Iraqi security forces & U.S. advisors battle Mahdi Army in Karbala
Karbala raid leads to pitched battle; five more members of Iranian-backed cells captured in separate raids
While al Qaeda in Iraq has been identified as the primary enemy by the U.S. military leadership in Iraq, Coalition and Iraq security forces have aggressively pursued the Iranian-backed "rogue" elements of the Mahdi Army and the Special Groups. Over the past two days, Iraqi security forces, backed by U.S. Special Forces advisors, conducted two raids against the Shia terror groups in Karbala and Baghdad, while another Coalition-led raid occurred in Diyala province. The Karbala raid sparked a large firefight, which resulted in 17 Mahdi Army fighters killed, with no U.S. or Iraqi military casualties reported.
The Karbala raid targeted the leader of "a rogue Jaysh al-Mahdi [JAM or Mahdi Army] assassination cell of over 100 armed members," Multinational Forces Iraq reported. The cell leader attacked Coalition forces with roadside bombs, mortars, and the deadly, armor-piercing, Iranian-supplied explosively formed penetrators. The cell was responsible for the assassination of two Iraqi government officials and several civilians.
The cell leader and two other suspects were captured, but the Iraqi and U.S. raiding force was attacked by Mahdi Army fighters with RPGs and machineguns. Five Mahdi Army fighters were killed in the gun battle, and another 12 were killed in a follow up airstrike.
Coalition forces also captured four members of the Iranian-backed Special Groups terror cells during a raid in the village of Qasarin in Diyala. The raid targeted a senior leader of a Special Groups smuggling cell. "The captured terrorists are suspected of facilitating the transport of weapons and personnel from Iran into Iraq," including explosively formed penetrators.
On July 26, the Iraqi Army captured a Mahdi Army cell leader in the Bayaa neighborhood in Baghdad. "The primary suspect is believed to command a rogue JAM improvised explosive device cell that is allegedly responsible for attacks on Coalition Forces," the Multinational Forces Iraq press release stated. "He is also alleged to have received financial support and explosively formed penetrators from Iran, which were distributed to other JAM cell members in the Bayaa and Aamel areas of Baghdad."
Multinational Forces Iraq and the Iraqi military have intensified the attacks on the Special Groups and the Iranian-supported elements of Mahdi Army since General David Petraeus briefed on the nature of the network on April 26, 2007.
The U.S. has been working to divide the Mahdi Army for well over a year, and have conducted numerous operations against the extremist elements of Muqtada al Sadr's militia. The Mahdi Army split apart shortly after Sadr and the Mahdi Army leadership fled to Iran after the onset of the Baghdad Security Plan. The Iranian-backed elements, called the "rogue Mahdi Army" by Multinational Forces Iraq, have been targeted at every opportunity by U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad, Diwaniyah, Samawa, Karbala, Basra and throughout the South.