The US released its first hard public evidence of a link between anti-US violence in Iraq and Iran, US-made radio frequency (RF) transmitters being bought semi-legally by a Singaporean firm, transferred illegally to an Iranian firm and then ending up attached to roadside bombs, Improvised Explosive Devices, IEDs, in Iraq.
The Invisible War
Triggering an IED was always its most vulnerable function, and the one where US technology had the greatest effect in disrupting the threat. Look at current photos of US military vehicles in Iraq-- they are festooned with antennas and other electronic devices, many of which are aimed specifically at the electronic triggers of roadside bombs. The crudest way to trigger a bomb is via a control wire. A bad guy literally sat nearby and manually set off the bomb as a US convoy rumbled past. Most such triggermen were either obliterated by their own explosives or killed quickly by the convoy's survivors. Early stand-off triggers used components from household appliances, garage door openers, radio controlled toys and cell phones. The US grew very good at counter-acting these crude signals, rendering many IEDs dead weight, unable to be blown up at the right times. The key to insurgent "success" was increasingly sophisticated electronic triggering devices, staying a step ahead of US counter-technology. One such tool was apparently the US-made RF transmitters smuggled through Singapore, via Iran, into Iraq. The whole contest was described by Wired.com as "Iraq's Invisible War."
Technical specifications on the smuggled transmitters are not public, but one can guess they might have frequency skipping technology, useful in a home network to avoid interference with cell phones and other portable devices. Such tech would make the transmitters that much harder to interrupt, plus their long range (miles) is handy for the bad guys in hiding.
US-Iran Proxy War Goes Public, Sort Of
That Iraq is a battleground for the proxy war between the US and Iran has been an open secret for several years. The US, for internal political reasons, has flirted with publicly making such a statement. In 2009-2010, my turn in Iraq, the Iranian connections were sort of kept low key, not secret, but not spoken of openly by senior officials even though Iranian presence was well-known.
The US started to go public this summer, with US General Martin Dempsey leading the charge:
"Iran hoped to re-create a Beirut-like moment in Iraq," referring to the 1984 pullout from Lebanon's capital in the wake of attacks including a major suicide bombing targeting US Marines. "Iran's activities in southern Iraq are intended to produce some kind of Beirut-like moment ... and then in so doing to send a message that they have expelled us from Iraq."
Soon after that statement, Major General Jeffrey Buchanan, the senior US military spokesman in Iraq, said Iranian-backed Shiite militias were working to keep the Baghdad government weak and isolated, and that decisions on the number and types of attacks by the militias are made inside Iran, including through ties with the powerful Quds force.
Stories appeared in the press about the head of Iran's elite al-Quds Force, Qassem Suleimani. A note received in 2008 was reprinted in 2011 which said, "General Petraeus, you should know that I, Qassem Suleimani, control the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan. And indeed, the ambassador in Baghdad is a Quds Force member. The individual who's going to replace him is a Quds Force member."
A More Intelligent Escalation
But this was all just noise, speculation, and leak fodder until today's story linking the violence in Iraq directly to Iran, at least as far as public disclosures are concerned.
Indeed, to make sure the point was clear enough, a Justice Department spokesman said, "This is the first prosecution in which the government has alleged that it has the evidence to trace -- by serial number -- specific components exported from the United States to Iran, and later to IEDs in Iraq." Justice went on to say that forces in Iraq had found at least 16 of the transmitters in unexploded improvised explosive devices (IEDs) between May 2008 and July 2010.
Today's disclosure represents a more intelligent escalation by the US government in painting a picture for the always receptive American people, especially after the bumbling attempts to whip up a frenzy over some loser has-been Iranian-American and his B-movie fantasy of whacking the Saudi Ambassador.
So is the US going to war with Iran next week? No, no, none of this is aimed that high. What we are seeing is a more clever tamping up of public rhetoric, a base that if the US chooses to do so, will serve as the next step in an ongoing war of mostly, for now, words.