Iran, Hezbollah train Iraqi Shia “Secret Cells”

Ali Mussa Daqduq, a Hezbollah operative, captured among others

Ali Mussa Daqduq, click to view.

Iran’s involvement in funding, arming, and training the networks of Shia terrorist in Iraq has been an open secret in Iraq for years. The issue came to a head last winter when Coalition forces began heavily targeting the Iranian networks and captured senior members of Iran’s Qods Force in Baghdad in December 2006 and Irbil in January 2007. Iran struck back via its surrogates, the Qazali and Sheibani networks later in January 2006, and struck at the Karbala Joint Provincial Coordination Center, kidnapping and killing five U.S. soldiers during the aborted operation. In a briefing from Iraq this afternoon, Brigadier General Kevin Bergner, the spokesman for Multinational Forces Iraq, provided explicit detail on both Iran and Hezbollah’s role behind the Shia terror networks and their involvement in the Karbala attack.

Killed/captured members of the Secret Cell / Special Group networks. Click to view.

Brig Gen Bergner identified 27 high-level “Secret Cell” or “Special Group” leaders who have been “taken off the streets of Iraq.” Three were killed and 18 captured. Among those captured was Ali Mussa Daqduq, a senior Hezbollah operative. Daqduq has a pedigree with Lebanese Hezbollah, an Iranian-created operation, and Iran’s Qods Force. Daqduq is a 24-year veteran of Hezbollah, who has commanded both a Hezbollah special operations unit and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s security detail.

“In 2005, he was directed by senior Lebanese Hezbollah leadership to go to Iran and work with the Qods Force to train Iraqi extremists,” said Brig Gen Bergner. “In May 2006, he traveled to Tehran with Yussef Hashim, a fellow Lebanese Hezbollah and head of their operations in Iraq. They met with the Commander and Deputy Commander of the Iranian Qods Force Special External Operations.” Daqduq made four trips into Iraq in 2006, where he observed the “Special Groups” operations.

Daqduq’s fake documents. Click to view.

Upon his return to Iran, “he was tasked to organize the Special Groups in ways that mirrored how Hezbollah was organized in Lebanon,” Brig Gen Bergner explained. Daqduq began to train Iraqis inside Iran. Groups of 20 to 60 recruits were trained in the use of Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFPs), mortars, rockets, and sniper rifles, and instructed on how to conduct intelligence and kidnapping operations.

“These Special Groups are militia extremists, funded, trained and armed by external sources   specifically by Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Qods Force operatives,” said Brig Gen Bergner. “In addition to training, the Qods force also supplies the Special Groups with weapons and funding of 750,000 to three million U.S. dollars a month. Without this support, these Special Groups would be hard pressed to conduct their operations in Iraq.”

Qayis and Layith Qazali. Click to view.

Brig Gen Bergner also explained that numerous documents, including a 22-page planning document, Daqduq’s journal, and other items, along with the corroborated interrogations of Qayis and Layith Qazali (or Khazali) and other captured members of the Special Groups networks detail Qods Force’s role in the Shia terror cells inside Iraq. “What we’ve learned from Ali Musa Daqduq, Qayis Qazali and other Special groups members in our custody expands our understanding of how Iranian Qods Force operatives are training, funding and arming the Iraqi Special Groups,” said Brig Gen Bergner. “It shows how Iranian operative are using Lebanese surrogates to create Hezbollah like capabilities.”

Brig Gen Bergner said three training camps for the “Special Groups” have been identified inside Iran. Last month, U.S. satellite reconnaissance identified a mockup of the Karbala PJCC inside Iran. This facility was used to train the Qazali network for the Karbala attack.

Brig Gen Bergner said senior Iranian leadership was aware of Qods Force’s activities inside Iraq. “Our intelligence reveals that the senior leadership in Iran is aware of this activity.” Brig Gen Bergner further explained it “would be hard to imagine” that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, would not be aware of Qods Force’s role in the Iraq violence. Qods Force reports directly to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces have been targeting these “Special Groups” and “Secret Cells” heavily since General David Petraeus’s briefing on the Qazali and Shaibani networks on April 26. Coalition and Iraqi forces have killed at least 91 members of the Secret Cell network and captured 113 since April 27, 2007.

