Pentagon investigating Iran’s Qods Force role in Karbala attack

IRGC’s Qods Force is the prime suspect in the Karbala attack which killed 5 soldiers; we broke story on Friday, January 26

Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Qods Force. Click image to view.

On Friday, we reported that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Qods Force was very likely behind the attack on the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala, which resulted in the kidnapping and execution of four U.S. soldiers. Five soldiers total were killed in the operation, and three others wounded. We noted, based on multiple sources in the military and intelligence community, that the attack was far too sophisticated for Shia militias (particularly the Mahdi Army) and it was unlikely al Qaeda in Iraq carried out the operation. We also noted the attack and kidnapping may have been revenge for the Baghdad and Irbil raids on Iranian diplomatic missions. Today, CNN is reporting the Pentagon is seriously investigating Iran’s involvement in the attack, and the Irbil raid was likely a motive for the Qods Force operation:

The Pentagon is investigating whether a recent attack on a military compound in Karbala was carried out by Iranians or Iranian-trained operatives, two officials from separate U.S. government agencies said.

“People are looking at it seriously,” one of the officials said. That official added the Iranian connection was a leading theory in the investigation into the January 20 attack that killed five soldiers. The second official said: “We believe it’s possible the executors of the attack were Iranian or Iranian-trained.”

Both officials stressed the Iranian-involvement theory is a preliminary view, and there is no final conclusion. They agreed this possibility is being looked at because of the sophistication of the attack and the level of coordination. “This was beyond what we have seen militias or foreign fighters do,” the second official said.

Some Iraqis speculate that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps carried out the attack in retaliation for the capture by U.S. forces of five of its members in Irbil, Iraq, on January 11, according to a article published Tuesday.

The United States had planned to detail Iran’s involvement in supporting the Shia death squads, as well as the Sunni insurgency, al Qaeda in Iraq and Ansar al-Sunnah during a press briefing with Major General Bill Caldwell on Wednesday at 7:00 am Eastern. The briefing was purported to have detailed “specifics including shipping documents, serial numbers, maps and other evidence which officials say would irrefutably link Iran to weapons shipments to Iraq.”

The Bush administration has decided to put the briefing “on hold for several reasons, including concerns over the reaction from Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – as well as inevitable follow-up questions that would be raised over what the U.S. should do about it,” according to FOX News.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

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  • Captain America says:

    By withholding information from the public, the administration is making a big mistake. This follows a disturbing pattern over many months whereby the administration minimizes the involvement of Iran in the maiming and killing of our soldiers.
    The public needs to be informed when its sons, daughers, brothers and sisters in harm’s way are under attack by the Iranian Regime.

  • travis b says:

    I can’t help but wonder if The US was all along letting Iran think they can get away with stuff like this. So that they will keep doing it. Once you have a record of the numerous acts then u show the world what they have been up too. I think thats where we are now. Its not a change of policy to start acting tough with iran its just now we have enough proof and iraq is more stable and were ready to be tough to iran that has changed.
    Iran has been selling weapons to the insurgents since the fall of baghdad we just didn’t have the right cards in hand to influence iran yet. looks like we do now.

  • Bill, is the Khalilzad briefing detailing the charges against Quds Force operatives arrested in the last six weeks in three raids still a go?

  • Dave says:

    I think it’s smart for the US to keep this info private. In the last month or so we’ve heard more and more stories of pressure being put on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inside of Iran. If you release this it will just open a big can of worms. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will tell his people the evil US is about to attack us (Iran) and their people will rally around him. Everyone knows the US can’t attack Iran now even if we wanted to. So basically it would accomplish nothing.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I do not know, but I think it is safe assume it is canceled as well.

  • Bill Faith says:

    Is the Bush adminitration just pretending they don’t want the contents of that briefing made public so they’re more likely to end up on the front page of al-NYT, al-WaPo, and al-LAT?

  • This is really a tough call, and I wouldn’t want to make it if I were President. On the one hand, the President should be forthcoming and tell the truth. But on the other hand, lives could be lost, if we spill the beans and are planning an attack of some sort.
    We know that another Carrier task group has been sent in and we could be waiting till there in place. Plus, we do have allies that are with us in Afghanistan that also have to be considerd. However, we are most likely more concerned about what sort of impact any action would have on the price of crude, rather than being overly concerned about a military strike.
    But again, its a tough call, and we can only hope that the President knows what he’s doing, or at least has someone advising him, that knows what he’s doing.

  • Cybrludite says:

    Timothy McCorkell,
    I understand that the Saudis recently mentioned that they have excess production capacity at the moment to completely replace Iranian production if need be. Interesting timing on that, if you follow my drift.

