Iraqis, British strike Iranian backed "secret cells" in the south
20 killed in attack on the Qazali Network in Amara and Majjar al-Kabir; Mahdi Army facilitator detained in Kirkuk, secret cell leader captured in Baghdad
Iraqi Special Operations Forces, backed by British troops, conducted major raids against the Qazali Network in the southern province of Maysan. Over 20 members of the network were killed, 6 wounded and 1 captured in the raid against "the secret cell terrorist network known for facilitating the transport of weapons and explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, from Iran to Iraq, as well as bringing militants from Iraq to Iran for terrorist training" in Amarah and Majjar al-Kabir. Some reports indicate the number is as high as 36. Iraqi and British forces called in airstrikes after meeting heavy resistance on the ground, which included "heavy small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenade attacks."
The raids in Amara and Majjar al-Kabir are the latest in a series of Coalition and Iraqi operations designed to dismantle the Qazali and the Sheibani networks, which are Iraqi manned and led networks operated by Iran's Qods Force. Coalition and Iraqi forces killed at least 47 members of this network and captured 88 since major operations began in April 27, 2007.
These networks also have deep ties with Muqtada al Sadr's Iranian backed Mahdi Army. "The dead are believed to be Shiite militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr who is a dominant force in Maysan province," Fadhel Mushatat reported from Amara.
Multinational Forces Iraq has essentially taken off the gloves with identifying Iran's involvement in backing the Qazali and the Sheibani networks. "Intelligence reports indicate that both Amarah and Majjar al-Kabir are known safe havens and smuggling routes for Secret Cell terrorists who facilitate Iranian lethal aid," noted the Multinational Forces Iraq press release. Qods force is directly identified. "Reports further indicate that Iranian surrogates, or Iraqis that are liaisons for Iranian intelligence operatives into Iraq, use both Amarah and Majjar al-Kabir as safe haven locations."
Mr. Mushatat also reported the British dropped leaflets stating "The Iraqi government will not be soft on terrorism" and "Maysan will not be a safe area for the Iranian Qods Force and its agents who want to weaken the Iraqi government." Photographs of wanted members of the network were also printed and dropped.
Elsewhere, Iraqi Security Forces captured "an alleged facilitator of terrorist networks between Iraq and Iran in southwest Kirkuk" on June 16. The arrest highlights the close connections between the Mahdi Army and the Qazali/Sheibani networks. "The primary suspect detained is alleged to be responsible for transporting Jaysh al-Mahdi [or Mahdi Army] insurgents to Iran for training and then back into Iraq," noted the Multinational Forces Iraq press release. "He is also suspected of facilitating recruits and paying financial matters. These activities contribute to the terrorist networks that are bringing explosive devices from Iran to Iraq."
Also, in the Saturday, June 16 press briefing, General David Petraeus announced the capture of two Iranian backed terrorists, Al Hifi and Abu Tiba. Al Hilfi is the "head of the secret cells associated with the extremist element s of Jaysh al Mahdi". Al Hilfi was also "involved in the kidnapping of U.S. soldiers in Karbala." Abu Tiba was described as "a member of the Fajr al Dulaimi gang which may be associated with the kidnapping of British citizens" in Baghdad last month.