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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  • TS Alfabet says:

    This has got to be some kind of camel-back-breaking straw: solid, almost irrefutable proof that the Iranians are neck-deep in killing our soldiers in Iraq.
    So what will the U.S. do about it?
    Sen. Lieberman at least had the guts to raise the possibility of bombing these camps in Iran, if for no other reason than to signal that we will no longer tolerate this behavior by the Iranians.
    I wonder whether Bill, DJ or any of the other astute individuals that frequent this site would care to lay out the range of realistic options that the U.S. has to send a message to Tehran that their continued ‘involvement’ in Iraq will have increasingly painful consequences?

  • My guess is that the United States government has some very good reasons for not striking at those camps right now. The first and most important reason is that the Iranians are capable of generating any number of unpleasant responses to any U.S. attack on their soil.
    We would then face the dilemma of reacting to their escalation or going back to our current policy: bringing censure through diplomacy or the ever helpful international media.
    Reacting to Iran’s provocations could be a one way ticket to a full scale war. That is a course of action but not one that I personally would recommend right now.
    The United States every day is being forced into making the kinds of decisions that Israel has been forced to make for years. And those decisions have made Israel almost an international pariah in a good part of the world.
    Is the United States ready to head down that road? Right now, I think not. Once the car bombs start going off in Chicago and Los Angeles, the political environment will change dramatically.
    The Long War is going to get much worse.

  • TS Alfabet says:

    Good points, Michael.
    But is it too much to ask that we use some of our covert resources to pay back the Iranians in kind?
    Grudgingly I must admit that an open, outright attack on the training camps would probably be turned to a media coup by the Iranians as they turn the charred camp into a “wedding party” and claim that the U.S. slaughtered innocents. Oh the irony.
    But certainly U.S. special forces or stealth aircraft are capable of causing, say, a nasty and damaging explosion at Iran’s refineries which would look like a natural result of poorly maintained equipment. Plausible denial. This is what the Iranians do all the time. And while I don’t suggest we descend to the barbarity of the Iranians, they must be given a clear signal that the U.S. will not tolerate their actions in Iraq. Perhaps the supply of weapons and communications equipment to dissident groups in Iran would give the mullahs something better to do than spend $3M per month on Iraqi insurgents.
    I respectfully disagree with your comparison to Israel. First, Israel suffers from permanent, anti-semitic dislike. No matter what Israel does, she will be damned. Second, we are already more or less of a pariah, so it is delusion to think that the U.S. could do anything that would change our overall standing. It is classic envy, as Victor Davis Hanson has described so well.
    Your comment that it will take bombs going off in Chicago to stir us to more dramatic action is exactly why I wonder whether there aren’t any, less dramatic options we can take, such as the ones I mention above. But even if it came to escalation, do you really believe that the Iranians would be willing to go there? They would be playing right into the strengths of the U.S. military. With two carrier groups right off their coast, the U.S. could lay waste to their military– to say nothing of their oil infrastructure. Perhaps it is being too clever, but the theory is to ratchet up the pressure on the Iranians with covert and deniable ops until they either commit some act of stupidity that justifies an all-out response from us, or they decide the candle is not worth the game and back down.
    Above all, we must get the Iranians to back down somehow and soon.

  • exhelodrvr says:

    Unfortunately, the biggest factor with taking action against Iran is the effect that the administration thinks such action would have on the domestic political front.

  • hamidreza says:

    Take out the training camps that are outside of civilian centers. Especially those close to the Iraqi border that can be targetted with guided rockets. But be prepared to win the media war and counter Iranian propaganda.
    Then escalate that to the nuclear centers, refinaries, petrochemical complexes, and power generators. Provide a list of targets and adequate warning for civilians to evacuate before such industrial strikes.

