Logo for the Hezbollah Brigades from a propaganda video released on the Internet.
An Iranian-backed Shia terror group continues to remain a threat to US forces in Iraq, the top US general in Iraq said.
Fighters and leaders from Hezbollah Brigades, a Shia terror group supported by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, or IRGC, have conducted training inside Iran and are now returning to step up attacks on US forces, General Ray Odierno, the commander of US Forces-Iraq told reporters in Baghdad. He also said that Iranian trainers have begun to infiltrate Iraq to aid in operations.
“In the last couple weeks there’s been an increased threat,” from Hezbollah Brigades, Odierno said, “and so we’ve increased our security on some of our bases.”
“This is another attempt by Iran and others to influence the US role here,” Odierno continued, while acknowledging the debate whether Iranian support of Hezbollah Brigades and other Shia terror groups in Iraq includes backing by the highest levels of Iran’s government.
“Whether that’s connected directly to the Iranian government — we can argue about that,” Odierno said. “But they are clearly connected to Iranian IRGC.”
The IRGC reports directly to the top of Iran’s government: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The IRGC is tasked with defending the Islamic Revolution inside Iran while exporting the radical ideology to neighboring countries and worldwide.
From 2008 and until early 2010, Iraqi and US forces heavily targeted the Hezbollah Brigades, but operations against the group have tapered off since a raid against the terror group on Feb. 12 in the village of Duwayjat, north of the city of Amarah in Maysan province, and near the border with Iran. A combined US and Iraqi force killed 10 Hezbollah Brigades fighters and detained 22 more during heavy fighting in the region.
Following the Feb. 12 raid this year, there have been four operations against the Hezbollah Brigades, up until the beginning of July. But since July 6, there have already been two raids. On July 6, security forces detained a Hezbollah Brigades operative in Baghdad. Two more were arrested in Baghdad on July 10.
Background on the Hezbollah Brigades
The Hezbollah Brigades, or Kata’ib Hezbollah, is a Shia terror group that receives funding, training, logistics, guidance, and material support from the Qods Force, the IRGC’s external special operations branch.
Since 2007, the Hezbollah Brigades has been active in and around Baghdad. The group has a strong presence in Sadr City and in Shia strongholds in northeastern Baghdad.
Over the past few years, the Hezbollah Brigades has increased its profile by conducting attacks against US and Iraqi forces, using the deadly explosively-formed penetrator roadside bombs, whose molten metal warheads cut through inches of armor, and the improvised rocket-assisted mortars, which have been described as flying improvised explosive devices. The Hezbollah Brigades has posted videos of these attacks on the Internet.
In July 2009, the US Treasury Department designated the Hezbollah Brigades as an insurgent and militia entity that threatens to destabilize the security of Iraq. The Treasury also designated Abu Mahdi al Muhandis under Executive Order 13438 for his support of the Shia terror groups.
Muhandis is an adviser to Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s Qods Force. Qods Force backs terror groups such Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Mahdi Army and the assortment of Special Groups in Iraq, and Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian Territories.
As a senior Qods Force operative, Muhandis created a group of trainers to support the Mahdi Army Special Groups, such as the Asaib al Haq, or the League of the Righteous. “The groups received training in guerilla warfare, handling bombs and explosives, and employing weapons–to include missiles, mortars, and sniper rifles,” according to the Treasury press release.
Background on Iranian activity in Iraq
Flash Presentation on the Ramazan Corps and the Iranian Ratlines into Iraq. Click the map to view. A Flash Player is required to view, click to download. Presentation by Nick Grace and Bill Roggio, December 2007.
Both the Iraqi government and the US military have stated that Iran has backed various Shia terror groups inside Iraq, including elements of the Mahdi Army. While the Iranian government has denied the charges, Iraqi and US forces have detained dozens of Iranian Qods Force officers and operatives, captured numerous Shia terrorist leaders under Iranian command, and found ample documentation as well as Iranian-made and Iranian-supplied weapons.
Since late 2006, US and Iraqi forces have captured or killed several high-level Qods Force officers inside Iraq. Among those captured were Mahmud Farhadi, one of the three Iranian regional commanders in the Ramazan Corps; Ali Mussa Daqduq, a senior Lebanese Hezbollah operative; and Qais Qazali, the leader of the Qazali Network, which is better known as the Asaib al Haq or the League of the Righteous. Azhar al Dulaimi, one of Qazali’s senior tactical commanders, was killed in Iraq in early 2007.
More recently, since mid-October 2008, Iraqi and US forces have killed one Qods Force operative and captured 17 during raids throughout southern and central Iraq.
