(www.latwp.com) вЂ" Bullet cartridges bearing a U.S. insignia and English lettering were among the weaponry seized last week from Sunni militants suspected of killing 11 members of Shiite-dominated Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, Iranian officials said.
A photograph of the cartridge box, along with an array of other ammunition, was published by Iranian newspapers and agencies.
The Iranians did not provide direct access to the weapons and explosives, drawing skepticism from analysts, and there was no way to evaluate the claims independently. But Iran is worried that the United States is quietly helping Iranian opposition groups foment internal instability, even while the Bush administration is directly confronting Iran over its nuclear program and its alleged arming of Shiite militants in Iraq, reports Trend.
The Iranian allegations, in the latest incidents of a wave of non-Shiite minority unrest, came a week after U.S. officials laid out what they said was evidence of Iranian-made weaponry in Iraq. That evidence also was inconclusive, and Iran denied supplying arms to Iraqi combatants.
A Pentagon spokeswoman, Marine Maj. Rebecca Goodrich-Hinton, said Sunday that officials had no comment in response to the allegations from Tehran.
Iranian officials in the southeastern region of Sistan-Baluchestan, where a bus carrying the troops was struck by explosives from a booby-trapped car Wednesday, announced the allegations of U.S. and British involvement in the attack.
``Washington and London are facing serious challenges as their interests in the Middle East region have been endangered. Since the Islamic Republic is the main center of anti-U.S. struggles, they are seeking to trouble Iran through a series of challenges, including terrorist attacks and unrests,'' an unnamed local official, identified as the political director of the Sistan-Baluchestan province, told the semi-official Fars news agency.
He said weapons used in the attack, which also wounded 31 people, were U.S. and British-made. ``Moreover, the arrested terrorist agents have confessed that they have been trained by English-speaking people,'' the official said.
Over the past year, Iran has seen a wave of protests and bombings from non-Shiite minorities, especially Sunni Muslims living along the nation's western border with Iraq and its eastern border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, where two bombings occurred last week.
Sunnis, who make up about 8 percent of the population of predominantly Shiite Iran, have long complained of repression and discrimination. Although there are an estimated 1 million Sunnis in Tehran, the government has not allowed a single Sunni mosque to be built in the capital.
Three people were reportedly hanged in the oil-rich southwestern province of Khuzestan earlier this month for a series of deadly bombings last year; seven others were executed earlier in connection with the case.
Ethnic Azeris and Kurds also have been increasingly militant in favor of greater autonomy, and the violence last week in Sistan-Baluchestan is the latest in a wave of ethnic unrest among ethnic Baluch on both sides of the Iranian-Pakistani border.
Responsibility for the bus bombing and another explosion the following day was claimed by the Sunni militant group Jundallah, or God's Brigade, which has been blamed for past attacks on Iranian troops in the region.
Stratfor, a Texas-based security and intelligence analysis firm, said in a report Saturday that the attacks ``fall in line with U.S. efforts to supply and train Iran's ethnic minorities to destabilize the Iranian regime.'' It said a ``covert intelligence war'' between Iran and the United States is ``well under way.''
Other analysts said a large amount of U.S. military equipment supplied to Iran in the years before the 1979 Islamic revolution is still in use, and the existence of U.S.-manufactured ammunition, if it exists, does not prove U.S. involvement.
These analysts said ethnic unrest in Iran is more likely a reflection of the ethnic nationalism that is unleashing conflict in multiethnic nations such as the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Spain.
``We're living in a period in history when multinational states break up. And why should Iran be the exception?'' said Edward N. Luttwak, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
``I'd be very surprised if the level of violence by the Kurds and the Baluch doesn't increase, or indeed if the Sunni Arabs in (Khuzestan) stop agitating. It's a natural thing,'' he said.