What makes an Iranian mortar round Iranian?

Talking Points Memo helpfully provides a copy of briefing materials being used to show Iran’s “complicity” in attacks on American troops in Iraq. The section on their 81mm mortar rounds attracted my interest, and a little digging turned up some interesting stuff.

Let’s start with the complete mortar rounds. The shipping containers are pretty useless as evidence, I think; they’re marked to NATO standards, and the markings and fonts are nothing alike. However, the AZ111-A2 is, indeed (very large PDF!), an Iranian mortar fuze. Heck, the Iranian military contractor even says so.

Iranian 81mm mortar roundsHowever, it’s worth remembering that Iran doesn’t design much of anything; instead, they copy. The Iranian 81mm mortar system is a copy of Israeli “Soltam” mortars sold to them, legally, back before the Revolution. And, heck, the Israeli weapon is almost identical to the U.S. M252 and British L16. Sadly, 81mm mortars are pretty much 81mm mortars, these days. That said, the mortar rounds in the presentation do bear quite a resemblance to the real deal, seen here; the tailfins are relatively distinctive.

(Note that Iran denies making 81mm mortar rounds, and some have accepted this on face value. Um, no.)

Here’s my problem, though. The mortar rounds could have come from anywhere, at any time; they’re offered for sale and export by the manufacturer, linked to above. I’m extremely skeptical about the printing on the mortar tubes; if the date codes follow the widely-used standard of mm-yyyy, then the rounds on the left on this page, which were supposedly seized in central Iraq on September 9th, 2006, are a week old or less. Come on, do those look brand new to you?

The other picture on that page, incidentally, almost certainly shows mortar rounds recovered from the Karine A, in early 2002. Note the non-italic, sans-serif characters? Like the non-italic, sans-serif characters on the bona-fide Iranian mortar rounds in the picture above? Now, note the italic, serif characters on the “2006” round on the left in the government photo? Which is identical to that on the “3 – 2006” mortar rounds shown a page later in the presentation? I’m skeptical of the provenance of these rounds, myself. I don’t necessarily think the 3-2006 tailfins are fakes, but I think the 3-2006 and 9-2006 rounds and cases might well be. (and the 3-2006 tailfins could have come from anywhere; see below.)

That brings me to a second point: If you discount the “9-2006” mortar tubes, the other weapons with date codes in the report, even if “found” in January 2007, were made between March and May, 2006. In other words, they were made before the July-August 2006 conflict in Lebanon. If you were intent on waging war with Iran, the Iranian-made weapons seized by Israel from Hezbollah could be used (and abused) as “evidence” of Iranian involvement in the insurgency. If not, there’s nothing to prove they didn’t come from Hezbollah themselves, who certainly have an interest in furthering the civil war in Iraq.

See, at the end of the day, a mortar round is just a mortar round, and not worth getting excited about, especially when it’s one of a wide number of copies of the same system that’s been around for decades. Where it came from is far less important than how it got there. The Bush administration can wave all kinds of “Iranian” weapons at me; as evidence of complicity, they’re no more useful than the Colt-manufactured M16 rifles found in Mogadishu in the 1990s in the hands of the militias there, as recounted in the book Black Hawk Down.

Update: Also see the next post for more details on this particular topic, and for why Mike Rivero is wrong yet again.

Published in: General, History | on February 12th, 2007| 2 Comments »

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  1. On 2/12/2007 at 7:53 pm Left-Handed Leftist Said:

    Very interesting stuff. I was working toward the same type of conclusions earlier today at my blog. Very good catch on the weapons supposedly made in Sept. 2006 that were seized on the 9th of that month. Your sources are very interesting–I wouldn’t have found those sites in a million years.

    In the very large pdf you link to, it’s interesting how some of the cartridges are marked with characters from their respective native languages while others use English.

    Very informative post. Hopefully the press will catch on–doubt it, though.

  2. On 2/12/2007 at 10:18 pm Nemo Said:

    Thanks for the comments. I think we’ll learn a lot more about this whole thing when the next round of “evidence” comes out… if a next round of “evidence” comes out, anyway.

    It should be pointed out that a second possible dating system, which is week-year, would make the 9-2006 mortar rounds a little less unlikely, but it would also mean everything shown dates to Jan-Feb 2006. If anything ever turns up with codes like “14-2006”, then perhaps we’ll know for sure. Regardless, I think the markings, particularly the serif font used, are highly suspect.