CAMP VICTORY, Iraq - US forces in Iraq are launching a new crackdown on weapons smuggling from Iran, in part by tighter monitoring of border crossings, a US commander said yesterday.
The effort is aimed at smugglers who, according to Major General Michael Oates, supply Shi'ite extremist groups, mainly in Baghdad, with rockets, missiles, mortars, and assembled explosive devices that have killed many US troops.
"We're going to start squeezing this network pretty hard," said Oates, who leads a contingent of 19,000 US troops in regions south of the capital as commander of the Army's 10th Mountain Division.
"We think we can actually have some success interdicting blatant smuggling by making sure the Iraqi people see that this stuff is being brought in and it's not helpful," the general said. To date, however, neither the United States nor its coalition partners have succeeded in intercepting weapons crossing the border, he said.
Asked about the timing, Oates said the improved overall security situation in Iraq "allows us to deal with this last remaining major threat, which is the Iranian lethal support" of Shi'ite extremist elements that US officials term "Special Groups" to differentiate them from members of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army.
Oates said that much of the smuggled weaponry comes into Iraq through Maysan province, which borders Iran and has an official frontier crossing, called Sheeb, east of the city of Amarah.
He said Amarah, which was recently cleared of Shi'ite extremist forces by the Iraqi Army, long was a hub for the shipment of smuggled weaponry from Iran; the arms would move from Amarah toward Baghdad by heading west or by moving south to the Basra area and north to the capital.
Oates also disclosed in the interview that among the stored weapons the Iraqi Army has uncovered in Amarah since entering the city in force in mid-June were more than 2,200 mortar rounds, nearly 600 rockets, nearly 1,000 artillery rounds, 22 missiles, and 141 of the most deadly version of the roadside bomb. American forces, which have not operated in Maysan province recently, intend to set up a patrol base not far from the border, Oates said.
The US military, along with a group of civilians that includes some retired FBI agents and US customs enforcement agents, will work with Iraq's border enforcement squads to tighten passport screening, cargo inspection, and other border actions, Oates said.