  • Stan says:

    Maybe I’m wrong, but didn’t the enemy have to pass a checkpoint? And as the story goes, they walked and talked like American soldiers, but aren’t there passwords/countersigns that must be given in order to pass?
    I think the problem lies with the integrity of Iraqi soldiers.

  • James says:

    Like most, I wish the White House would release the document, but I also think we all understand the very real consequences of such an action (danger to information sources, ect). Unlike the New York Times, the rest of us live in the real world.
    However, I think the main goal is being accomplished nonetheless…that is, the main stream media referring to the document and it’s contents. That serves essentially the same purpose, and most importantly, it puts the Iranians on edge. Much like the capture and holding of the “Irbil 5”, as long as Tehran doesn’t know if these fellows are singing or not, it’s a good thing. Therefore, without the specifics of the document, all Tehran knows is that there is a report out there that leads to the conclusion that Iran is involved.
    The overarching White House strategy at this point in time is basically keeping Tehran on edge…(i.e. “do the americans know about this secret program in Mosul?” “do they know about this…” etc etc). The fog of war is a bitch isn’t it!

  • David Smithson says:

    Bush is not protecting our troops. Period. If you don’t stop Iran from doing the things it is doing with impunity you are not protecting our brave soldiers. This is why he has lost conservative support. I don’t know how he can sleep at night.

  • crosspatch says:

    It could also be that they now have some additional information they want to include that is going to take some additional time. At some point they will probably release something but I can understand them wanting things to cool off a little and not look like they are ratcheting things up.

  • Joe Soldier says:

    Let’s say the President presents all of the intelligence and information to the U.N., the press, and the American people.
    Shrill representatives from each group would scream that the President is lying and they made it all up. Better to smote the enemy, and then present facts.

  • From May 2003 to February 2004 I made numerous visits to Karbala and the provincial capital building where the attack was conducted. From the street in front of the building one can see the golden dome of the famous Mosque where the grandson of the Prophet is buried.
    During my visits there the street in front of the building was blocked off and access was through two checkpoints at either end of the street. These checkpoints were blocked with staggered, sand filled barriers common to all security entrances in Iraq. These barriers caused the vehicles to slow and weave in a S turn pattern to enter the compound.
    During the time that I was there, and I imagine the practice continued, the Iraqi guards at the checkpoint allowed us to enter on sight and visual recognition that we were U.S. soldiers. Since I was working with the Coalition Provisional Authority at the time, we drove powerful SUV’s. The Iraqi guards didn’t stop to question us because they spoke no English and we spoke very little Arabic so any conversation would be unproductive.
    Careful observation from the street of the entrance procedures to the compound probably revealed that U.S. forces were waved through. I imagine that this was the principal reason the attackers were dressed as they were. The U.S. soldiers in the building were probably attending a monthly, or weekly, reocurring meeting.
    Either the date/times of the meeting fit a pattern, a violation of operational security, or the time of the meeting was widely communicated to the Iraqi participants, one of whom leaked the information, or even the U.S. participants left for the meeting from another city, and their departure was communicated to the attackers by cell phone. In any event, knowing when the meeting was to be held was also not difficult for the attackers to find out.
    In December 2003 a suicide car bomb was able to slip into a column of Iraqi police vehicles entering the Karbala princial headquarters compound. The resulting detonation on front of the provincial headquarters killed a number of Iraqi policemen and left a sizeable crater in the road. I obtained numerous pictures of the blast scene and one is posted here:

  • unk sojer says:

    My first raid in Iraq in 2003 was to oust Badr Corps operatives from the provincial police headquarters where they had taken over and were setting themselves up as the provincial police force. A couple of years later, I heard that the Badr Corps leader we detained was now an adviser to the governor. Badr Corps of course is the paramilitary force of Iraqis (and Iranians) trained in Iran by Qods force to operate in Iraq. Draw your own conclusions.

  • Michael says:

    Unfortunately with the partisan politics and Senators like Barak Hussein Obama asking questions like this to Negroponte, “What I think many of us are concerned about is that we stumble into active hostilities with Iran without having aggressively pursued diplomatic approaches, without the American people understanding exactly what’s taking place.”

    Obama, a candidate for president in 2008, warned during the hearing that senators of both parties will demand “clarity and transparency in terms of U.S. policy so that we don’t repeat some of the mistakes that have been made in the past,”

    The claws are out for this Presidency and have been since 2004. The fact that all sides voted for IRaq war is some how forgotten and partisan politics rules the day, while our nation is At War.
    There are many good reasons enumerated by commenters for delay. I think our President, our military and our Intel all understand the stakes and are being careful with the decisions. And though there have been mistakes in war(when is there not?) I trust this administration to do the right thing to protect our country and fight against our enemies.
    Iran is still sponsoring terrorist group Hezbollah in Lebanon too. It is no surprise they are sponsoring and working with both sides in Iraq.
    We have on record Iranian comments admitting that Sadr milias have done similar kidnappings from a mouthpiece of the Revolutionary Guard. That was a Stupid mistake for a nations military mouthpiece Boasting about known operations of Sadr’s Shia militia. That kind of information should be passed around to Congress. These are threats by Iran of course, saber rattling, but all they’re doing is tightening the noose around their neck. This bravado can be read aloud at the UN among the Security Council and to our allies.

