Archive for the ‘MNDSE’ Category

OK, so “Not All That” Foxy Liam Fox is in trouble.

“He is an odd bloke,” said one fellow minister. “He has fingers in so many pies that you kind of think one of them will land him in trouble somewhere along the line.”

Another Tory MP said Fox’s tendency to name-drop and brag about his close friendships with Republicans in the US, media magnates such as David and Frederick Barclay (owners of the Daily Telegraph), and his endless globe-trotting, even before he entered the cabinet, has made many bristle and help explain why he has plenty of enemies in the Tory party and in Whitehall. “I think you either roll with the bluster or find it repellent,” said a Tory MP.

Ah, one of them. Anyway. Part of the problem is this famous meeting where his bestie Adam Werritty just happened to turn up. What was on offer? Well, a product called Cellcrypt, whose makers were trying to sell it to the MoD to stop evilly-disposed persons from eavesdropping on British soldiers’ phone calls back to the UK. (Note: this is going to be long. Technical summary: voice encryption apps for GSM-style mobile networks can guarantee that your call will not be overheard, but not that your presence cannot be monitored, and not necessarily that the parties to your calls cannot be identified.)

Back in the early days of Iraq, the CPA permitted one mobile phone operator in each of its three zones to set up. The British zone, CPA-South/Multinational Division South-East, let the Kuwaiti national telco, MTC (now Zain and busy running Mo Ibrahim’s old Celtel business into the ground) set up there with a partner some of us may have heard of. It’s from Newbury and it’s not a pub or an estate agency and its logo is a big red comma…funny how Vodafone never talked that particular investment up, innit? Anyway. Later the Iraqi government did a major tender for permanent licences and Orascom got most of it, but that’s another story.

One thing that did happen was that soldiers took their mobiles with them to Iraq, and some of them pretty soon realised that buying a local SIM card in the bazaar was much cheaper than making roaming calls back to the UK. Either way, lots of +44 numbers started showing up in their VLR, the big database that keeps track of where phones are in a GSM network so it can route incoming calls.

Pretty soon someone who – presumably – worked for the MTC-Voda affiliate and whose purposes were not entirely aligned with Iraq The Model realised that you could use the VLR to follow the Brits (and the Yanks and the Danes and the Dutchmen and Kiwis and all sorts of contractors) around. Not only that, you could ring up their families in the UK and make threats with the benefit of apparently supernatural knowledge.

This obviously wasn’t ideal. Efforts were made to mitigate the problem; soldiers were discouraged from using local GSM networks, more computers and public phones were made available. The eventual solution, though, was to get some nice new ruggedised small-cell systems from companies like Private Mobile Networks Ltd., which basically pack a small base station and a base station controller and a satellite backhaul terminal into a tough plastic box of a suitably military colour. You open it up, unfold the antenna, turn on the power, and complete some configuration options. It logs into the mobile operator who’s providing service to you via the satellite link.

Now, because radio signals like all radiation lose intensity with the inverse square of the distance, you’ll be vastly louder than everyone else. So any mobile phone nearby will roam onto your private mobile network and will be in the UK for mobile phone purposes, a bit like the shipping container that’s technically in Egypt at the end of Four Lions. And none of this will touch any other mobile network that might be operating in your area. Obviously you can also use these powers for evil, by snarfing up everyone else’s traffic, and don’t for a moment think this isn’t also done by so-called IMSI catchers.

You’re not meant to do this, normally, because you probably don’t have a licence to use the GSM, GSM/PCS, or UMTS frequencies. But, as the founder of PMN Ltd. told a colleague of mine, the answer to that is “we’ve got bigger tanks”.

So, where were we? Well, the problem with trying to do…something…with Cellcrypt is that it doesn’t actually solve this problem, because the problem wasn’t originally that the other side could listen to the content of voice calls. Like all telecoms interception stories, it was about the traffic analysis, not the content. Actually, they probably could listen in as well because some of the Iraqi and Afghan operators may not have been using up-to-date or even *any* air interface encryption.

But if you’re going to fix this with an encryption app like Cellcrypt, you’ve got to make sure that every soldier (and sailor and diplomat and journo and MoD civilian) installs it, it works on all the phones, and you absolutely can’t make calls without it. Also, you’ve got to make sure all the people they talk to install it.

And the enemy can still follow you because the phones are still registering in the VLRs!

So, there’s not much point relying on OTA voice encryption to solve a problem that’s got nothing to do with the voice bearer channel. However, bringing your own small cell network certainly does solve the problem, elegantly, and without needing to worry about what kind of phones people bring along or buy locally.

