Do Insurgents Have Anti-Aircraft Missiles?
I was immediately suspicious Wednesday when the Pentagon was a little too quick to dismiss the possibility that the Sea Knight helicopter that crashed in Iraq was shot down by enemy fire. Given the immediate denial from this Pentagon and their ongoing need to suppress all bad news as the surge was commencing, it seemed probable that in fact the opposite was true. Even Juan Cole wondered if the copter was brought down by such fire, despite the initial BS from the Pentagon that the crash may have been due to a mechanical malfunction.
DEBKAfile’s sources in Tehran and Kurdistan disclose that, last month, two Iranian QW-1 and SA-7 missile consignments reached Iraqi insurgents allied with al Qaeda and one, radical Shiite Moqtada Sadr’s Shiite militia, the Mehdi Army. Israeli sources report the same anti-air weapons were delivered at about the same time to Hizballah units in Lebanon including the south.
According to our sources, all three consignments to Iraq went through the North Iraqi Kurdistani town of Suleimaniya not far from the Iranian border. An Iranian clandestine center operates there like “the liaison center” the Americans raided in another Kurdish town, Irbil, last month. The Suleimaniya center operates with permission from Iraqi’s Kurdish president Jalal Talabani.
Tehran is stepping up its provocations in reprisal for the US president George W. Bush’s directive to US forces to capture or kill Iranian agents, America’s refusal to release the Revolutionary Guards officers captured in Irbil and finally by the seizure last week of an Iranian diplomat in Baghdad.
On the surface, it seems implausible that Iran would be assisting the Sunnis inside Iraq, and it is seemingly equally implausible that they are doing so with the assistance of the pro-American Talabani.
And then this story hit the wires later today:
The U.S. military has said it did not believe the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter was shot down in the crash Wednesday northwest of Baghdad.
But a U.S. official, who was not authorized to address the topic publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, said "the video appears to be legitimate" — meaning that it shows a Sea Knight crashing.
The two-minute video — which says it shows the "downing of U.S. aircraft on Feb. 7" — shows a helicopter that appears to be a Sea Knight flying. An object trailing smoke is seen in the sky nearby, and then the craft bursts into orange and red flames, with a spray of debris emerging from it.
It is not clear whether the object is a rocket, and it cannot be clearly seen connecting with the craft. In the footage, the helicopter heads downward, but appears to be at least partially in control, though smoke and bright flames are trailing from it. The helicopter then disappears behind a line of trees as it hits the ground.
Again, I will defer to Professor Cole as to whether or not Iran would actually be helping Al Qaeda in Iraq or the Sunni insurgency, or whether Talabani would be involved in something like this. Then again, if the common interest was to get us out of Iraq, who knows what alliances have been formed of late?
But if the insurgency, Al Qaeda in Iraq, and the Mahdi Army are all now working together against our air forces inside the country with Chinese missiles, possibly with the assistance of the president of Iraq, then we have a much bigger problem than Iran.
And are our pilots being adequately protected from this capability? I mean, we know about this, right? And if we do, then why are our crews being sacrificed like this without air cover? And if we didn't know about this until now, then why didn't we know?
Update: Professor Cole kindly replied to an email I sent him Friday night, in which he finds it "not at all plausible that the Iranian government is doing this." He suspects it is more likely that international arms dealers are selling such weapons inside Iraq.