US sanctions Iranian general for aiding Iraqi terror groups

The US continues to target Iran’s Qods Force and Revolutionary Guards Corps for backing Shia terror groups inside Iraq. In the latest move, the US Department of the Treasury has designated an Iranian general and a senior member of the Mahdi Army as individuals aiding the Iraqi insurgency.

Abdul Reza Shahlai, a deputy commander in Iran’s Qods Force, and Akram Abas al Kabi, a senior Mahdi Army leader are among five persons and two corporations that have had their assets blocked by the US Treasury under Executive Order 13438.

“These individuals are targeting and planning attacks against innocent Iraqis, the Government of Iraq, Coalition Forces, and U.S. troops,” said Stuart Levey, the Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, in a press release issued by the Treasury. “Their lethal and destabilizing tactics, especially by Iran’s Qods Force, are intended to undermine Iraq as it strives for peace and prosperity.”

Shahlai “threatens the peace and stability of Iraq by planning Jaysh al-Mahdi (JAM or Mahdi Army) Special Groups attacks against Coalition Forces in Iraq,” Treasury stated. He has “provided material and logistical support to Shia extremist group,” to the Mahdi Army, and other Shia terror groups in Baghdad and the Iraqi South. He has provided rockets, mortars, rocket propelled grenades, and C-4 explosives to the Mahdi Army in 2006.

Shahlai directed the training of the Mahdi Army and “served as the final approving and coordinating authority” for Hezbollah’s operations in Iraq. He also directed Hezbollah to train Mahdi Army units in the use of anti-aircraft rockets. The US military captured a senior Hezbollah leader inside Iraq in April 2007.

The Karbala Attack

The most serious attack traced back to Shahlai was the Jan. 20, 2007 attack on the Karbala Joint Provincial Coordination Center. Five US soldiers were kidnapped and then murdered during the sophisticated attack. The Iranian-backed kidnappers were believed to be heading toward Iran before Iraqi police caught up to them.

In March 2007, Coalition forces captured Qais Qazali, the leader of the Iranian-backed Qazali Network, who was behind the planning and execution of the attack. Qais was captured along his brother Laith and several other members of the network. Qais Qazali was a spokesperson and senior aide to Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army.

Multinational Forces Iraq has stated Iran is behind the Karbala raid, and satellite imagery discovered a mock-up of the Karbala complex at a camp inside Iran.

Coalition and Iraqi security forces have been heavily targeting these “Special Groups” and “Secret Cells” since General David Petraeus’ briefing on the Qazali and Sheibani networks on April 26.

Mahdi Army leader is on the list

Treasury also designated Mahdi Army commander Akram Abbas al Kabi as a threat to the Iraqi state. Kabi has been behind multiple mortar and rocket attacks against the International Zone in Baghdad in early 2008. He also financed roadside bomb attacks and recruitment for the Mahdi Army.

Kabi directed attacks against US and Iraqi forces during the so-called Mahdi cease-fire imposed by Sadr. He provided weapons “for large-scale military operations against Coalition Forces” in early 2008. While not stated, Kabi likely aided the Mahdi Army in attacking US and Iraqi troops as they build the security barrier around a large segment of Sadr City. More than 1,000 Mahdi Army fighters were killed during the fighting in Baghdad from April until the Mahdi Army quit the fight in June.

Targeting the IRGC

Shahlai is the second Qods Force general to be designated under Executive Order 13438 this year. On Jan. 9, Major General Ahmad Foruzandeh, who is also known as Jafari, was designated along with two senior Shia terrorists.

At the time, Foruzandeh was the leader of Iran’s Qods Force, the special operations branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. Foruzandeh has since promoted to commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and has the close ear of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The US also designated Iran-based Abu Mustafa al Sheibani and Ismail Hafiz al Lami on Jan. 9. Sheibani leads the Iranian-backed Sheibani Network, which has conducted numerous attacks against Iraqi politicians and Iraq and Coalition security forces. Al Lami, who is better known as Abu Dura, is a Mahdi Army commander who responsible for numerous sectarian and political attacks and strikes against Coalition and Iraqi forces.

Iran continues to support Shia Terror groups

Iran’s Qods Force established the Ramazan Corps, the command assigned to direct the campaign against Coalition and Iraqi forces, after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Ramazan Corps ran three training camps in southern Iraq and established a network of supply and distribution points for Iranian-manufactured weapons. The Ramazan Corps also operated a command and control center in Amarah in southern Maysan province, a stronghold of the Mahdi Army. This infrastructure has been uprooted during the Iraqi-led offensive against the Mahdi Army and other Shia terror groups during the spring and summer of this year.

The Mahdi Army suffered a significant blow during fighting against Iraqi and Coalition forces this year, according to an Iraqi intelligence report. More than 2,000 Mahdi Army were estimated killed during the fighting. “This led to the almost complete collapse of the army,” an Iraqi intelligence official said.

More than 1,300 Mahdi Army fighters, including senior commanders, are believed to have fled to Iran to avoid the Iraqi dragnet. Some are believed to be filtering back into Iraq to conduct terror operations.

The heavy casualties and Mahdi Army’s defeat in Baghdad and the South have forced Muqtada al Sadr to change his tactics and disband the Mahdi Army in favor of a small, secretive fighting force. This group is tasked with taking part “in resistance in all the Muslim countries and especially Iraq, militarily and ideologically, to the occupiers, colonizers and secular Western thought,” a senior Sadr cleric said on Aug. 15.

The US military says Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah have helped establish, fund, train, and arm and have provided operational support for Shia terror groups such as the Hezbollah Brigades and the League of the Righteous. These groups train in camps inside Iran.

The US has begun to heavily target the Hezbollah Brigades and the League of the Righteous since the Mahdi Army has largely faded from the scene. Scores of operatives from both groups have been captured during the past two months.

For more information on Iran’s involvement in supporting the Shia terror groups in Iraq, see:

Iranian Qods Force Agents Detained in Irbil Raid,

Jan. 14, 2007

The Karbala attack and the IRGC,

Jan. 26, 2007

Iran, Hezbollah train Iraqi Shia “Secret Cells”,

July 2, 2007

Surging in Wasit Province,

Sept. 18, 2007

Captured Iranian Qods Force officer a regional commander in Iraq,

Oct. 3, 2007

Iran’s Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq,

Dec. 5, 2007

Sadr forms new unit to attack US forces,

June 13, 2008

Sadrist movement withdraws from political process,

June 15, 2008

Mahdi Army decimated during recent fighting,

June 26, 2008

Iraqi forces detain Sadrist leaders, uncover Special Groups headquarters in Amarah,

July 2, 2008

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of The Long War Journal.

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2 Comments

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 09/17/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • Rhyno327/lrsd says:

    Iranian “diplomats” are in reality Qods or IRGC trainers and weapons sources. Sometimes you have to play the same dirty game in order to stop this kind of op. When these people start dissapearing, or turn up in the river, maybe the higher authority who sent them will get the message.

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