  • Neo says:

    First things first folks, MNF and IA forces are stretching as much as they can to give Al Qaeda a thorough slap down. Without breaking the Sunni community away from Al Qaeda no political process of compromise is possible. That’s the real show stopper in Iraq.
    In the mean time we need as much evidence on Iran as possible. The big problem now is that the Iranians are escalating in Iraq. Right now we can keep a lid on Iranian activities but at a price. We are starting to loose almost as many troops to Iranian proxies as to all other groups.
    The escalating pressure by the US against Qods looks like a gradual thing to me. No telling how this eventually plays out.

  • Mark says:

    With Iran’s internal problems over their oil issue it would be interesting if these anti regime forces were assisted in some way to at least present themselves as alternatives to the current government and divert the current regime to address something more immediate than the killing of Americans in Iraq while also continuing to pursue the Iranian agents in Iraq of ill intent.

  • crosspatch says:

    At some point we are simply going to *have* to do *something*. We can not allow Iran to kill our people in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    What I believe to be a valid approach, and one I have mentioned here before is one which might kill two birds with one stone. Information such as this is simply one more piece tossed on a growing pile of information that the Iranians are meddling in Iraq and as we already know, Lebanon, and increasingly so in Afghanistan.
    At the same time there is considerable unrest in Iran and dissatisfaction with the mullahs. One valid (in my opinion) response would be a thorough targeting of Revolutionary Guard infrastructure. This would serve several purposes but most importantly, it would degrade the forces that keep the mullahs in power while leaving Iran’s conventional military alone. It could allow the conditions to be set to more easily allow some kind of internal regime change to happen. Degrading the Revolutionary Guard could relieve some pressure on other groups inside Iran who might then feel less intimidated.

  • section9 says:

    What we are doing right now is signaling to the Iranians that our tolerance for their activities has its limits.

    Today’s summit between Bush and Putin could be considered a success, giving Putin and Bush the chance to come to some sort of way to split the difference on missile defense and come to agreement on the increasingly obstreperous Iranian regime.

    While many in the Ledeen/American Spectator camp maintain that we must attack now before Condi gives away the store, Rice has wisely counseled the President that we must do nothing before the Iranians blunder into an overt attack against us. In doing so, Rice has understood that the political conditions do not exist for an attack on the Iranians.

    Meantime, there are those Iranians in the regime who are ready for a settlement which allows them to obtain enrichment just short of the Bomb. The regime is beginning to show some seams, given the rationing of gasoline. And it has an Achilles’ heel: the gasoline refining plant that can be bombed out of existence.

    Let us not take counsel of our fears-the way may be open to a settlement.

  • Tom W. says:

    Before we attacked Iran, we’d have to seriously degrade their networks inside Iraq, in order to limit the scope of Iranian retaliation.
    We’d have to convincethe Iraqi government that their coreligionists were supporting Sunni terrorism.
    We’d have to get inside the Iranian military-intelligence apparatus, by kidnapping or arranging for the defection of high-ranking officials.
    We’d also have to convince most of the middle east that Iran posed a huge threat to them.
    We’d have to get the region to send Syria and Iran a message; one way would be for the Gulf states to support the Siniora government in Lebanon by covertly providing the army with weapons and special operations troops.
    We’d have to build up a paper trail, releasing information in a steady flow so that the American public would gradually accept the idea that Iran is causing mayhem in Iraq and the entire region.
    If we attacked Iran with our naval forces, we’d have to integrate with other naval forces, so that we could operate as one cohesive unit.
    We’d have to station picket ships and antimissile batteries in the Gulf in order to defend against Iranian retaliatory missile attacks.
    We’d have to replace our middle-eastern command structure with naval officers and experts in strategic bombing.
    We’d have to upgrade our stealth bomber fleet, to give it an unprecedented offensive capability.
    To trick the Iranians into making the first move, we’d also have to spread disinformation about how weak and irresolute we were, completely unable to face the raw power and strength of the mighty Iranian juggernaut.

  • section9 says:

    Tom, I think you’ve got most of it. The key is to either force the Iranians into a settlement or to force the Triumphalist crowd into blundering into an overt attack. Ledeen and his people don’t seem to get this.

    Clausewitz wrote of the trinity of army, state, and people being in harmony for the successful conduct of war. We don’t have that right now. If the Iranians attack, say, a carrier, we will have that consensus to strike back, and hard.