And the military surely understand this, as by the time of the famous meeting, they’d already started deploying them. Also, back when this was a big problem, 19 year-old riflemen usually didn’t have the sort of phones that would run a big hefty application like Cellcrypt, which also uses the mobile data link and therefore would give them four figure phone bills.

To sum up, Werritty was helping someone market gear that the MoD didn’t need, that was hopelessly unfit for purpose, wouldn’t actually do what the MoD wanted, and would cost individual soldiers a fortune, by providing privileged access to the Secretary of State for Defence.

Well, it’s not as if we weren’t warned; the Iraqi government had been threatening to move against Fadhila in Umm Qasr, and there had been increasing tension between the Iraqi government and the Sadr movement going back to Christmas. Not so long ago, there were demonstrations in Sadr City against Sadr; they thought the movement wasn’t standing up to increasing provocation from police/SCIRI as was//Badr Corps men feeling braver now they didn’t have to fight NOIA any more.

You can read the violence in a number of ways; the government/ISCI/Dawa probably briefed it to the Americans as an extension of their counter-insurgency plan to the deep south, with the added twist that this was an operation the Iraqi army would throw all by itself, hence good politics. Sadr of course will consider it an outrage by the collaborationist-Iranian bastards, eerily mirroring Petraeus’s response to the Green Zone bombardment; if you adopt Jamie Kenny’s policy of trying to think like Leonardo Sciascia, you’ll see it merely as a fight for oil rake-offs between (as Douglas Adams put it) rival police gangs. As always, SF leads the way into history.

Daniel Davies has apparently finally taken my much repeated advice and read A Bright Shining Lie, which has apparently led him to conclude that the Dawa-Sadr fighting is a good thing on the grounds that it strengthens the government, even if only as the biggest gang. Well, it has led the annoying look-at-me contrarian Daniel Davies to do so; what the real one thinks I don’t know. I don’t agree; the Sadr movement demonstrated its deterrent capability on day one, when it resumed rocketing the Green Zone and seized police stations across the Big Gap in southern Iraq, as well as the road between Amara and Basra, rather as they did in the first and second Shia risings in 2004. Further to its massive popularity, the Sadrists also have had at least a tacit alliance with some currents in NOIA – there’s a risk of the whole shithouse crashing down. Note that the Dawa and Sadrists, and ISIC, are on the opposite sides of one of Iraq’s worst territorial fights.

So inevitably, the US authorities seem to have swallowed the “southern surge” thing, and are now pressing for more British troops to be sent – not just that, but for an advance back into Basra. This is genuinely bugfuck insane and the Prime Minister has no choice but to reject it; there is literally no-one left. Army planners are already looking at calling out at least 2 TA battalions in their entirety to cover routine tasks; a mass of resources is going into Afghanistan; there is some question as to whether there is another brigade in the tubes for the next but one rotation in Iraq. The inter-allied shit just hit the fan.

Of course, nothing would do more for Gordon Brown’s polls than turning the fan right up…it’s worth noting that officially, the only support MNDSE is giving this operation is aerial reconnaissance; that could perfectly well be provided from Kuwait. However, maybe not.

The commander of Iraqi special forces (i.e. the Badr Corps, ex-36th ICDC Battalion, ex-1st Brigade ING…) in Basra is clear about the threat facing British employees in the city; far clearer than the Government.

“All the interpreters have to leave Basra because these militia will never let them rest. They will kill everybody they know [who worked for the British],” Colonel Saleem Agaa Alzabon, who leads Basra’s special forces, said. “The interpreters have to leave. They have no choice.”

Colonel Saleem and the two targeted interpreters told The Times that the militiamen – almost certainly members of the Shia al-Mahdi Army – had stepped up their pursuit of so-called collaborators since the British withdrew from Basra city 11 days ago.

Clarity! Go read the whole thing, especially the horrifying experience of one man who was out at the Basra Air Station when the death squad turned up at home.

Contrast our fine government; it recognises, apparently, that it has a “moral responsibility”, but it can’t decide how many people to take, or, you know, the presentation. The bureaucratic Hamlets wring and rack. My MP roasts on the Mediterranean or blasts small birds across Scotland; apparently he doesn’t play golf. But neither do the Mahdi Army, I believe. Meanwhile, people are still being killed. You can’t get clearer than that.

