US kills 25 Special Groups fighters in Diyala

Coalition special operations forces continue to attack the Iranian-backed Special Groups operating inside Iraq with the same ferocity as it attacks al Qaeda. Twenty-five Special Groups fighters were killed during an engagement northwest of Baqubah this morning during a raid on a Special Groups leader.

Coalition forces called in an airstrike on a building after taking “heavy fire from a group of armed men fighting from defensive positions.” Special Groups fighters attacked Coalition forces with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades. Coalitions forces spotted what appeared to be a fighter “carrying what appeared to be an anti-aircraft weapon.” At least 25 terrorists are believed to have been killed in the airstrike. The engagement took place in a village near Khalis, a US military officer told The Long War Journal.

“Coalition forces were targeting a Special Groups commander believed to be associated with members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard – Qods Force,” Multinational Forces Iraq reported. “Intelligence indicates that he was responsible for facilitating criminal activity and is involved in the movement of various weapons from Iran to Baghdad.”

Multinational Forces Iraq has gained a clearer picture on the Qods Force supported Special Groups command structure in Iraq after the capture of Mahmud Farhadi on September 20. Farhadi has been positively identified as the Qods Force commander of the Zafr Command, one of the three region units subordinate to the Ramazan Corps.

The Ramazan Corps is “responsible for most of the Qods Force operations in Iraq,” Major General Kevin Bergner, the spokesman for Multinational Forces Iraq said in a briefing. The Zafr Command runs operations “in north-central Iraq.” It is unclear if the Baqubah region falls under the Zafr Command. The likelihood, however, is the commands consist of the following:

North-Central: Irbil, Tamin, Sulimaniyah, and Diyala provinces

Central: Provinces of Baghdad, Karbala, Babil, and Wasit provinces

Southern: Basra, Misan, and Dhi Qhar provinces

As the intelligence picture of the Special Groups becomes clearer, Multinational Forces Iraq has gone some distance to separate Muqtada al Sadr and his Mahdi Army from the Special Groups and Iran. The Special Groups encompasses a significant element of Sadr’s Mahdi Army, as over 3,000 Mahdi fighters have been trained, armed, and equipped by Iran. Multinational Forces Iraq also refers to Mahdi Army fighters that break the Sadr-ordered cease-fire as “rogue.”

But Multinational Forces Iraq has made repeated warnings to Sadr that his militia are on a short leash. Today’s press release contained a not-so-subtle warning to Sadr and his militia to keep the peace:

“We continue to support the Government of Iraq in welcoming the commitment by Muqtada al-Sadr to stop attacks and we will continue to show restraint in dealing with those who honor his pledge. We will not show the same restraint against those criminals who dishonor this pledge by attacking security forces and Iraqi citizens,” said Maj. Anton Alston, MNF-I spokesman. “Coalition forces will take the necessary action against these criminals to protect the Iraqi people against future terrorist acts.”

On September 19, Multinational Forces Iraq issued a press release specifically aimed at Sadr:

We continue to support the Government of Iraq in welcoming the commitment by Muqtada al-Sadr to stop attacks and we will continue to show restraint in dealing with those who honor his pledge.

We will not show the same restraint in dealing with criminals who dishonor his pledge by attacking security forces and Iraqi citizens. Coalition forces will take the actions necessary against these criminals to protect the Iraqi people against future terrorist acts.

By mentioning Sadr and the Mahdi Army in the same breath in a press release on the killing of 25 Special Groups fighter, Multinational Forces Iraq is reminding Sadr the US recognizes the link between the two groups still exists. The mention of Sadr and his Mahdi Army is fair warning that the distinctions made between the Special Groups and his militia can be lifted at any time.

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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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