  • Thanos says:

    One of the things we could do is to continue to point out to the Turks that some of those Kurd “PKK’ers” are coming in from Iran.

  • Thanos says:

    Tom W
    Missed one thing:
    Establish protocols with other Nuclear states and security council for use of non-nuclear ICBM’s.

  • TS Alfabet says:

    Comments like the above are why this site is a veritable treasure trove, beyond just the stories themselves.
    Section9, you speak as if there are elements within the regime that are somehow less radical than others. I submit that this is a State Dept. fiction that is three-parts wishful thinking and one part simple self-delusion. Notwithstanding MSM reporting to the contrary, there are no “moderate” factions within the mullahcracy. Even the so-called ‘moderates’ espouse the very same goals and intentions that I’m-A-Dinner-Jacket does. Whether Rice is being wise or not, time will tell. It is likely that she will wind up being too-clever by half. While I think everyone would agree that there is not a political consensus in the U.S. yet for open attacks against Iran, covert action and deniable actions, especially ones that might draw the Iranians into a foolish attack as you yourself point out in your second post.
    Crosspatch has an intriguing idea with further pinpointing the Rev. Guards (and the Basij where possible) which it seems the Iranian public in general despises. No one will shed any tears over them and it might pry loose a general or two willing to oust the mullahs.

  • ajacksonian says:

    I can’t really say that I am surprised by the Iranian First Foreign Legion needing to send help to their Second one. The most important part of this take-down, is the reading on the Kazali Network. From the start of Kais Kazali working with Sadr, one can see the outlines of a Lebanon-style ‘armed faction’ concept trying to take hold. The various proclomaitions and edicts issued by the Sadrist group point to that, and the attempt to establish their own controlled territory within Iraq. Kais, as spokesman, sounds almost exactly like a Hezbollah counterpart from the 1980’s, trying to put a division down as to what Sadr’s group can do, while not being able to demonstrate it on the ground. That worked in Lebanon, back in the 1980’s, due to differences in culture and outlook, but did not work all that well in Iraq.
    Sadr as a leader, however, has proven to be the imperfect vessel for this concept, and his inability to hold to any forward momentum has made the organization under him crack into pieces. Some of that is, no doubt, the Secret Cells Qods force, and other parts are due to sheer political frustration with Sadr from the inside. That network allowed for the early and easy movement of arms and people into Iraq from both Iran and Syria, as it reached out in both directions. Starting late last year, the work to start actually securing Ramadi began and put a significant kink in plans as it served as a safe haven for personnel and cargo shipment. The network tried to move north and south and has had problems in both directions which, finally, resulted in the arrests of Kais and Laith Kazali. Once the political and militant side started to show cracks *and* the supply and distribution side started to do the same, things started to change on the ground.
    That lead-up in NOV-DEC 2006 with the coalescing of Anbar just starting did that: it changed the logistical end for insurgent supply by shifting supply routes and personnel out of established zones and into ones less friendly to them. The other thing learned last year from the Israeli-Hezbollah dust-up is that as a military force, Hezbollah is a so-so terrorist operation, and as a terrorist operation, Hezbollah is a so-so military force. al Qaeda concentrates on terror and is now learning that their lack of retention of skilled field military grade individuals means they have little ‘corporate knowledge’ of how to operate in the field. They do quite well on the long-term terrorist operations, less well on the faster operations and cannot act as a coherent military force when their cell structures are put at risk. Hezbollah, by operating with a loose military format, does far better at self-defense against military forces, good on the fast moving ‘run and gun’ terrorist operation, and less well on long-term campaigns and no attempt at the ‘spectacular’ terrorist operation.
    Neither of those concepts are working too well in Iraq, although they can gain a death toll. What they have been unable to do is gain any popular grounding or foothold that can stay steady. Iraq is a liquid environment and that is not letting either of these organizations do what they do best. And the places of stability that do form up are driving them out… Iraq is no longer the wide-open spaces of intimidation to power, it is becoming a boxing match against a very strong and fluid opponent. And as the background on all the insurgent sides is shallow or nonexistant in this area, they are having troubles putting forward anything they will fight *for*, beyond personal power.

