Targeting the Iranian “Secret Cells”

Qods Force logo, click to view.

Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces work to dismantle the Iranian run Sheibani and Qazali networks

Since the end of April, Multinational Forces Iraq has released a multitude of press releases noting the capture or killing of members described as belonging to “a secret cell terrorist network known for its use of explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, as well as facilitating the transport of weapons and EFPs from Iran to Iraq, and bringing militants from Iraq to Iran for terrorist training.” Coalition and Iraqi forces killed 91 members of this network and captured 112 since April 27, 2007. These are Shia terrorists which are trained, armed, funded and directed by Iran’s Qods Force, and have connections to Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army.

Multinational Forces Iraq is cryptic yet clear when discussing this network of Iranian backed operatives. Since General David Petraeus, the commander of Multinational Forces Iraq, gave a press briefing on April 26, where he identified the “secret cell network, the extremist secret cells” that “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,” 17 press releases identified raids against the network. In his briefing on April 26, General Petraeus mentioned both the Sheibani and Qazali networks.

The overarching network is actually the Sheibani Network, an unnamed intelligence official informed us. The Qazali network was described as a radical splinter Mahdi Army unit which operates under the aegis of the Sheibani network. General Petraeus stated the Qazali network received “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.”

“There’s no question, again, that Iranian financing is taking place through the Qods force of the Iranian Republican Guards Corps,” General Petraeus noted, as documentation seized during raids provided evidence of this. Qods Force [or Jerusalem Force] is a branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and is responsible for planning and conducting foreign operations, intelligence gathering and terrorist activities. The unit works extensively with Hezbollah. Qods Force regularly uses its diplomatic missions to provide cover for its operatives.

The U.S. currently has 7 senior members of Iran’s Qods Force in custody after raids in Baghdad in December of 2006 and Irbil in January of 2007. The Qazali Network responded by kidnapping and murdering 5 U.S. soldiers during a complex attack on the Joint Provincial Coordination Center in Karbala on January 20. On May 19, Coalition forces killed Azhar al-Dulaimi during a raid in Baghdad’s Sadr City.

Handout photo released by the US military shows an 81mm mortar round believed to be from Iran and found in Baghdad in January 2007. Click photo to view.

Azhar al-Dulaimi was described as the “mastermind” and “tactical commander” of the Karbala attack and is known to have been a key player in numerous other high-profile terror attacks in Iraq. He was a major figure in the Iranian-supported Qazali network. “Intelligence reports indicate Dulaimi received military training from Iranian intelligence agents and from Lebanese Hezbollah, to include training on how to conduct terrorist-style kidnapping,” according to the Department of Defense.

The Sheibani Network’s role in supplying the Qazali network was unmasked after “an individual named Sheibani, who is one of the heads of the Sheibani network” was captured, General Petraeus noted in April. “His brother is the Iranian connection. He is — was in Iraq. And that has been the conduit that then distributes these among the extremist elements again [to] these secret cells and so forth.” In July of 2006, Abu Mustafa Al-Sheibani, the leader of the network, was placed on the list of 41 most wanted, and a $200,000 bounty was placed for “information leading to his capture.” While it isn’t clear, it is believed he was the Sheibani captured.

In August of 2005, Time described the activities of the Sheibani network, and documented the role of Iranian Qods Force in their operations to move weapons and employ the deadly Explosively Formed Penetrators – or EFPs – which are armor piercing mines. Back in 2005, the U.S. believed “al-Sheibani’s team consisted of 280 members, divided into 17 bombmaking teams and death squads,” Time noted. The U.S. also believed “[the Sheibani network] trained in Lebanon, in Baghdad’s predominantly Shi’ite Sadr City district and ‘in another country,'” presumably Iran.

The vast majority of the Iraqi and Coalition raids occurred in Sadr City, the Shia dominated neighborhood in northeast Baghdad and stronghold of Muqtada al Sadr, the leader of the Mahdi Army. Sadr, who recently returned from Iran after fleeing the country at the onset of the Baghdad Security Plan, have a role in the “secret network,” according to Azzaman.

