Mahdi Army trains with Hezbollah

Qods Force logo, click to view.

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.

Imad Fayez Mugniyah

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.

Ali Mussa Daqduq, click to view.

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.

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

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.

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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15 Comments

  • lefty says:

    “Hi, my name is Muqtada al Sadr, and I am a terrorist. Me and my cultist henchman scheme terrorist acts along with that other terrorist group of thugs, Hezbollah. Their terrorism and our terrorism are one.”

  • Evan says:

    How the hell is the State Dept. going to ignore this one – can’t wait to find out! When oh when are we going to take out the Mullahs…this is a sad comedy (tragic farce).

  • Fat Man says:

    IIRC, Nasrallah, the face of Hezbollah, was a disciple of Mookie’s old man.

  • B.A.Hokom says:

    First of all, up to and until the invasion by the U.S forces, wasn’t Sadr playing video games in arcades? The “Mahdi Army” is nothing more than a gang of criminals, murderers and thugs that Saddam had locked up in Iraqi prisons, whom after Saddams fall gravitated to Sadr, who has no religious credentials to be a mullah or much of anything else. I see his trips to Iran as a two prong advancement for himself to learn the way and become baptised as a mullah and also to train his misfits into a fighting force, mimicking Irans proxy in Lebanon with Hezb. only now for Iraq. We should sniper him out quickly.

  • Evan says:

    I think it is safe to say the US is now at a crossroads with this blatant admission of what everyone already knew anyway (on days like this I feel bad for guys like Michael Ledeen who have been screaming about it since before the invasion of Iraq). It is now very understandable why Maliki would be visiting Tehran and vieing for his endorsement from The Grand Ayatollah – the simple calculation is that for the welfare of his nation he simply has no choice. He sees that the US committment is most likely limited to whack-a-mole against “Special Groups”, Mahdi Army, Qods, IRGC and knows it is just not sufficient. Even if we killed 500 Iranian affiliates a month, it is a drop in the bucket. Whereas AQI could be worn down in such a way, we are now fighting a state-backed entity with huge manpower reserves and deep finances. The second we decrease our presence, the Iranians will buy the Iraqis in the GoI and IA they need to buy, kill/intimidate the ones they can’t (started already with assassinations) and get the coup that they want.
    We are indeed at a crossroads. It is simply coming down to two hard choices (which wouldn’t have been the case had we acknowledged and acted on the regional dimensions years ago) – fight or flight. It isn’t fair to keep troops in a country when a foreign power can all but kill them at will with no fear of real reprisal. We either need to put an end to it by:
    1) Fomenting a revolution in Iran (most preferable).
    2) Taking out the Mullahs ourselves and crippling their military capacity (not preferable, as it may turn Joe Iranian against us).
    3) Making a grand bargain where we let Iran have their nukes for a pass in Iraq (short-term gain for long-term pain)
    4) Slog on in Iraq in large numbers for years until the IA is proficient and loyal enough to a strong enough central government to deal with Iranian influence themselves (doable, but not with our happy feet Congress)
    5) Declare victory (at least against AQI) and get out (disaster).
    Except for #1, all very ugly. Due to our intertwining of nuke and Iraq policy vis-a-vis Iran (still trying diplomatically to win concessions) #1 is in reality off the table for the foreseeable future (until State throws in the towel officially).

  • Evan says:

    B.A. Hokom –
    You underestimate the depth of this problem. Hassan Nasrallah and Al Sadr are cousins. Iran is building Hezbollah in Iraq (we might as well start calling Mahdi Army (HI).

  • section9 says:

    That’s the problem with the Mahdi Army. The Iranians want to build up the local Hez so they can harass us.

    What Petraeus is doing is beginning degredation operations against Sadr. Will it work? Unknown.

    The Iranians want a weak, pliant Iraq on their western frontier. The only way they can do that is to foment chaos. We know this, despite the criticism that the State Dept. gets from people who should know better.

    The Iranians see this as a duplication of Israel’s situation in Lebanon, and are using the same tactics. They have gulled Sadr into thinking that he can be the next Hassan Nasrallah.

    Long term, the only solution is to have the rest of the Shi’a turn on the Mahdhis as Persian stooges, which is what I think we’re trying to do. Malaki pointedly left the Sadrists out of his new coalition, so it may be beginning to take.

  • TS Alfabet says:

    Evan,
    another option (or variation) is to put major pressure on the Saudis to increase oil production to bring down the price of oil to the point where Iran’s economy collapses completely, at which point the Iranian people overthrow the mullahs and we have a free hand to take out the IRG and their nuke program.
    Of course we could bring down the price of oil ourselves if we would announce plans to start drilling in the huge fields discovered in the Gulf of Mexico, off of California and in Alaska, but we have a bit of a political suicide-pact there, so not likely.

  • TS Alfabet says:

    Bill/DJ,
    are we getting close to starting clearing operations in Sadr City? I know that is a huge undertaking but perhaps some U.S. forces are getting freed up with AQI on the run?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    No indicators of it.
    Suspect they are sequencing ops.
    Eliminate one group at a time while interdicting or spliting off the others.
    – AQ is current target for elimination.
    – JAM is target for interdiction/spliting/discrediting.
    – Nationalists (e.g. 1920s) targeted for spliting off from the extremist AQ/JAM.
    Surge has some time to go and they are not going to divert forces prematurely. Although JAM is getting more attention as MND-C moves farther south and SOF increases raids…

  • David M says:

    Trackbacked by The Thunder Run – Web Reconnaissance for 08/21/2007
    A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day…so check back often.

  • Marlin says:

    This is an interesting development.
    ——————————–
    Meanwhile Sheikh Ahmed al-Shibani, the official spokesman for al-Sadr’s office in Najaf, denied that Sadr had given an interview to the British newspaper The Independent on Monday.
    “The interview published by the paper was fabricated and groundless. His Eminence (Sadr) has never granted this paper any interviews,” Shibani told VOI by telephone.
    “We will sue any newspaper, TV station or web site that publishes fabricated news about His Eminence Muqtada al-Sadr or his office,” affirmed Shibani.
    Aswat al Iraq: Sadr reiterates calls for foreign troop exit from Iraq

  • hamidreza says:

    Sadr can play a “useful idiot” role here. Mahdi is attacking its rivals and there is an internal power struggle among the Shias. This all works to the benefit of Iraqis. Let the Iraqis see the true face of their “leaders”.
    US should provide detailed evidence of Iranian involvement in Iraq to the press, complete with an ultimatum that the economic infrastructure and IRGC infrastructure (but not the military) within Iran is slated for bombardment. This would include refinaries, power generation stations, substations, oil and gas pipelines, dams, transmission lines, and any facility linked to the nuclear bomb making program. Civilian casualties must be minimized.
    If this does not stop Qods sending EFPs to Iraq and give them reason to cease, then the IRGC and mollas will come under bombardment. This would destroy the economic infrastructure and will make Iranians put the blame on the mollas for destroying the country, resulting in a military coup in Tehran. The coup can be bloody and the US should be prepared to send special forces inside Iran.

  • When Sadr says he wants foreign forces out of Iraq I am presuming that doesn’t including Iranian ones.

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