militias in Iraq for attacks on American troops.

A new U.S. intelligence estimate on Friday, however, concluded that Iranian and other outside meddling is ''not likely'' a major cause of the bloodshed in Iraq, and a new McClatchy analysis of U.S. casualties in Iraq found that Sunni Muslim insurgents, not Iranian-backed Shiites, have mounted most -- but not all -- of the attacks on American forces.

The Bush administration, which made exaggerated or false claims about Iraq's weapons programs and ties to al Qaeda to justify its 2003 invasion of Iraq, hasn't provided evidence to back up its charges.

Intelligence officials said the Mahdi Army militia of anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr has used weapons from Iran to kill Americans in Iraq. But Secretary of Defense Robert Gates confirmed Friday that the administration isn't sure whether Iran's leaders sanctioned the arms shipments to Iraq or whether rogue elements are behind them.

''I don't think that we know the answer to that question,'' Gates told reporters.

Some experts, citing Bush's order to send more U.S. air and naval forces to the Persian Gulf, worry that President Bush is exaggerating the Iranian role to build a case for attacking Iran's nuclear facilities.

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