While recent press reporting has been skeptical of the Mahdi Army’s involvement with Hezbollah and Iran, Muqtada al Sadr and members his Mahdi Army militia are openly admitting to their links with Hezbollah. In recent interviews with Britain’s The Independent, Sadr clearly and proudly admitted to working hand in hand with Lebanese Hezbollah, which is an arm of Iran’s Qods Force. “We have formal links with Hezbollah, we do exchange ideas and discuss the situation facing Shiites in both countries,” Sadr told The Independent. “It is natural that we would want to improve ourselves by learning from each other. We copy Hezbollah in the way they fight and their tactics, we teach each other and we are getting better through this.”
Sadr delivers sermon in Kufa after returning from Iran in May. [AP Photo] Click to view.
Several members of the Mahdi Army admitted to training with Hezbollah. “I was one of the experienced fighters from the Mahdi army to go for training there,” Abu Muhannad, a Mahdi Army fighter told The Independent. “We learned how to take advantage of an armored vehicle’s weakness, and how to wait and kill the soldiers who try to escape.”
The Independent claims to have conducted the interview with Sadr in Kufa, the sister city of Najaf, where Sadr “often preaches fiery Friday sermons.” Sadr, however, was last seen preaching in Kufa on May 25, after he returned from a four-month stay in Iran. Sadr has not been reported to have preached in Kufa since this incident, and the US military said Sadr returned to Iran in early July.
Hezbollah is essentially the Lebanese branch of Iran’s Qods Force. Imad Fayez Mugniyah, Hezbollah’s mastermind terrorist, is also a senior leader in Qods Force. Dr. Magnus Ranstorp, an expert on Hezbollah describes Mugniyah as standing “with one foot within Hezbollah (reporting to Nasrallah directly) and with one foot in Iran inside the architectures of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and the al-Qods unit within the Iranian Pasdaran [Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps].” Dr. Ranstorp also said “there are two Iranian representatives (from the Iranian embassy in Beirut/Damascus) that provide a direct link on matters that require strategic guidance or Iranian assistance or arbitration” to Hezbollah’s executive Shura, or council.
The US military has had proof of Hezbollah’s direct involvement with the Mahdi Army and the Iranian-backed Special Groups terror cells for several months. On July 2, Multinational Forces Iraq announced the capture of Ali Mussa Daqduq, a senior Hezbollah operative, inside Iraq. 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.
Daqduq had been operating inside Iraq for several years, and admitted to Hezbollah and Iran’s operations inside Iraq. His account is corroborated by interrogations of other Special Groups operatives and by information seized during multiple raids, including computers, diaries, and other documents. “In 2005, [Daqduq] was directed by senior Lebanese Hezbollah leadership to go to Iran and work with the Qods Force to train Iraqi extremists,” said Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner, Multinational Forces Iraq spokesman. “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.
Upon his return to Iran, Daqduq “was tasked to organize the Special Groups in ways that mirrored how Hezbollah was organized in Lebanon.” Daqduq subsequently 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.
On August 19, Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, the commanding general of Multinational Division Central, stated there are over 50 members of Iran’s Qods Force directing, facilitating, or supporting attacks in his area of operations. Lynch stated most of the Qods force operatives move through the porous border in Wasit province.
Iraqi Security Forces and Multinational Forces Iraq began to zero in on the Qods Force supported units of the Mahdi Army and the Special Groups in the spring of 2007. Hundreds of “rogue” Mahdi Army and Special Groups operatives have been captured or killed during scores of raids against these Shia terror cells after Gen. David Petraeus identified the severity of the threat of these Iranian-backed terror cells.
US and Iraqi forces conducted several major raids against the Iranian-backed Shia terror groups over the past two days. On August 20, special operations forces captured a leader of the Special Groups who also smuggles weapons, including armor-piercing EFPs, from Iran into Iraq. While conducting the raids near Qasirin, north of Baghdad, Coalition forces killed eight members of the Special Groups security team and captured two others. On August 19, Iraqi Special Forces, backed by US Special Forces advisers, killed 17 members of the Mahdi Army during two separate operations in Baghdad. Six members of the Mahdi Army were also captured during the operations against the Mahdi Army cells, which were involved in IED attacks and extrajudicial killings.
Other recent large-scale engagements against the Special Groups include a raid in Sadr City on July 2 that resulted in 30 Special Groups operatives killed and 12 captured; a June 30 raid, again in Sadr City, which resulted in 26 killed and 17 captured; and a series of raids in Maysan resulting in 20 operatives killed, six wounded, and one captured on June 18. The intensity of raids against the “rogue” Mahdi Army and Special Groups cells has increased since Operation Phantom Strike was announced. The Iranian-backed Shia cells are a main target of this operation.