The Friday, November 24 bombing of al Ghazi pet market in Baghdad was the largest attack in the capital in months. At least 15 Iraqis were killed and 56 wounded in the blast. US and Iraqi security forces now believe the attack was conducted by the Iranian-backed Special Groups and was designed to simulate an al Qaeda in Iraq attack in order to increase Shia dependency on militias.
The “ball-bearing laden bomb” was hidden inside a birdcage smuggled inside the pet market by members of the Special Groups, the US learned after capturing four members of the terror group.
“Based on subsequent confessions, forensics and other intelligence, the bombing was the work of an Iranian-backed special group cell operating here in Baghdad,” said Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, the Deputy Spokesman for Multinational Corps Iraq in a press briefing on November 25. “The group’s purpose was to make it appear al-Qaeda in Iraq was responsible for the attack. Despite killing innocent Shi’a and Sunni, the special groups aim was to demonstrate to Baghadis the need for militia groups to continue providing for their security.”
Smith was clear the evidence points directly back to the Special Groups, which are the creation of Iran’s Qods Force, the clandestine foreign operations service of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. “Special groups have been historically backed by the Iranians, the Qods forces we’ve described before,” said Smith. “The training, the equipping that goes into the ability to conduct the kind of operation that was conducted yesterday, the making of the particular kind of bomb, the forensics that we know from that particular bomb and that explosion, has the fingerprints of a special group. Therefore, again, having been facilitated through Iranian connections.”
The Special Groups cells, which “have been trained, equipped, financed, and sometimes even led by Iranian-backed groups,” are still active inside Iraq, said Smith. He also noted that it is sill unclear if Iran has ceased operations inside Iraq. “To the extent that they are conducting, and supporting, training, equipping, and funding operations today in Iraq, we need to wait and see statistically if that’s the case,” said Smith.
Major General Rick Lynch, the commander of Multinational Division Central where the Special Groups are active, recently said he believes Iran is still operating in his area of operations. “We’re really in a wait-and-see mode to see whether or not there’s specific progress. It’s something we watch all the time,” Lynch told The Associated Press.
“I’m still finding Iranian rockets and explosively formed penetrators that are traceable back to Iran,” Lynch said. “But what I can’t tell you is are these munitions that have recently been brought into Iraq or have they been here for a while. [The Qods Force and the Special Groups are] still operating in our battlespace. But I can’t say whether or not this is an increased problem or a flatline problem or a decreasing problem.”
Multinational Forces Iraq once again warned Muqtada al Sadr and the Mahdi Army to honor the ceasefire Sadr put in place in August after the Mahdi Army attacked police in Karbala during a festival, sparking outrage against Sadr’s militia. “Again, this bombing demonstrates there remain individuals who continue to ignore Muqtada al-Sadr’s pledge of a ceasefire,” said Smith. “Iraq and coalition forces will continue to capture or kill those who choose to dishonor Muqtada al-Sadr by committing these acts of indiscriminate violence against innocent Iraqis.”
In numerous press releases, Multinational Forces Iraq has repeatedly warned Sadr and the Mahdi Army to halt attacks on the Iraqi government and Iraqi and Coalition forces. Iraqi and US forces are conducting a major operation against the Mahdi Army in the southern city of Diwaniyah.
Background on Iranian influence in Iraq and the targeting of the Special Groups
Coalition forces began targeting the Iranian networks and captured senior members of Iran’s Qods Force in Baghdad in December 2006 and Irbil in January 2007. Iranian surrogates – the Qazali and Sheibani networks now collectively referred to as the Special Groups – stepped up their attacks on Iraqi and Coalition forces in January 2007.
In January 2007, the Qazali network conducted sophisticated operations against US forces at the Karbala Joint Provincial Coordination Center, kidnapping and killing five US soldiers during the aborted operation. Multinational Forces Iraq has stated Iran is behind the Karbala raid, and satellite imagery discovered a mock-up of the Karbala complex at a camp inside Iran. In March 2007, Coalition forces captured Qais Qazali, his brother Laith Qazali, and several other members of the Qazali network. Qais Qazali was a spokesperson and senior aide to Muqtada al Sadr. Coalition and Iraqi security forces have been heavily targeting these “Special Groups” and “Secret Cells” since General David Petraeus’ briefing on the Qazali and Sheibani networks on April 26.
In July, US forces captured Azhar al Dulaimi, the tactical commander behind the Karbala PJCC attack. In early September 2007, Multinational Forces Iraq announced the captured of “a highly-sought individual suspected of being an Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force” operative in Karbala.
One of the most significant captures occurred in the spring of 2007, when the US captured Ali Mussa Daqduq. Daqduq is a senior Hezbollah operative who was tasked by Iran to organize the Special Groups and “rogue” Mahdi Army cells along the lines of Lebanese Hezbollah. Documents seized during Daqduq’s capture, along with statements made during interrogations and information given by other captured Special Groups operatives confirmed Iran’s significant role in the Shia terrorist insurgency.
On September 20, Multinational Forces Iraq captured Mahmud Farhadi, an Iranian Qods Force officer in charge of the Zafr Command. Farhadi commanded one of three units subordinate to the Ramazan Corps of the Qods Force, which commands the operations in Iraq.
On October 7, General David Petraeus said the Iranian ambassador to Iraq is a Qods Force intelligence agent.
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