WASHINGTON - A US military spokesman formally put on the record Wednesday allegations first made by anonymous defence officials that Iranian armour-piercing bombs have killed 170 US-led coalition troops in Iraq.
Reacting to criticism that faceless briefings had undermined the credibility of the US case, Major General William Caldwell repeated the bulk of Sunday's claims at a televised press conference in Baghdad.
He reiterated that "explosively formed penetrators" -- a form of roadside bomb -- are manufactured as components in Iran and smuggled into Iraq, where they are assembled and used by Shiite militia groups.
Caldwell said the initial briefing had been intended to publicly pressure -- "since we've been unsuccessful through other political means thus far" -- the Iranian government to cut off the supply of weapons.
"We're asking the Iranian government to assist in stopping that occurring. The reason why we have gone public is because it is a force protection issue... because of the devastating effect the EFP produces," he said.
Caldwell said the numbers of EFPs turning up on the Iraqi battlefield had increased by 150 percent between January and December 2006 and the weapon has been blamed for killing 170 US and allied soldiers and wounding 650.
The general backtracked, however, from a claim made at the anonymous briefing that weapons smuggling was initiated at "the highest level" of the Iranian government, branding that allegation as analysts' "inference".
He did say, however, that members of the Revolutionary Guards Al-Qods Force -- an Iranian special forces unit "who works for the government of Iran" -- had been arrested inside Iraq and directly linked to arms smuggling.