  • Michael says:

    DJ, really appreciate you keeping reality of military ops straight for us civilians w/o experience.
    Your heads-up on MNF is curious to me as well. I seek out info daily from that site with my morning coffee. Somethings up and I don’t think it is website maintenance. Least I hope they would announce such downtimes.
    I’ll be looking for the briefing.

  • Cover Me, Porkins says:

    Meanwhile, “hundreds die” from the new offensive. Hundreds of what, mainstream media? Of what?

  • Hoax Meister says:

    Beyond the sophistication or foreign fighters, al Qaeda and militias? C’mon.
    I was under the impression that al Qaeda was so sophisticated that they were able to implement a 5 year plan to hijack several commercial airplanes and attack targets inside the U.S.–after going thru security checkpoints.
    Also, if the Iraqi Army was guarding the checkpoints these people went thru, as Michael Whitehead said, people dressed in US uniforms and driving SUVs would have been waved thru. I’m positive it happens on a regular basis as Mr. Roggio can probably attest from his embeds.
    The Pentagon should obviously investigate this matter but let’s keep an open mind. There’s plenty of people interested in killing Westerners in Iraq–just because a new kind of attack worked doesn’t automatically assume involvement of Iran.
    Although I’m sure Bush would like to find a scapegoat for the Iraq mess…and Iran would be just so convenient.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Hoax Meister,
    I said, quote: “the attack was far too sophisticated for Shia militias (particularly the Mahdi Army) and it was unlikely al-Qaeda in Iraq carried out the operation.”
    Surely I don’t have to break down the syntax for you to see I did not say AQI couldn’t pull off a sophisticated attack like this.

  • biwah says:

    Then, if AQI is a likely perpetrator, doesn’t that undercut allegations (without eliminating the possiblity of course) that Iran executed the attack?

  • Cruiser says:

    There are so many elements of the Karbala attack that were way out of the ordinary.
    Five (presumably) expensive vehicles acquired and abandoned, stun grenades, M4 rifles, a blond english speaker, police scanners used to avoid roadblocks, hostages taken then killed, no Iraqis killed.
    I would expect AQ to have gone for visuals (car bombs to gain entry, etc.) and to killed as many people as possible (including Iraqis), perhaps taking over the facility and defending it to the death. I think AQ would have killed our soldiers in place and tried to kill the Governor. As Bill pointed-out, I would also not expect AQ to plan and conduct an operation this diffcult in enemy (Shia) territory.
    As for the Mahdi Army, by itself, conducting this, I doubt it. Most of their past military operations have been inept. They have only “succeeded” when thay have massacred unarmed Sunnis.
    Whatever happened here was very out of the ordinary and for that reason is very suspicious. It is only natural to look for another hand at work when you witness something so very different. Also, the obvious parallels to the Irbil raid stand out. You capture five of ours, we capture (and kill) five of yours. Its like the Chicago rules.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    biwah, I didn’t say that either. I strongly suggest reading the first post on this topic. Neo does just a fine job recapping in the prior comment, so that will suffice.

  • biwah says:

    Yep, Cruiser gives a good and convincing rundown. The original post stated AQI was unlikely but didn’t explain.

  • KiwB says:

    I’m not into second guessing those-in-the-know, especially those on the ground, so what ever I say is only from my opinion and nothing more.
    The qualifying difference in this incident is that (in my opinion) it was a well thought out kidnapping. Yes, coalition troops have been abducted before with typical results at the hands of … well, we all know what.
    But earlier attempts and successes have been relatively unsophisticated. In theory anyway.
    So why mention this? Because it is a Hizbollah and Palestinian approach, matured through Iranian training and assistance. It *is* more than a tactical maneuver (grab em’, kill em’) and more of a posturing and political move.
    And considering that things went so terribly wrong for the troops taken, we do have to look at the fact that they were shot – simply and quickly done. That’s not the way most radicals would have done it. It’s the sign of someone trying to stick to a logical and well thought out plan.
    Okay – that last paragraph makes me feel a little sick.
    So I’m not saying it was Qods, or any other Iranian force or tool. But the whole end-game approach does bring up more questions than answers.

  • JJ Glanton says:

    Are you sure that picture is of Qassem Soleimani? I’m just asking. Because it sure as heck looks like “Indio” from “A Few Dollars More”. I guess it doesn’t matter, both guys used proxies to fight the gringos.

