Patrick Cockburn: First, the US deluded itself about the war, then about the source of the weapons
Published: 18 February 2007
There is something ludicrous about the attempt by the US military in Iraq to persuade the world that the simple but devastating roadside bomb or IED (improvised explosive device) is a highly developed weapon requiring Iranian expertise.
Here is the official police report of one IED attack. It reads: “At about 8.25am, 100 men of the X Regt with their colonel in charge, marched with their band from the military barracks at Y to their rifle range via fixed route. When they got to place Z a land mine exploded, killing three outright and wounding 22 others, three of these died shortly afterwards. The mine was connected to an electric battery by about 150 yards of cable. It is believed that there were only two men involved in carrying out this outrage.”
This is fairly typical of a roadside bomb. It might have happened in Iraq yesterday – except it didn’t. The IED in question exploded in the town of Youghal in County Cork on 21 June 1921. I happen to have read the Royal Irish Constabulary report on the incident, because I was born 29 years later about two miles away from the site.
IEDs have not changed much in the decades that followed. They have been used everywhere from Cyprus to Vietnam. They are cheap and easy to make, and can be detonated by a single person. They came as a nasty shock to the incoming US soldiers who invaded Iraq in 2003 because they were so well equipped to fight the Soviet army – American military procurement long ago detached itself from real conditions on the battlefield.
In early 2004 I met some US combat engineers, or sappers, charged with the lethal job of finding these bombs, which were nicknamed “convoy killers”. Because the Pentagon was in a state of denial about their very existence, the sappers had received no training in locating them. A sergeant told me that he had obtained with great difficulty an old but still valid US army handbook, printed during the Vietnam War, about IEDs. The book had not been reissued because to do so might appear to contradict the Pentagon’s line that Iraq was not like Vietnam.
The US Army is pretending that “explosively formed penetrators” are a new form of weapon which could only have been obtained in Iran. It claimed last week that the so-called EFPs had been supplied to the Shia militias and had killed 170 US troops. But the US has been primarily fighting a Sunni insurgency, and has had only intermittent clashes with Shia militiamen.
Sophisticated weapons may be obtained in Iraq, if the money is there to pay for them. Until recently smugglers were moving weapons out of Iraq into Saudi Arabia – prices were higher there. A favourite method of moving them was to tie the guns under sheep, so they were concealed by the wool, and to pay the shepherds to drive them across the frontier.