General Petraeus unveils further information on Qods Force’s involvement in January’s attack on the Karbala JCC and other attacks; Leader of Sheibani network captured
The January 20 attack on the Karbala Provincial Joint Coordination Center, which resulted in the kidnapping and subsequent murder of five U.S. soldiers, has long been suspected to have an Iranian footprint. On January 26 we broke the news that Qods Force, the foreign branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, was very likely behind the Karbala attack. This was based on multiple tips from military and intelligence officers. The sophistication of the attack pointed to specialized knowledge and training which Qods Force would possess. Also, at this time, the U.S. had captured 5 Qods Force agents in Irbil, and Iran was likely looking for bargaining chips for their release. Four days later, the news broke that the Pentagon was actively investigating Iranian links to the Karbala attack.
In yesterday’s Pentagon press briefing, General David Petraeus, the commander of Multinational Forces Iraq, came close to directly pointing the finger at Iran, and specifically Qods Force, for its involvement in the Karbala Attack. Gen. Petraeus was clear that “we have not seen evidence of direct Iranian involvement in that case,” but laid out the case that the Qazali network, which carried out the Karbala attack, has direct links to Qods Force.
Several members of the Qazali network have been arrested and are currently detained and under interrogation by Coalition forces. “The Iranian involvement has really become much clearer to us and brought into much more focus during the interrogation of the members — the heads of the Qazali network and some of the key members of that network that have been in detention now for a month or more,” Gen. Petraeus said. “This is the head of the secret cell network, the extremist secret cells. They were provided substantial funding, training on Iranian soil, advanced explosive munitions and technologies as well as run of the mill arms and ammunition, in some cases advice and in some cases even a degree of direction.”
Coalition forces seized an important document belonging to the Qazali network, which Gen. Petraeus described as a “22-page memorandum on a computer that detailed the planning, preparation, approval process and conduct of the operation that resulted in five of our soldiers being killed in Karbala.” Gen. Petraeus described the 22 page document as a balance sheet which the Qazali network used to document success of their operations. “We think that records are kept so that the individuals that carry out these attacks can demonstrate what they’re doing to those who are providing the resources to them, providing the additional funding, training, arms, ammunition, advanced technologies and so forth.”
A burning question in the intelligence community is how far to the top can Iran’s involvement in Iraq be traced to the Iranian government. A direct link to the highest echelons of the Iranian government creates a diplomatic and political nightmare for the United States. Gen. Petraeus diplomatically sidestepped the issue, by pointing no further than Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Qods Force. “I do not know of anything that specifically identifies how high it goes beyond the level of the Qods Force, Commander Suleiman,” said Gen. Petraeus. “Beyond that, it is very difficult to tell — we know where he is in the overall chain of command; he certainly reports to the very top — but again, nothing that would absolutely indicate, again, how high the knowledge of this actually goes.” Qassem Soleimani reports directly to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Gen. Petraeus also noted there currently are 7 Qods Force agents in custody, and there is ample evidence of Iranian involvement in other attacks throughout Iraq. The Sheibani network was highlighted in the briefing. “which brings explosively formed projectiles into Iraq from Iran,” A leader of the network (who also named Sheibani), used his brother as the “Iranian connection… He is — was in Iraq. And that has been the conduit that then distributes these among the extremist elements again of these secret cells and so forth. Those munitions, as you know, have been particularly lethal against some of our armored vehicles and responsible for some of the casualties, the more tragic casualties in attacks on our vehicles.”
The Iranian built Sheibani network has been known to be operating inside Iraq and employing Explosively Formed Projectiles against U.S. forces since 2005. Major General William Caldwell laid out the case of Iran supplying the deadly EFPs and other munitions in mid February.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.