Iraq, US target Iranian networks


Baghdad-IRAM-search-07262008.jpg

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.



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READER COMMENTS: "Iraq, US target Iranian networks"

Posted by Dan at July 27, 2008 12:17 AM ET:

I can't help but wonder how much help Iran is getting from the Russians.

Posted by AMac at July 27, 2008 1:56 AM ET:

It would be useful to understand more about the nature of the Iran-Iraq border.

Clearly, there have been large-scale, organized smuggling operations to bring in quantities of EFPs and other weapons. Clearly, too, the Special Groups move numbers of fighters in and out of Iran for training, refitting, and R&R.

From looking at maps, the border is long, and it meanders tortuously for most of its length. There is also a lot of legitimate trade of goods; I read (somewhere...) that much of Northern Iraq is hooked into the Iranian electrical grid. So there must be high-tension lines that cross. And there are the pilgrims that go to Karbala and other Shi'ia holy places; presumably some religious Iraqis go in the other direction, to Qom.

On the other hand, the two countries fought a long and vicious war along that border, followed by decades of cold peace. So fairly recently, there was barbed wire, trenches, and minefields along most of its length. It might thus be well-demarcated, and easy to seal off, except for road crossings (e.g. in Diyala) and smuggling. (Two pretty big exceptions.)

Is "border control" as we idealize it in the West possible for Iraq? Is it even desired by major groups? Or do opportunities for trade, pilgrimages, tourism, and family visits loom larger? Or maybe "we have to live in the neighborhood, so best not to tick off this large and powerful neighbor."

Posted by jeandon at July 27, 2008 7:35 AM ET:

How about geting off only doing reactive defense for a change? There are plenty of disidents in Iran who might like to get some of the Iran arms caches to fight the mullahs to get freedomand democracy for themselves in Iran. Are the mullahs so much more clever than us that they can smuggle tons of arms and trained troops in Iraq, and we can't establish reverse rat-lines to turn their attention inward and away from subverting Iraq?

Posted by pedestrian at July 27, 2008 8:49 AM ET:

It's time to carpet bomb Iran, and destroy the weapon factories. We had enough of the IEDs and EFPs. How long are our service members going to risk lives from these left alone.

Posted by Rhyno327/lrsd at July 27, 2008 9:41 AM ET:

Its tempting to just bomb these weapons factories, but that is not enough. A strike against Iran has to be massive, and the US is not at that point-yet. Its true, Iran has a young populace, they do not hate the US. There must be a US/UK Spec. Ops presence in Iran, marking targets, surveilling sites that may be used to smuggle weapons across the border. These weapons must be stored near the border, and destroying these facilities-covertly, would be giving the mullahs a taste of thier own medicine. Knowing the Iranian populace hates the mullahs, the powers that be [CIA, MI6] should be fomenting the resistance movement in Iran. The bombing of Iran looks to be inevitable, so if we are to do it, it has to be a crippling round of strikes. This is a LAST resort. It looks like diplomacy is not going to work.

Posted by Private Finch at July 27, 2008 11:57 AM ET:

This is good news, but I wonder if we will try to cripple the Iranian economy by damaging their supply of gas and diesel fuel. Despite sitting on an ocean of oil, they have only one refinery that processes gas and diesel. Damage by sabotage, a few key machines and see their cars, trucks and buses run on empty. If the buses stopped running the public would maybe riot; just an idea.

Posted by Freedom Now at July 27, 2008 7:44 PM ET:

I am curious as to the extent for which Iran is still behind bloodshed in Iraq.

Have they decreased their support for such efforts?

Posted by pedestrian at July 28, 2008 10:54 AM ET:

>Its tempting to just bomb these weapons factories, but that is not enough.
>A strike against Iran has to be massive, and the US is not at that point-yet.

I believe it is the right time, since Iran lost most of its supply lines in Iraq, unable to engage retaliation, and the risk is low. Iran will be unable to strike back, which sacrificing its resource will mean more vulnerabilities againt revolution at home. The regime understands it has very few support at home. The objective does not need to be the collapse of the regime, only damage enough to destroy the factories in Iran and decreasing supplies to Iraq. I don't understand what it means by US is not at that point. It is not an issue when to attack, it is a risk that is happening now engaged from Iran, risking soldiers by every second, every minute. Once again, comapring risk and return, the risk of retaliation is very low, and the return is high. The public would not deny carpet bombing, not deny an attack against the enemy of Israel for sure. There is at least half of support by the Americans, regarding polls, and the price of oil has reached its peak, showing a decrease in price. The environment is ready for US to attack Iran. If there is even a 1% of effect of attack on Iran halting EFP and IEDs to Iraq, that is a victory for US.

Posted by Vader at July 28, 2008 12:03 PM ET:

Assuming an attack on Iran, the most likely result is very high oll prices, massive irregular and possible regular force attacks on troops in Iraq already at the end of a very long supply line and maybe a massive Arab uprising in friendly nations to boot

The battle may be won, but with a US populace wanting a pull out, high oil prices and high casualties would end any support for US forces in the region and lose the war.

Posted by GM Earnest at July 28, 2008 12:58 PM ET:

The comments would indicate the smart way to deal with these guys is a growth of strategies: intelligence gathering to reveal sources of rat lines and covert attacks on these sources, providing support for anti-mullah factions. If these actions don't work, then cruise missile attacks on the worst mullahs in their posh compounds. If that doesn't give them the message, then cutting off fuel supplies and continued ramping up of options. All the while, we mustn't forget the millions of young Iranians who want the mullahs off their backs.

Posted by Private Finch at July 29, 2008 10:38 AM ET:

Dan:

For many years the Russians have given Iran military aid, military technology, and help in stopping international sanctions against them. Russia wants Iran to keep the Middle East in an uproar to keep the price of oil high. Oil is the only major trade export the Russians have and high prices fund other Russian ventures. They also know that Iran will try to damage America.