Just to remind you, we’re off to Parliament on the 9th of October, 1900 hours, Committee Room 14, St.Stephen’s Entrance. Before you come along, write to them, using the talking points. You might add that we have practical policy proposals. Demand that they raise it with the Home Office, and that they come to the lobby on the 9th of October.

Just one more Friedman

Chatter builds around the suggestion that security control of Basra might be handed over in early 2007. We’ve had quite a lot of this stuff before, tales that significant reductions in force might occur in six months’ time (one Friedman) and more recently announcements that such-and-such a province has been “handed over”.

What we haven’t had is beef. “Handing over security control” of a province appears to entail a flag-swap outside some prominent building and a new job title for the local Sadrist, Fadhila or SCIRI boss. But so far, none of the handovers have involved the withdrawal of even one single soldier. This time, Des Browne has suggested that troop numbers might be lower “by thousands” at the end of 2007.

There may be some evidence that this has a slightly higher reality content than past promises. I hear that the Shaibah logistic base outside Basra is going to close “early in 2007” with the services and installations being transferred to the RAF’s Basra Air Station. That, to me, sounds like clearing the decks – reducing the number of bases and perhaps the number of logistics personnel, whilst concentrating around the APOD (Aerial Point of Departure).

In this post, we analysed the options open to the Iraq Study Group. Supposedly, the original brief foresaw 8. Number 8 was one last push, and it seems that this is exactly what we’re going to get. Note that it is sourced to the President and “Pentagon officials”, rather than the Group itself.

In that post, I pointed out that option 8 was absurd because there was no discrete strategic, or even operational, aim that could be achieved by a “last push”. I theorised that it was included as a debate framing exercise to make some version of option 3, phased withdrawal, seem palatable through the false impression of “balance” or “moderation.” Well, it seems that George W. Bush has bought the dummy so completely he thinks it’s a real option.

Years ago, I had a dog, a big friendly barky one that was not perhaps very bright. One day, out for a walk by the Wharfe, the dog smelt a rabbit and plunged off after the creature. Normally, the bunny would have outmanoeuvred him within a couple of turns – I’m sure one of them managed to get on his tail once and claim a Fox-10 – but this one made a fatal mistake. Assuming the dog was intelligent, he reefed into a sharp turn one way, then back the other, then threw a dummy the other way but kept going the same way. The dog, however, wasn’t clever enough to notice the dummy, and the rabbit ran right into his jaws.

So George and Dick are going to send for more troops, 20,000 of them – presumably this is “whatever is left in the bag” rather than any specific tactical formation – in order to “secure Baghdad”. Ah, that again. I see no reason why they will be any more successful at this than the last three times. One sane use for more troops, incidentally, would be to concentrate a reserve strike force in the MND(SE) zone in case it becomes necessary to re-open the roads by force. But they could be provided by pulling out of Anbar.

They are also flirting with the idea of a international conference, but can’t quite bring themselves to say “talk to Iran”. It is hinted at, but they prefer to talk about Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – who are the least influential Arab nations in Iraq by a distance. And the idea of encouraging the Saudis to get involved in a fight with SCIRI and Sadr inspires, well…fear more than anything else except perhaps astonishment.

So it looks like Charlie Whitaker was right.

They also want to revive the national reconciliation process and ask Congress for more resources. On this, frankly, I’m disappointed they didn’t also get to grips with the urgent question of ponies.

David Axe is out with the Queen’s Royal Hussars group again, and he is still in the grip of raging Brit Romanticisation Disorder. Please, enough with the Lawrence of Arabia stuff. Or, well, get a room, or a secluded tent at least.

More seriously, he’s impressed by the tactics and the determination to keep the support structure and insult to society to a minimum. Very wise, I agree. But it gives little sense of security. The weekend’s IED attack on a boat in central Basra, with four dead, shows a continuing deterioration of security in southern Iraq. The explosion occurred not far from the Old State Building camp, under a pontoon bridge – it should surely be worrying that bombs get under one of the main bridges over the Shatt al-Arab. Last week, another soldier was shot by a sniper inside the same camp. The zone of insecurity is widening.

So how is the C-130 explosion-suppressant foam getting on? When Labouchere calls for stores or reinforcement that won’t fit in a Merlin chopper, one of the RAF’s Hercules fleet makes a tactical landing at a flat bit of desert chosen by the troops and makes off as swiftly as possible. So far, after the aircrews’ rebellion over the loss of XV179, there are a total of 2 Hercules with the foam installed. The problem is that Marshall Aerospace in Cambridge has done the sort of thing your dad did with that IKEA wardrobe with the first plane.