  • Patrick Johnson says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if this attack was conducted by Iranian forces. If this is the case, there is going to be hell to be paid that is for sure. For those of us who are in uniform, we have known for some time that Iranian as well as Syrian forces are inside Iraq training and supporting the enemy insurgent forces. The President made a good call to say that any Iranian forces caught inside Iraq are now fair game to be either captured or destroyed on the battlefield.

  • nan says:

    I just got back from Pvt. Falter’s funeral. According to the brother of one of the survivors, the story the press has and the truth are not compatible. Enough said. Rest in Peace, Shawn.

  • Neo-andertal says:

    “The Bush administration has decided to put the briefing “on hold for several reasons, including concerns over the reaction from Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – as well as inevitable follow-up questions that would be raised over what the U.S. should do about it,””

  • torabora says:

    I think an unfortunate aircraft accident is in order. Those Iranian C130’s are showing airframe metal fatigue from their lack of depot overhauls. Damn shame.

  • jlp says:

    I’ll also be looking forward the dossier briefing whenever it takes place, but as for the reasons for postponing it, let’s not forget that the US might simply not have the hard evidence it needs to convince skeptical folks who’ve seen pre-war claims about Iraq crater.

  • James says:

    “I think an unfortunate aircraft accident is in order. Those Iranian C130’s are showing airframe metal fatigue from their lack of depot overhauls. Damn shame.”
    Yeah, I also think that congress banning the sale of F-14 spare parts is premature. By all means, Iran, pick up all the spare parts you need…(chuckle, chuckle)

  • James says:

    Despite my previous comment siding with the Whitehouse, it made me think of another war in which US forces were fighting against forces that were for all intents and purposes equipped and funded essentially by outside forces: you guessed it. The Nam. It’s pretty clear that NV couldn’t even feed itself, and the dozens of Soviet ships in Haiphong harbor each and every day for a decade weren’t unloading just baby formula.
    What did the US administration do at that time despite facing VC and NVA troops who were essentially propped up by the USSR? Nothing. Nada.
    Makes me somewhat less hopeful that the Bush administration will take the fight to the right enemy anytime soon, if at all.

  • Cruiser says:

    James, the reason we did to attack the Soviet ships was that we could have started a nuclear war. In this case we have no excuse, except perhaps, that at least half our Congress is openly opposed to the United States protecting itself, its soldiers and its interests.
    I am astounded that so many Congresspersons can’t bring themselves to say one word of warning to Iran. Has anyone seen any public statements from congresspersons (other than John McCain) warning Iran?
    Indeed, the only thing these Congresspersons can muster-up are words that encourage Iran to be more aggressive by making it very clear that Congress will not support any effort by Bush to make Iran pay a price for its murderous ways. It is amazingly shortsighted behavior.
    Sorry to go political on this Bill. But, politics is tied inextricably into this issue with Iran and the disclosure of the evidence.
    BTW there is some report that we are investigating two Iraqi generals regarding the incident. That may point more to an “inside job” rather than Iranian involvement.
    However, the fact remains that Iran is involved in killing our soldiers. Anyone believing otherwise has to address (aside from the evidence of their behavior alluded to by senior military and political leaders, including Maliki) the fact that Iran has been killing and capturing American service people for almost thirty years regardless of who is in the White House or what policy we are following. To believe they would stop doing so at a time that we are closer to their vital interests than ever before would somewhat illogical.

  • James says:

    Yes, you are right of course about the main difference between the current situation and the Soviet’s support of NV. Of course, this doesn’t explain the lack of concerted attacks on vital war targets within NV except for key moments during and/or proceeding the talks (Linebacker, etc). There was simply no excuse for fighting one-handed then as there is now.
    It’s enough to make you sick really. The US has, for decades, basically footed the bill to keep the worlds trade routes open, defend Europe, etc etc at tremedous cost and treasure, and for what? To be cast as the villain time and time again.
    Now we are proposing to install missile defense systems in Poland to defend, who, Poland? Well yes, but in reality to defend Germany, France and others from possible Iranian ICMB’s (well maybe a side benefit to upset the Russians, but again, why are we still expending any effort at all to defend Europe from anyone or anything?). Can someone tell me why we are forcing our help on those who don’t appreciate it? Germany, 3rd largest ecomomy in the world, can’t even stomach the thought of sending a few hundred more troops to Afghanistan under thier OBLIGATIONS to NATO, and we are supposed to go to war with Iran to defend oil supplies to nations that are for the most part neutral or even rooting for our defeat? These are not our vassel states to whom we have some moral obligation to defend as we pillage thier resources…they are our competitors on the worldwide economic stage. We spend x% of our GDP helping to ensure that they can carry on sniping at us while enjoying the benefits of major nation status with provincial-sized garrisons.
    Who is the fool really, them or us?
    Quite the rant, but I needed it!


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