“Sadr’s sudden emergence and his meetings have been prompted by the defection of one of his most senior aides, former Health Minister Ali al-Shammari,” anonymous sources inside Sadr’s inner circle told Azzaman. “The sources said Shammari was close to Sadr and had insider information of the movement’s influence, spread and organization. The movement fears that Shammari might have passed to the U.S. confidential information on how the movement procures arms and training and the links it has with Iran.”

The Associated Press recently described the split in Sadr’s militia as one between “a larger group that calls itself the “noble Mahdi Army” and accuses others in the Mahdi Army of going too far by killing innocent Sunni civilians and embezzling militia funds,” and the more radical elements “trained and armed by Iranians.” As the Mahdi Army fragmented last winter, a force of about 3,000 Mahdi fighters led by Qais al-Khazaali [or Qais al Qazali] were said to have sided with Iran and are training in Iranian camps.

Iran’s Qods Force has set up the Qazali and Sheibani networks to provide for plausible deniability. “Military intelligence officers describe their Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps counterparts’ strategy as one of using “nonattributable attacks” by proxy forces to maximize deniability” Time noted in 2005. Qods has established their Iraqi networks to be manned by Iraqi operatives, which provides a degree of separation from the Iranian regime.

Imad Mugniyah, Iranian operative and leader of Hezbollah’s military. Click image to view.

However, Qods Force and the IRGC are not opposed to having foreign members in its ranks. International terrorists such as Imad Mugniyah, the operational leader of Hezbollah, also hold rank within Qods Force. “Imad Mugniyah embodies the complexity of where to tackle this terrorism because he stands with one foot in Hezbollah, reporting directly to [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah, but he also has one foot in Iran, with the Iranian MOIS [the Iranian intelligence service] and the al-Qods, or the Jerusalem Force, of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard,” terrorism and Hezbollah expert Magnus Ranstorp told the Council on Foreign Relations. “He allegedly works within the highest levels of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iranian intelligence and is said to take orders directly from Ayatollah Khamenei,” notes the CFR.

Leaders within Sheibani Network, and by extension the Qazali network, while Iraqi in nationality, are members of Iran’s Qods Force.

A time line of the raids against the Qods force “secret cell terrorist network” since April 27, 2007. Coalition and Iraqi forces killed 91 members of this network and captured 112. Totals will be updated for operations after June 8.

April 26: General Pertraeus briefed on the capture of members of the Qazali and Sheibani networks

April 27: 4 captured during a raid in Sadr City

May 3: 2 captured during raids in Sadr City.

May 4: 16 captured during a raid in Sadr City, and a large Iranian supplied weapons cache found south of Baghdad.

May 6: 10 killed during a raid against a Sadr City “torture room,” which also led to the discovery of large weapons cache

May 10: 4 captured, 3 killed during raids in Sadr City.

May 13: 3 captured during a raid in Sadr City.

May 19: 6 captured, 1 killed during raids in northeast Baghdad. Azhar al-Dulaimi, the “mastermind” and “tactical commander” of the Karbala attack and a leader in the Qazali network was the man killed.

May 25: 1 captured, 4 killed in Raids in Basra and Sadr City. “The individual targeted [in Sadr City] is suspected of having direct ties to the leader of the EFP network as well as acting as a proxy for an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officer.” “The British killed Abu Qader, the leader of the Mahdi Army in Basra, along with his brother and two aides.”

May 26: 1 captured, 5 killed during raids in Sadr City. “The individual detained during the raid is believed to be the suspected leader in a secret cell terrorist network…”

May 27: 1 captured during a raid in Sadr City.

May 30: 6 captured during a raid in Sadr City, including one cell leader.

May 31: 2 captured during a raid in Sadr City.

June 5: 6 captured, 1 killed during two raids in Baghdad. One of those captured “is an integral member of the improvised explosive devises and EFP facilitation network… also believed to be responsible for numerous attacks against Coalition Forces, including heavy involvement in mortar attacks, personally observing and adjusting fire in the past two days.”

June 7: 16 captured during a raid in Sadr City.

{Updated since published}

June 8: : 1 captured during raid in Baghdad, said to be “a commander of an anti-nationalist splinter organization of Jaysh al-Mahdi”

June 9: 3 captured, 1 killed during raids in Baghdad

June 13: 3 captured, 1 killed during raids in Baghdad

June 16: 10 captured, 1 killed during raids in Baghdad and Sadr City

June 18: 6 captured, 20 killed during raids in Amarah and Majjar al-Kabir

June 25: 4 killed during raids in Sadr City

June 29: 1 captured during raids in Sadr City

June 30: 17 captured, 26 killed during raids in Baghdad and Sadr City

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

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    A LOOK AT IRAN’S “secret cells” in Iraq, from Bill Roggio….