They got the foam in there all right, but they had some trouble getting the plane back together. I’m not informed whether there were any bits left over, but when they tried to fill the tanks, deliciously inflammable kerosene drifted out of sloppy cracks and soaked the whole thing. A wee spark would have fieryd-up the ship and all who sailed in her.

David Axe is out with the Queen’s Royal Hussars group again, and he is still in the grip of raging Brit Romanticisation Disorder. Please, enough with the Lawrence of Arabia stuff. Or, well, get a room, or a secluded tent at least.

More seriously, he’s impressed by the tactics and the determination to keep the support structure and insult to society to a minimum. Very wise, I agree. But it gives little sense of security. The weekend’s IED attack on a boat in central Basra, with four dead, shows a continuing deterioration of security in southern Iraq. The explosion occurred not far from the Old State Building camp, under a pontoon bridge – it should surely be worrying that bombs get under one of the main bridges over the Shatt al-Arab. Last week, another soldier was shot by a sniper inside the same camp. The zone of insecurity is widening.

So how is the C-130 explosion-suppressant foam getting on? When Labouchere calls for stores or reinforcement that won’t fit in a Merlin chopper, one of the RAF’s Hercules fleet makes a tactical landing at a flat bit of desert chosen by the troops and makes off as swiftly as possible. So far, after the aircrews’ rebellion over the loss of XV179, there are a total of 2 Hercules with the foam installed. The problem is that Marshall Aerospace in Cambridge has done the sort of thing your dad did with that IKEA wardrobe with the first plane.

They got the foam in there all right, but they had some trouble getting the plane back together. I’m not informed whether there were any bits left over, but when they tried to fill the tanks, deliciously inflammable kerosene drifted out of sloppy cracks and soaked the whole thing. A wee spark would have fieryd-up the ship and all who sailed in her.

The chatter is building up that a serious change in policy in Iraq is afoot. Supposedly, there is talk of an ultimatum to the Iraqi government to do various defined things or face undefined sanctions (this is an old John Paul Vann idea from South Vietnam), but there are also reasons to imagine that the Americans are preparing themselves to accept a break-up (see the Harpers’ story), and Des Browne told the BBC today that British forces might be out in 12 months because “planning was under way to hand over to Iraqi security forces”.

To quote Vann, “Damn, I’m an optimist. I think we can hang on longer than that!” More seriously, at the same time we saw the SCIRI-led Iraqi police being run out of Amara by the local Sadrists, who sealed the deal by destroying the police stations after seizing them. The last we heard, the Queen’s Royal Hussars group was standing by in case the order came to retake the place. Given the strength of the local Mahdi Army – it was this lot who fought Camilla’s Killers through August, 2004, and who mortared the QRH out of Abu Naji camp a couple of months ago – this would have been a very bloody business.

The Sadrists pulled something similar just down the road a day later, and some of their leaders are on record as boasting that the next objective is Basra. The entire incident was a demonstration of two things – the increasing Shia/Shia split between SCIRI and Dawa on one hand, and Sadr on the other, and the progressive loss of coalition control between Basra and Baghdad. The British security perimeter in the south is shrinking – the Sadrists used a supposed 800 men to storm Amara, a force the size of a battalion with better recruitment rates than most of ours. That kind of movement should have been spotted, if all the crap about drones was true.

Apparently the US government is considering eight options, these being as follows:

1. British out now.

2. Everyone out now.

3. Phased withdrawal.

4. Talk to Iran and Syria.

5. Remove Nuri al-Maliki in favour of a “strongman”.

6. Break-up of Iraq.

7. Retreat to “Super Bases”.

8. One last push.

Well, if those are your options… Close examination suggests that some of these options are actually double-counted. For example, 3 is only another way of saying 2, as it’s more than one day’s work to get from Baghdad to the Kuwaiti border, so any withdrawal will be in some sense phased. Even a British unilateral departure will involve at least a move back to Basra and Shaibah before the final evacuation. 1 won’t solve the problem on its own, but it will require 4 if 2 isn’t going to be immediately brought about. And a phased withdrawal, even more than a straight dash for the exits, will need coordination with the neighbouring states.

