Iranian-backed kidnappers demand release of Special Groups commander
The kidnapping of five British contractors - four security guards and a financial consultant - has long been suspected of being an Iranian-backed job. A recent report in the Times Online confirmed an Iranian extremist group has demanded the release of Qais Qazali, the leader of the Iranian-backed Qazali network, in exchange for the five Britons.
"Senior Iraqi government sources say their captors have promised they will not be harmed but any rescue attempt would endanger them," the Times Online reported. "They claimed the hostages will remain prisoners 'for as long as it takes' to secure the release of Qais Qazali, a former chief spokesman for the Shi'ite Mahdi Army."
The British have been unable to secure the release of their citizens as the US military has refused to release Qazali. "Talks aimed at freeing the hostages are believed to have reached deadlock this month after British negotiators said they had no power to free Qazali," said the Times Online.
Qazali is not a low-level Shia extremist commander, but one of the most senior Iranian-backed terrorists captured in Iraq. Qazali, along with Ali Mussa Daqduq, Mahmud Farhadi, and Azhar al Dulaimi are the four most senior Iranian Qods Force agents captured or killed in Iraq since Coalition forces began targeting the Iranian networks. US Special Forces captured senior members of Iran's Qods Force in Baghdad in December 2006 and Irbil in January 2007. Iranian surrogates - the Qazali and Sheibani networks now collectively referred to as the Special Groups - stepped up their attacks on Iraqi and Coalition forces in January 2007.
Daqduq is a senior Hezbollah operative who was tasked by Iran to organize the Special Groups and "rogue" Mahdi Army cells along the lines of Lebanese Hezbollah. He is a 24-year veteran of Hezbollah and commanded both a Hezbollah special operations unit and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah's security detail.
Farhadi was the commander of the Zafr Command, one of three units subordinate to the Ramazan Corps of the Qods Force. The Ramazan Corps is responsible for Qods Force operations in Iraq. As the Zafr Commander, Farhadi was responsible for all Qods Force operations in north-central Iraq, including cross-border transfers of weapons, fighters, and money.
Azhar al Dulaimi is the mastermind and tactical commander of the complex attack on the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala on January 20 as well as other high-profile terror attacks in Iraq. Five US soldiers were killed during the Karbala attack and subsequent kidnapping attempt. Dulaimi was killed in a raid in Baghdad last summer.
In March 2007, Coalition forces captured Qais Qazali, his brother Laith Qazali, and several other members of the Qazali network. Qais Qazali was a spokesperson and senior aide to Muqtada al Sadr and has been since identified as a senior member of the Special Groups.
The Qazali network conducted sophisticated operations against US forces at the Karbala Joint Provincial Coordination Center, kidnapping and killing five US soldiers during the aborted operation. Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces have been heavily targeting these "Special Groups" and "Secret Cells" since General David Petraeus' April 26 briefing on the Qazali and Sheibani networks.
Recently, the US military and the Iraqi government have praised Iran for slowing the flow of weapons into Iraq. Attacks with the deadly Iranian-made explosively formed projectile mines, or EFPs, have decreased dramatically and new caches are not being found. The US recently released nine Iranians held in Iraq, including two Qods Force officers detained in Irbil earlier this year.