  • ajacksonian says:

    In putting together an article on the IRGC the one thing that became clear was the early move by the IRGC to start pulling at the membership of the Badr organization and utilizing it to form up the 2nd Qods [Jerusalem] Corps. The IRGC has also moved to get its members placed in high diplomatic levels at Embassies and are slowly marginalizing the mullah direction of operations at those Embassies.
    A bit unreported has been this long term coalescing of power in Iran into the IRGC, which now has overview on the regular army and complete suite of nuclear facilities. And as the IRGC mandate is to spread ‘revolutionary Islam’, they have worked hard to get some sort of ‘populism by intimidation’ in place and export weapons and equipment to multiple organizations built and controlled by them. While Hezbollah in Lebanon is something I refer to as a Foreign Legion of Iran, it is only that due to the high level of direct military and INTEL funding and aid it gets. More typical are the smaller operations in Algeria, Bosnia, Chechnya, and the Tri-Border area in South America. Those latter operations see more in the way of ideological and logistics training and far less in actual cash, although connections made via support of other terrorist organizations allows these distributed nodes to work with FARC, Eastern European and Russian Mafias, African narcotics networks, and the Far Eastern Triads, as seen by the grey market goods operation knocked out in the LA Basin a few years back.
    From that the time spent with the Badr organization in the 1990’s allowed for a direct off-shoot to become an underground IRGC special INTEL and OPS unit. The Badr Corps, 9th Corps that is, has been infiltrated heavily in the areas in and around Basra, in which we have heard high numbers of complaints about the infiltration of extremists into positions of power all the way down to Umm Qasr. Strategically this is very sound for the IRGC as it gives it ability to influence the port region and threaten Iraqi trade with the rest of the world as that is where the vast majority of oil and goods move.
    Part of the current learning experience of ‘the surge’ is to find out exactly how far the Qods and al Qaeda organizations have spread after working hard to get the western perimeter of Iraq to a quieter situation. Both those groups are on the move as their logisitical bases in Baghdad are no longer fully guaranteed to operate and watching to see how they move laterally through their networks will help to delineate their operations and influence. That is both fast and slow moving: fast moving for the fringes of the organization shifting along their internal lines of allegiance laterally, but also long-term in having to shift supply and pass-through centers behind them to allow better organizational command and control via logistics.
    Not a fun time, but necessary… as will the clean-up and removing of Badr/IRGC operatives in the control structure of government from Basra and to the south.

  • Targeting the Iranian “Secret Cells:”

    Coalition and Iraqi security forces work to dismantle Iranian run groups inside Iraq. (Bill Roggio @ The Fourth Rail)…

  • john knowlton says:

    I would like to know how we and/or the Iraqi army is trying to close the border with Iran. Are we intercepting shipments of munitions into Iraq?

  • john knowlton says:

    I recall we were building a pretty extensive string of border posts along the Syrian border too. Any facts on what we are doing to stem the flow of terrorists and weapons from either country? Any insight or wisdom relative to our doing special operations across the border?

  • AMac says:

    Journalist George Packer wrote some excellent pieces in 2005 on the al-Anbar counterinsurgency strategy of Col. McMaster of 3ACR. He sees Iraq as a completely lost cause.

    In the June 11 New Yorker, Packer offered some sardonic faint praise:

    “George W. Bush did four good things last week. He strengthened sanctions on Sudanese companies and officials in response to the ongoing massacres in Darfur. He called on Congress to double the funding for global AIDS programs, to thirty billion dollars. He directed his envoy in Baghdad, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, to sit down with his Iranian counterpart and discuss ways of stabilizing Iraq-the most high-profile meeting between top officials of the two countries in years. And he attacked the demagoguery of right-wing critics of the bipartisan immigration bill.”

    Par for the course for the bien-pensants of that magazine, naturally. Still, one wonders whether the intelligent and well-informed Packer understands the actual roles that Iranian organs are playing in regard to “stability” in Iraq. Or if he cares. As to his New York Times cocooned readers, no such curiosity is called for.