Further, talks alone won’t solve anything. The ex-officers of the New-Old Iraqi Army and the Sadrist street kids are not controlled by a state-sponsor Dr Evil and cannot just be switched off. Talking to Iran and Syria is only useful if the discussions involve some course of action, like 1, 2, 3, 5 or 6. It’s a necessary, not sufficient, condition. Speaking of 5, I see they are yet again parading the ragged corpse of Iyad Allawi’s credibility through the streets, trying to make it look like it’s alive. Look, the last time he had to deal with the Shia they ran him out of Najaf beating him with their shoes on live television. He’s only still alive because he spends as much time in London as possible. And what is he meant to do?

There is, of course, always Saddam, although I suspect if it ever looks like he might be sprung the SCIRI will shoot him first. This is only partly a joke: see Nibras Kazimi on the strange case of the former Electricity Minister.

That brings us to option 6, the break-up of Iraq. I’d argue that it’s already happening and we have little control over it, but anyway. If it looks like happening, 2 is top priority – the last thing we want is to have 140,000 troops in the middle of the break-up – and 4 is urgently necessary to consider how to limit the damage. Iran, Syria, Turkey, Jordan and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have serious interests in Iraq, and could all become embroiled. After all, the Syrian army could get to Baghdad in three days, there being no-one on that particular route who would fight them, and park its tanks in Dora, where they might even be greeted with flowers, until/unless the SCIRI arrived to greet them with RPGs, car bombs, kitchen sinks etc (in that scenario, the Sadrists’ position would be very ambiguous indeed).

7 is easily disposed of. Ever since 2003, every time casualties spike, George Bush has promised that the US Army is being pulled out of the cities to secure bases out in the desert. US lefties are obsessed by “permanent bases!” And, in fact, the US army did indeed move into big fortified camps on desert airfields. They can’t do it again. And it’s not cost-free – it’s precisely living in land submarines that denies them useful intelligence and orientation. Check out this post (and Slate article) of Phil Carter’s about the problems caused by living in the Balad “super base”. Moving into them leaves the country and the population to the enemy. In the worst case scenario, they become insurgent magnets; without the Euphrates valley main supply route, they become so many besieged fortresses dependent on their capability to suppress mortar or rocket fire to keep the runways open, and their garrison’s ability to keep the SAM template clear to prevent the planes being shot down on approach.

8 is frankly ridiculous – even if it is possible to improve the operational situation by a further effort, what is the strategic aim? With the “push” complete, we would just be facing the same list of options. And what would such a “push” look like? The only halfway sensible scenario is something as follows – we do X in order to get the mayhem down to a tolerable level, so we can then hand over to a stronger Iraqi government (i.e. option 2 or 3). But I can’t see any kind of discrete operation in prospect that would do that.

The inclusion of option 8, though, does serve a purpose. If all the options were negative, the report would be rejected out of hand. Including 8 and 5, though, permits its authors to show that they have considered all options and that their recommendation is “sensible”, “moderate”, “reasonable” etc. Further, it makes all options short of 2 look like a happy mean and hence be more thinkable. I sense the formidable political abilities of James Baker at work here.

Maps are nice, aren’t they? So let’s have a look at a few maps of Iraq. This one shows Iraq’s administrative divisions, its roads and its rivers. Note especially that there are essentially two major roads between Baghdad and Basra. One runs along the Tigris valley parallel to the Iranian border. The other runs just inside the Euphrates valley on the right bank of the river, crossing it twenty or so miles upstream of Nasiriyah. There are two secondary roads, one of which runs up the left, western bank of the Euphrates from a junction with the main road before the crossing as far as Karbala, the other of which connects the Nasiriyah bridges with Kut on the northern main road. The first of these, Highway 8, is known to the Coalition as Main Supply Route Tampa, the road which connects the US Army’s Logistic Support Area Anaconda at Balad South-East airfield north of Baghdad, Baghdad Airport, Mosul, Basra and Kuwait City. Literally everything the coalition uses comes in either up this road from the docks in Kuwait, or else into one of the three strategic air bridgeheads (Baghdad, Balad, and the RAF’s Basra Air Station) and then along it to the point of use.

This map shows Iraq’s major oil infrastructure. You will note two things – first, the core-centric nature of the refinery at Baiji, which is why the insurgents go to such lengths to harass it, and secondly that the only pipeline between northern and southern Iraq runs next to Highway 8.

This map shows the distribution of religions and tribes in Iraq. Notice that the entire area of the main roads, pipelines and rivers (not to speak of the main railway line between Basra and Baghdad) is shown as entirely Shia, and borders on Iran. It’s also, although it’s not on the map, heavily SCIRI.