  • Barry Hauser says:

    Iran as no refinery capability to speak of. That means they can’t make their own gas. They export their oil and emport gas, Cutting this off should be step #1.
    Iran has had to start a rationing program that provides around 25 US Gal per month per family. Reports said that riots broke out and an estimated 30% of the gas stations in the country were destroyed
    That leads to step #2. Let the Iranian people take down their own leaders. This can come about as gas becomes no longer available. I would also shut down their military. For example. A Main Battle Tank gets 1 mile on 2 gallons of fuel and that is in perfect driving conditions. I ran out of fuel at 90 miles using 600 gallons. No fuel, no bullets, no beans the military comes to a stop.

  • Marlin says:

    Pat Dollard has a post up today documenting interaction between Coalition Forces and Iranian special forces back in October 2004.
    Pat Dollard: Exclusive: U.S. Soldier Reports Killing Iranian Revolutinary Guards In Iraq In I.M. Exchange With His Mother

  • Tony says:

    As DJ Elliot recently pointed out, we are still looking for an example where an Air Force has ever won a war, despite its assurances that it can do so.
    It seems tragic that our memories are so short. Has everyone forgotten the first part of the Israeli/Lebanese war last year where the Israelis thought that air power alone could bring Hezbollah to heel?
    It takes boots on the ground.
    Can any person here name one member of the Likud party in Israel who disagrees with the notion that overreliance on air power in Lebanon last year was a big mistake?
    It takes boots on the ground.
    We are now faced in Iraq with what General Petraeus correctly calls “an exceptionally complex situation”.
    Have we all forgotten the euphoria associated with “shock and awe”, back when we thought air power alone would do most of the heavy lifting in Iraq?
    It takes boots on the ground.
    Lives are at stake. It makes little sense to ignore the universal lessons of elementary military history.

  • Firght4TheRight says:

    I’ve been reading some on the internal turmoil going on in Iran. The gasoline rationing and the overall failing of the economy has the poor and middle class rumbling over their boy they put into the President’s chair.
    I’m wondering…and it pains me to say this, but perhaps we should let some of our covert operations inside of Iran, those set up to stir unrest, take their course.
    Although I would dance with joy over any military operation against Iran, to make them pay for the blood of our boys they have spilled, I fear the leaders of Iran are almost begging for some action against them so they can use it to unite the disgruntled in their own land.

  • crosspatch says:

    “As DJ Elliot recently pointed out, we are still looking for an example where an Air Force has ever won a war,”
    I didn’t see anyone posting anything that said we could conquer Iran with air strikes. What air power can be used for is to shape things to some extent. If you degrade the capability of a certain group, it can serve as a catalyst or there might be certain synergistic things in play.
    Striking Iran’s conventional military or general infrastructure might serve to unite the population against us. A strike against the Revolutionary Guards Quds and some other groups who are seen as the support structure for the mullahs and not seen as a defense structure of the nation could degrade their ability to keep a lid on internal strife and encourage certain elements to more activity.
    We don’t want to conquer Iran, I don’t think, so there is no sense in putting boots on the ground there. We would, however, like to encourage a change of regime or to weaken the power structure of the existing regime. That can be done with strikes of many different sorts.

  • Don Vandervelde says:

    You’re a little too reticent, Pat, Barry has the right idea. 1) We should support Irani democratic dissidents covertly and overtly, arming them where appropriate. 2) We should recognize an Iran government-in-exile and support it politically and financially, to take over when the mullahs fall. 3) We should blockade their vulnerable but vital ports controlling all imports and exports. This could be done with a few well-placed mines. 4) Should we be so lucky to be attacked in the process, there would be an air-sea war of about a week, after which we’d have complete air-sea superiority in the area. We then could pulverize their nuclear industry at leisure.
    All this can be done without involving large ground force units, using our underemployed naval battle groups and air force, at small cost in blood and treasure. We’d get the mullah’s undivided attention, and might even get a velvet revolution out of it.


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