  • toad says:

    Since so much evidence continues to point to Iran, the Qods Force, Ayatollah Khamenei, Sadr and others as the major players behind most of the violence, I keep concluding that until we take the fight to the sources, and destroy them, then all we are doing is playing a game where our troops are our dispensible pawns and the game can go on until one side finally decides they have had enough and goes home. I doubt Iran will tire first since it is so “inexpensive” to them compared to what it is costing the US, and, Iran have so much to win by continuing to cause us problems. We can continue to pursue the Iranian funded groups from now on and they will keep coming as long as we continue to leave Iran unscathed. I just do not see that we are treating this as a war where we intend to win. Who among us believes that all of those captured/detained killers will be locked up long enough to never do us or Iraq harm in the future? If we were dispatching them as soon as we got whatever info was available then I would believe that we were taking this “war” seriously and looking after our future and that of Iraq, however, I don’t see we are gaining much when we all know the bad guys will eventually be back out on the streets in the future. Its time we quit running this “war” like a game. If we want to win it we need to kill all the bad guys we find and take the war to the source of our problems and that means killing Khamenei and the rest of the puppet masters that are the root cause and that will always be the root cause until they are gone.

  • David M says:

    Trackbacked by The Thunder Run – Web Reconnaissance for 06/08/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

  • srp says:

    In the long run, Arab/Persian rivalry (and intra-Shia theological rivalry between holy centers) will undermine any Iranian attempt to control Iraq. People have a tendency to overweight labels such as “Sunni” and “Shiite” and presume internal solidarity and primary loyalty within those groups. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
    I have no doubt that Iran wants to keep the plot boiling in Iraq and wants to maximize its influence, and that they are responsible for a lot of trouble there. But I have much doubt that Iranian influence is the main problem, or that if we got them to back off somehow that the situation in Iraq would fundamentally be changed. We still have huge problems with factions of Sunnis who can’t accept the loss of their superior status, various insurgents who don’t accept the new constitution as legitimate, criminal gangs, Al Qaeda types, former Baathist hard cases, etc. And Sadr would be a problem even without Iranian support.
    All of these things can be dealt with, but it will take time. I’m not sure our domestic political situation will give us that time.

  • mikeE says:

    Good points srp,
    Also, people forget that Iran and Iraq fought a brutal war hundreds of thousands of Shia dead on either side. That in itself is probably a huge block to Iranian attempts to control Iraq.
    The recent disengagement of Badr and SCIRI from Iran support weakening ties between Iraqi Shia and Iran.

  • Roggio: Targeting Iranian ‘Secret Cells’

    Little Green Footballs

    An interesting post by Bill Roggio on the Iranian “Qods Force” and their terrorist activities in Iraq:

  • DJ Elliott says:

    You are understating the KIA in the Iran-Iraq War by an order of magnitude. The most conservative estimate of KIA in that 8 year war was over one million.

  • Fritz_Katz says:

    Who allowed Muqtada al Sadr to continue formenting violence and hatred against the Sunnis and coalition forces?
    Wouldn’t everyone have been much better off if al-Sadr had neutralized years ago?
    Nazis weren’t allowed to continue fighting in post-WWII Germany.

  • Tom W. says:

    “The raids in Sadr City seem to be more of a publicity stunt – hence the unusually high number of press releases pointed out above – designed to embarass Iran and to further isolate it.”
    Twaddle. Entire networks are being shut down, and high-level Sadrists captured or killed.
    Task Force 145 doesn’t engage in “publicity stunts.”
    Shallow cynicism is a poison.

  • John D says:

    “The movement fears that Shammari might have passed to the U.S. confidential information on how the movement procures arms and training and the links it has with Iran.”
    Great! Now they know how we feel about the New York Times and ABC News!