This map shows Iraq by population density. Note that, among many other things this map should tell you, the top 3 cities make up one-third of the population. The only areas of Iraq that can be described as “quiet”, except for Kurdistan, are the ones where there is either nobody to fight or nothing to fight over. The much mocked Information Minister, Mohamed Ali Al-Sahaf, had a point when he described the US army advancing on Baghdad as being like a snake in the desert – the only serious fighting before Baghdad occurred at the urban choke points of Nasiriyah and the Karbala area.

Now, there are some 5 coalition divisions in Iraq. There is the British-led division in the south-east, more and more these days concentrated around Basra. There are two US divisions in Baghdad, another division equivalent split between the north-central zone and the Karbala/Najaf area, and one brigade up north. There are also the leftovers of the old Multinational Division South Centre, not that they add up to much. To put it another way, there is a yawning gap between the British in Basra and the road to Kuwait, and the bulk of coalition forces around Baghdad. It is open to the Sadrists, SCIRI or Iran to make a retreat from Iraq very difficult and very bloody.

There is no alternative line of retreat. The road towards Jordan leads through Fallujah and Ramadi, and even the Jordanians might not be happy to help us make our exit via..Israel. Going north is a nonstarter – it means marching through Baghdad and the Sunni insurgent heartland, and then bringing the army over the mountains into Turkey. (Look at the first map, which shows precisely one tarmacked road crossing the border.) The light brigade up in Kurdistan could leave that way, or by air, but the three armoured divisions can’t. They have to go south, back the way they came. The conclusion?

We need to open military-to-military talks, so-called staff conversations, with the Iranians. We need to discuss the modalities, in the Northern Irish phrase, of an orderly departure. We need guarantees that their supporters in Iraq will not blow the bridges as they did in the first Shia rising, in April, 2004, and won’t mortar the airfields.

And this map is a work of psychotic stupidity.

Test the theory

So, the redeployment of the Queen’s Own Hussars battle group from Abu Naji to the border. How’s that going? Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post goes to the non-front and finds out.

A few hundred British troops living out of nothing more than their cut-down Land Rovers and light armored vehicles have taken to the desert in the start of what British officers said would be months of patrols aimed at finding the illicit weapons trafficking from Iran, or any sign of it.

There’s just one thing.

“I suspect there’s nothing out there,” the commander, Lt. Col. David Labouchere, said last month, speaking at an overnight camp near the border. “And I intend to prove it.”

Other senior British military leaders spoke as explicitly in interviews over the previous two months. Britain, whose forces have had responsibility for security in southeastern Iraq since the war began, has found nothing to support the Americans’ contention that Iran is providing weapons and training in Iraq, several senior military officials said.

“I have not myself seen any evidence — and I don’t think any evidence exists — of government-supported or instigated” armed support on Iran’s part in Iraq, British Defense Secretary Des Browne said in an interview in Baghdad in late August.

“It’s a question of intelligence versus evidence,” Labouchere’s commander, Brig. James Everard of Britain’s 20th Armored Brigade, said last month at his base in the southern region’s capital, Basra. “One hears word of mouth, but one has to see it with one’s own eyes. These are serious consequences, aren’t they?”

Let’s go through this again – there is no evidence whatsoever for the Dr Evil theory of Iraqi warfare.

Evidence of Iranian armed intervention in Iraq is “irrefutable,” one U.S. commander in Iraq, Brig. Gen. Michael Barbero, told Pentagon reporters in August. The lead U.S. military spokesman in Iraq renews the allegation almost weekly in Baghdad.

Iraq’s remote Maysan province is “a funnel for Iranian munitions,” said Wayne White, who led the State Department’s Iraq intelligence team during the war and now is an adjunct scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute. White said that in the first year of the occupation a well-placed friend had seen “considerable physical evidence of it, and just about everyone in al-Amarah knew about it.”

Of course, a well-placed friend. It’s bizarre how Iranian-sponsor stories always go this way. Where’s the evidence? There’s plenty of evidence, but my friend’s got it all. Or it’s too secret for anyone to see it. Or the liberal CIA is covering it up. The constant is that it is never, ever produced.

But Maj. Dominic Roberts of the Queen’s Dragoons said: “We have found no credible evidence to suggest there is weapons smuggling across the border.”

Although, I think David Axe of Defensetech.org is suffering from a case of BRD, Brit Romanticisation Disorder, when he describes Lt-Col. Labouchere as riding “through Maysan like a modern-day Lawrence of Arabia, uniting the province’s tribes under the banner of Iraqi control.”