Anger as Britain admits it was wrong to blame Iran for deaths in Iraq

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Indy Politics

MPs and soldiers' families have demanded an explanation from the Government after a U-turn over claims that Iran was complicit in the killing of British soldiers in southern Iraq.

Britain has dropped the charge of Iranian involvement after senior officials had repeatedly accused the Tehran regime of supplying sophisticated explosive devices to insurgents. Government officials now acknowledge that there is no evidence, or even reliable intelligence, connecting the Iranian government to the infra-red triggered bombs which have killed 10 British soldiers in the past eight months.

The twist comes three months after British officials first made strong assertions, widely reported in the media, of an Iranian hand in killing British soldiers. The highly publicised allegations emerged as America was locked in tense confrontation with Iran over its nuclear policy. It led to a major row and the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, warned Tehran of the consequences of continuing interference in Iraq.

The allegations had also been confirmed by Tony Blair at a joint press conference in Downing Street with Iraq's President Jalal Talabani. Mr Blair told reporters: "There is no justification for Iran or any other country interfering in Iraq."

The apparent U-turn last night prompted the mother of a young soldier killed in Iraq to accuse the Government of making political capital out of her son's death. Pte Phillip Hewett, 21, died alongside 2nd Lt Richard Shearer and Pte Leon Spicer when their patrol was hit by an improvised explosive device at al-Amarah, north of Basra, last July.

Pte Hewett's mother, Sue Smith, 44, said: "They don't like Iran and they are using this for sympathy towards their attitudes, claiming that they were involved in the murder of our sons. I had the impression from the moment they made that statement that it was purely bully-boy tactics against Iran. It makes me really angry. They should be dealing with the people who killed our sons and not using it as a weapon. The way I look at it, it was just an excuse for another invasion. They have a foothold in the Middle East and they want to go further."

Michael Moore, the defence spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: "Clumsy diplomacy can only make the situation in Iraq worse that it already is. There should be an early statement on Iran's involvement in the insurgency so that Parliament can assess what the real situation is and how the Government is responding to it."

A former Labour defence minister, Peter Kilfoyle, accused the Blair government of following President George Bush's obsession with Iran. "Is this intelligence or is it propaganda?" he asked. "This is what happened in Iraq. I have a deep, abiding mistrust of what is put out by the Government and a deep, abiding mistrust of what is put out by the intelligence services. This is part of an almost unconscious urge to support whatever the American policy of the moment might be."

British officials claimed that, as well as supplying explosives, Tehran was running "terror camps" for bombers.

The Iranian government had denied all the charges and subsequently claimed British involvement in a series of blasts on its territory.

British military and diplomatic officials in London and Iraq will now only say that the technology of the explosive devices, which has since proliferated in other parts of Iraq, is similar to that used by the Lebanese Hizbollah group which has strong ties with Iran and Syria.

Military sources state that, although items for making bombs may have been smuggled across the porous Iranian border, there is no firm intelligence that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which is close to the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, were the suppliers.

The new position adopted by London contradicts the views of the US and Iraqi military in Baghdad which maintains that Iran is playing a significant part in fomenting violence in Iraq through supplying weapons to insurgents.