  • John Samford says:

    It isn’t possible to completely close a land border. Sea borders are difficult enough.
    Sensors can be fooled or destroyed. Patrols outwited, guards bribed. Smuggling is thousands of years old and has survived because it is impossible to completly close a border from one side. If the nations sharing the border want it closed they might do so by co-operating. I say might because you still have corruption as a key to open any border.
    Find a border guard who cannot afford treatment for his sick child on his 40K a year salary and make him a millionaire for looking the other way once a week. It just takes one and a mill isn’t that much nowdays, unless your 4 year old needs treatment at 5K a week.
    No way to close a border in a land where bribes are the normal way of business and the other side of the border is intent on getting things across.
    The only way to get the Mad Dog Mullahs to shut their side is by making the cost of killing Americans in Iraq more then they want to pay. A bombing campaign against the power grid and transportation nodes in Iran should get their attention. Plus there is no media in Iran.
    They have the normal Baghdad Bob types, but the arrest and torture independent media, which encourages them to stay away. So when things start blowing up, an the Iranians complain, we can just say; “Those terrorists are nasty, why don’t you work with us to stop them?”
    Iran is at war withAMerica and has been since 1979. They are quite willing to fight to the last Iraqi.

  • joe says:

    You can keep having raids against Sadr until the end of time and those networks that we break up will be replaced in a day or so. For about 5 years I have been waking up to reports about raids against al qaeda that killed killed or captured senior leaders and many of their associates. AL Qaeda is still very active in Iraq. You are never going to get rid of an insurgent organization by conducting raids, the most that can do is buy you time for another solution. You have to win the support of the local population like in Ramadi, this solution seems highly unlikely in Sadrs case because of his family history and he provides many social services which people rely on him for. This is something that AL Qaeda stupidly never even tried. The other option is a brutal crushing of his army. A decision has to be made if were going to tolerate Sadr or not. These raids only serve to buy us more time for a real solution.

  • Tony says:

    ajacksonian, when you refer to the Badr brigades in your post, are you referring to the militia of SCIRI and al-Hakim?
    Sadr’s militia of course is called the Mahdi Army and SCIRI’s competing militia is called the Badr brigades.
    Sometimes the two are confused.

  • Tony says:

    ajacksonian, I looked at the hyperlink you provide in the first line of your post here to the article you wrote on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
    It is clear from your writing that
    when you discuss “Badr brigades” in your informative post here, you are referring to the militia of SCIRI.
    Keep up the good work.
    ajacksonian’s article can be found at:

  • the nailgun says:

    Joe – I agree with your point that AQI’s great weakness is not to provide the social services etc Mahdi Army does. It will indeed make it harder to take them down. However it would seem once we can reliably provide what they have been providing and hopefully of a higher standard their attraction will wane. It will indeed require both raids and services. I think the commanders well and truly understand that.

  • RHYNO says:

    If there are weapons and fighters being moved across the Iranian border, there must be staging areas along the border-IN IRAN. why are they still in business? there are a couple ways to shut them down, it can be done covertly with Spec. Ops, in that case prisoners could be taken and intel can be gained. or, it could be airstrikes. an attack on Teheran is imminent, but now is not the time. also, a raid does not have to involve a lot of U.S. personnel, it can be done by indig. forces based in Iraq. there is no way a truck carrying weapons directly from teheran to Basra is the way its done. there has to be staging areas, places we have to locate and eliminate. there will be no democratic Iraq with Iranian proxies like Sadr and his gang running amok with weapons and ultimately thier eye on power. the Mahdi must be destroyed, thier fat, bearded leader killed. if he is killed, wat will the repercussions be? thats the only worry i have. the whole Shia population rising up against our troops. maybe the Iraqi Spec. Ops. should do it. and take responsibility for it. that makes it an Iraqi op. but, i really hope its our guys who pull the trigger.

  • Our Colonial-style War, Michael Yon and Omar Fahdil on Iraq, and Bill Roggio on Iran in Iraq, including iron-clad proof of Iranian planning of attacks on Americans.

    By way of intro:  
    Despite the British press reports that make their own soldiers out to be cowering on bases in Basra, truck after truck of them here were in high spirits. News flash: Those reports are false. Derelict media coverage is another aspec…

  • RHYNO says:

    in the Asia Times it was reported that the Taliban has attacked in numbers in NW A-stan. i’ll tell ya, those Iranians have been busy bees for a while now. you don’t have to be a genius to figure out from where this came from. NATO cannot allow idiotic caveats and roe’s to interfere with the operations here. we MUST win. if not, wat does that say about NATO? i hope the Germans wake up-soon.


    GOING AFTER the Iranian cells in Baghdad. Some background here….


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