Qods Force, the special operations branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, has supported various Shia militias and terror groups inside Iraq, including the Mahdi Army. Qods Force helped to build the Mahdi Army along the same lines as Lebanese Hezbollah. Iran denies the charges, but captive Shia terrorists admit to having been recruited by Iranian agents and then transported into Iran for training.
Immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iran established the Ramazan Corps to direct operations inside Iraq. The US military says that Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah have helped establish, fund, train, arm, and provide operational support for Shia terror groups such as the Hezbollah Brigades and the League of the Righteous. The US military refers to these groups along with the Iranian-backed elements of the Mahdi Army as the “Special Groups.” These groups train in camps inside Iran.
US military officers believe that Iran has been ramping up its operations inside Iraq since its surrogates suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Iraqi military during the spring and summer of 2008. Iraqi troops went on the offensive against the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed terror groups in Baghdad, Basrah, and central and southern Iraq.
More than 2,000 Mahdi Army members were killed and thousands more were wounded. The operation forced Muqtada al Sadr to agree to a cease-fire, disband the Mahdi Army, and pull the Sadrist political party out of the provincial elections. Sadr’s moves caused shock waves in the Mahdi Army, as some of the militia’s leaders wished to continue the fight against US forces in Baghdad and in southern and central Iraq.
Iranian-backed Shia terror groups in Iraq
Iran backs a multitude of Shia terror groups in Iraq, including the League of the Righteous and The Promise Day Brigade, in addition to the Hezbollah Brigades and the Mahdi Army.
The League of the Righteous was a faction of Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army that splintered after Sadr announced in June 2008 that he would disband the Mahdi Army and formed the Brigade of the Promised Day. Sadr loyalist Qais Qazali was commander of the League of the Righteous up until his capture in 2007. The group is now said to be under the command of Akram al Kabi, a former Sadr loyalist.
The League of the Righteous receives funding, training, weapons, and direction from the Qods Force. The League conducts attacks with the deadly armor-piercing explosively formed projectiles known as EFPs, as well as with the more conventional roadside bombs. Although the size of the League is unknown, the US military has stated that hundreds of members of the group were killed or captured, or fled to Iran during the Iraqi government offensive against the Mahdi Army from March to July of 2008.
Sadr is looking to pull the rank and file of the League back into the fold of the Sadr political movement. Back in late 2008, Sadr issued a message rejecting the US-Iraqi security agreement and said he “extends his hand to the mujahideen in the so-called Asaib but not their leaderships who have been distracted by politics and mortal life from the [two late] Sadrs and the interests of Iraq and Iraqis.”
The Promise Day Brigade, the newest of the Iranian-backed groups, was formed by anti-American Shia leader Muqtada al Sadr during the summer of 2008 after he announced he would disband the Mahdi Army and formed a small, secretive military arm to fight Coalition forces in June. The group actively receives support from Iran, the US military told The Long War Journal.
“According to US and Iraqi intelligence sources, the Promise Day Brigades (PDB) terrorist organization is an Iranian-sponsored group actively targeting US Forces in attempt to disrupt security operations and further destabilize the nationalization process in Iraq,” Lieutenant Todd Spitler, a Press Desk Officer at Multinational Forces Iraq, said.
The Promise Day Brigade has claimed that it has been behind several EFP, mortar, and rocket attacks attacks in Baghdad, Diyala, Mosul, Al Kut, Diwaniyah, Samawa, and Basrah.
Both the US military and the Iraqi military believe that the Special Groups are preparing to reinitiate fighting as their leaders and operatives are beginning to filter back into Iraq from Iran. On Feb. 4, 2009, Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin, the deputy commander of Multinational Forces Iraq, said that Iran continues to arm, fund, and train the Special Groups, and that munitions traced back to Iran continue to be uncovered in Iraq. US intelligence and the finds of new Iranian caches “lead us to believe that Iranian support activity is still ongoing,” Austin warned.
In July 2009, General David Petraeus, then the commanding officer of US Central Command, said during an interview at the World Affairs Council Global Leadership Series that Iran continues to back the Special Groups.
“There is no question that Iran continues to fund, train, equip, and direct to varying degrees some of the groups still active in Iraq,” Petraeus said.
As recently as March 16 of this year, Petraeus described Iran as “the major state-level threat to regional stability,” and said that Iran is still backing terror groups inside Iraq.
• Iraqi, US forces kill 10 during clash with Hezbollah Brigades near the Iranian border, The Long War journal
• US sanctions Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades and Qods Force adviser, The Long War journal
• Mahdi Army uses “flying IEDs” in Baghdad, The Long War journal