With Muqtada al Sadr’s decision to reinstate or drop the self-imposed cease-fire less than nine days away, Multinational Forces Iraq continues to turn up the heat on the Iranian-backed and Sadr-linked Special Groups terror cells. US and Iraqi forces have conducted multiple raids on the terror cells over the past three days throughout central Iraq, continuing the trend that started on Feb. 4. Yesterday’s explosion in Sadr City also has been linked to the Special Groups.
The explosion yesterday near an open-air market in Sadr City, which caused the deaths of two Iraqis and wounded 25, was initially thought to be caused by a car bomb attack. But the US Military issued a second press release linking the explosion to the Special Groups.
“Our assessment is that the vehicle was transporting munitions and explosives and prematurely detonated before arriving at their final destination,” said Major C.W. Weathers, the intelligence officer for the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, operating in Sadr City. “The market, near the center of Sadr City, is known for Special Groups black market weapons sales.”
Multinational Forces Iraq has linked the Special Groups to attacks on civilians in the past. The Nov. 24, 2007 bombing at the Ghazi pet market in central Baghdad was traced back to a Special Groups cell. The bombing was made to look like an al Qaeda attack in order to “demonstrate to Baghadis the need for militia groups to continue providing for their security,” Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, the Deputy Spokesman for Multinational Corps Iraq said after the attack. The information was based on the interrogation of Special Groups operatives involved in the pet market attack, which killed 15 Iraqis and wounded 64.
Since Feb. 12, Multinational Forces Iraq has reported eight raids on Special Groups cells and their weapons caches. During these raids, which were conducted between Feb. 8 and Feb. 12, thirty-one Special Groups operatives, including three cell leaders, were captured. Fourteen explosively formed penetrators, the powerfully deadly EFPs, were seized along with explosives, bomb making material, and weapons. In the recent actions:
• US troops received a tip from a Sons of Iraq fighter (formerly the Concerned Local Citizens) on the location of a large EFP and weapons cache in the town of Jurf Nadaf on Feb. 8.
• US troops captured a cell leader involved in IED and small-arms attacks on US and Iraqi forces in Hurriya on Feb. 10.
• US soldiers captured 25 Special Groups fighters during a series of operations in the Sabak Sur, a neighborhood in northeast Baghdad, on Feb. 11. This is “an area that has recently emerged as a safe haven for Special Groups,” Multinational Forces Iraq reported.
• US troops captured a Special Groups cell leader involved in improvised explosive device (IED), EFP, small arms and rocket attacks in the Rashid district of Baghdad on Feb. 11.
• Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured a Special Groups cell leader responsible for IED, EFP, rocket, and mortar attacks against Iraqi and Coalition Forces on Feb. 11.
• US soldiers received a tip from an Iraqi on the location of an EFP and explosives cache in Baghdad on Feb. 11.
• Special Forces arrested a security guard of a Sadrist member of parliament in Hillah on Feb. 12.
• Coalition forces detained two Special Groups operatives in the Suwayrah area on Feb. 12.
Prior to this recent spate of raids, the last major raid against the Special Groups occurred on Dec. 27, when US and Iraqi forces attacked the Special Groups in Al Kut. Eleven terrorists were killed in the attack. At the turn of the new year, it was reported that General Petraeus had stated Iran cut off support for the Special Groups. These reports turned out to be incorrect, and shortly thereafter, reports began to refer to “criminal elements” and “extremists,” but Special Groups were not mentioned by name for more than a month.
The increase in reporting on the Special Groups restarted on Feb. 4, after Multinational Forces Iraq noted the January tally of EFP attacks against Coalition and Iraqi troops was the highest since December 2006. US and Iraqi troops were then reported to be moving against Mahdi Army strongholds in Hurriya and Diwaniyah, and the reporting on the Special Groups picked back up.
The Special Groups, Iran, and the Mahdi Army
The Special Groups was created by Iran’s Qods Force, the special operations branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, to destabilize the Iraqi regime, strike at US and Coalition forces, and extend Iran’s sphere of influence in southern and central Iraq. Iran established the Ramazan Corps as a sophisticated command structure to coordinate military, intelligence, terrorist, diplomatic, religious, ideological, propaganda, and economic operations. The Special Groups falls under Qods Force’s Ramazan Corps.
Iran has co-opted elements of the Mahdi Army to form the Special Groups. Muqtada al Sadr is currently sheltering in Iran and is studying the radical Velayat-e-Faqih Shia strain of Islam that promotes theocratic rule and is the foundation for Iran’s form of governance. Special Groups leaders have been directly linked to Sadr. On Feb. 11, Multinational Forces Iraq captured a senior regional leader of the Special Groups who also has ties to the Sadrist movement and 10 others in Hillah.
US and Iraqi efforts to pressure Sadr to extend the cease-fire may be paying off. Sadr has stated he will decide on an extension by Feb. 23, while unnamed sources purportedly close to Sadr claim he will extend the cease-fire despite strong objections from his lieutenants. Sadr instituted the cease-fire after his Mahdi Army attacked Iraqi security forces during a religious festival in Karbala in August 2007.
For more information on the Special Groups and Iran’s role in the Iraqi insurgency, see Iran’s Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq and Targeting the Iranian “Secret Cells.” For more information on the Mahdi Army, see Sadr calls for Mahdi Army cease-fire and Dividing the Mahdi Army.