Iraq, US target Iranian networks
A Soldier with Company A, 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Multi-National Division-Baghdad, pulls security in a building as his unit searches for improvised rocket-assisted mortars and materials in the Ur neighborhood of Baghdad July 21, 2008. Photo by US Army Sergeant Philip Klein.
Iraqi and US forces are maintaining the pressure against the Mahdi Army in central and southern Iraq. Over the past 24 hours, the US military announced the capture of three senior Special Groups operatives and uncovered a major cache in Baghdad. Iraqi troops detained 68 Mahdi Army fighters during a security operation in northern Babil province.
Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured two members of the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army Special Groups during separate raids in Baghdad. On July 24, Iraqi operators captured a leader who smuggled weapons from Iran into Diyala province. The next day, Iraqi special forces captured a Special Groups operative who assembled and employed improvised rocket-assisted mortars, or IRAMs, for use against Coalition forces. US forces also captured a "commander responsible for transporting weapons from Iran" during a raid in New Baghdad.
IRAMs, which are also know as "flying IEDs," are known to be used by the Hezbollah Brigades, an Iranian-backed terror group operating in Baghdad and the South. Earlier this week, the US military announced it captured a key member of the Hezbollah Brigades' propaganda team. The Hezbollah Brigades published a video on an IRAM attack on Joint Security Station Ur in northeastern Baghdad earlier this month.
While IRAMs have only killed three US soldiers since they began to be employed late last year, the US military has been concerned about these weapons systems, which have the potential to cause large casualties. Last week, US troops conducted a search for IRAM materials and a factory in a neighborhood adjacent to Sadr City, the former Mahdi Army stronghold in northeastern Baghdad.
US and Iraqi troops also uncovered a large weapons cache in Baghdad's Kadhamiyah district on July 24. Included in the cache were 11 of the deadly Iranian-manufactured explosively formed projectiles, 74 blocks of Iranian-made C-4 explosives, scores of rockets and rocket-propelled grenades, and an assortment of ammunition, explosives, and other weapons.
Massive amounts of weapons and bombs have been found in Baghdad since major operations against the Mahdi Army began in late March. In Sadr City alone, US and Iraqi forces have uncovered 230 weapons caches during search operations carried out between May 20 and July 20. Included in the caches were 280 IEDs and EFPs; two anti-aircraft guns; 546 RPG; 85 RPG launchers; 44 machineguns; 740 AK-47s and other small arms; 29 mortar tubes; 925 artillery, tank, anti-aircraft, and mortar rounds; 52 rockets; 44 rocket launchers, rails, and tubes; 120 anti-tank mines; and large quantities of explosives, bomb-making materials, and ammunition.
Targeting Iran's proxies
Iraqi and Coalition security forces have stepped up operations against the Iranian-backed Shia terror groups throughout central and southern Iraq this year after targeting leadership cells last year. Iran's Qods Force established the Ramazan Corps, the military command assigned to direct operations inside Iraq. Iran works through proxies such as the Mahdi Army, the Hezbollah Brigades, and other Shia terror networks. The US military collectively calls these Iranian-backed entities the Special Groups.
The Iraqi government transferred the fight from a series of targeted strikes to open warfare against the Mahdi Army this year. Operation Knights' Assault was launched against the Mahdi Army in Basrah on March 25. After six days of heavy fighting, the Mahdi Army pushed for a cease-fire, and the Iraqi Army retook control of Basrah.
The Iraqi security forces also dealt the Mahdi Army a heavy blow in the southern provinces of Najaf, Karbala, Qadisiyah, Maysan, and Wasit during late March.
The Iraqi security forces and the US military also confronted the Mahdi Army in Sadr City in Baghdad. After six weeks of heavy fighting, where the Mahdi Army lost more than 2,000 fighters, the Mahdi Army and the Iraqi government signed a cease-fire that allowed the military to enter Sadr City uncontested.
During the month of May, the Iraqi security forces expanded operations throughout Basrah province in Az Zubayr, Al Qurnah, and Abu Al Khasib along the Iranian border. In June and July, the Iraqi Army launched operations in Dhi Qhar, Maysan, and Qadisiyah. The Mahdi Army did not put up a fight as Iraqi forces gained control of the southern provinces. Several thousand Mahdi Army fighters and their leaders fled to Iran.