TEHERAN — Iran's army has finished a large military exercise by ground forces near the Iraqi border, the official Iranian state news agency IRNA reported Monday. But unlike previous war games in which Iran boasted of weapons advances, the latest maneuvers were largely held under wraps.RELATED:US seeks to tighten squeeze on Iran before talksAnalysis: Iran's military looks to the sky as new priority
The report by the IRNA news agency was the first public word that the maneuvers had been held, and even IRNA's confirmation came only indirectly. The report was about the death of two military officers in a road accident as they came back from "large" exercises by ground forces.
IRNA gave no further details about the maneuvers.
Iran has been holding regular exercises by the various branches of its military and its elite Revolutionary Guard, considered the strongest fighting force in the country. Usually, Iran's state media give them extensive coverage of military exercises to tout the country's strength in the standoff with the United States and its allies over Iran's disputed nuclear program. In November, air defense exercises were meant to showcase Iran's capabilities in defending its nuclear facilities from possible attack.
Iran announced two months ago that it would hold war games in December
in the southwestern provinces of Khuzestan and Ilam, both next to Iraq.
But there had been no announcement that the maneuvers had begun.
IRNA said the two officers who died were returning from maneuvers "in
the south," an apparent reference to the same exercises. It identified
the two as Gen. Rahman Forouzandeh , a ground force commander, and his
aide, identified only by his rank and family name, Lt. Ordikhani. The
report called Forouzandeh a war veteran of Iran-Iraq war in 1980s,
saying funeral services will be held for the two on Tuesday in
northwestern city of Tabriz where their division is stationed.
It was not clear why the maneuvers were held in secret.
Iran has been working for years to step up the capabilities of its armed
forces, at a time when it is locked in a confrontation with the West
over its nuclear ambitions. The United States and its allies say Iran is
trying to build a nuclear weapon, an accusation Iran denies, saying its
program is intended only for peaceful purposes.
Both the US and Israel have not ruled out military option against Iran's
controversial nuclear program. Iran also sees the presence of the US
forces on its doorsteps in Iraq and Afghanistan as a threat. It
regularly asks for evacuation of the US forces from the region.