BUSH FINGERS IRAN POINTS TO EXPLOSIVE EVIDENCE

President Bush said yesterday he’s certain the Iranian government is supplying deadly weapons used by fighters in Iraq against U.S. troops, even if he can’t prove the orders came from top leaders in Tehran.

More important, Bush said in his first news conference of the year, is the need to protect U.S. forces against the new weapons and technology, including sophisticated roadside bombs.

“I’m going to do something about it,” Bush pledged, displaying apparent irritation at being repeatedly asked about mixed administration signals on who was behind the weaponry.

“To say it is provoking Iran is just a wrong way to characterize the commander-in-chief’s decision to do what is necessary to protect our soldiers in harm’s way,” Bush said.

U.S. officials have said that Iran is behind attacks against troops in Iraq, an assertion denied by Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Yesterday, U.S. officials said the fiery Shiite militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr had fled from Iraq, where his followers were responsible for multiple attacks on U.S. forces, to Iran. Al-Sadr supporters denied that but wouldn’t say where he is.

Meanwhile, the president shrugged off congressional debate on a resolution opposing his Iraq policy, noting that the measure was nonbinding and mostly symbolic.

But he also said that U.S. troops are counting on lawmakers to provide them the funds they need to win.

Bush spoke as the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives debated a measure opposing his decision to send some 21,500 additional troops to Iraq.

“They have every right to express their opinion and it is a nonbinding resolution,” he said of the House members.

But he suggested he would dig in his heels if Congress wavered on emergency spending legislation to pay for the operation.

“Our troops are counting on their elected leaders in Washington, D.C., to provide them with the support they need to do their mission,” Bush said.

The president said he had just received his first briefing from Gen. David Petraeus, the new chief commander of U.S. forces in Iraq. Bush said they talked about coordination between Iraqi and coalition forces and that while it seemed to be good, more work was needed on developing an efficient command-and-control structure.

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