Iraq: 11 Special Groups operatives killed in Al Kut

US and Iraq forces continue to target the Iranian-backed Special Groups in southern and central Iraq. The latest raid in Al Kut in Wasit province resulted in 11 Special Groups fighters killed, Multinational Forces Iraq reported. Al Kut, a logistical hub for the Special Groups and center of power for Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army, has seen an uptick in activity over the past two weeks.

Today’s raid in Al Kut targeted “a Special Groups criminal element member reportedly responsible for attacks against Coalition forces and supporters of Coalition forces” who “was also reportedly an associate of criminal element leaders involved in attacks on Coalition forces.”

Coalition Special Forces teams, likely the hunter-killer teams of Task Force 88, took fire as they approached the objective, “returned fire, and called for supporting aircraft to engage.” Multinational Forces Iraq estimated 11 Special Groups fighters were killed in the strike.

The Iraqi Army has been reported to have moved into Al Kut in force, according to Voices of Iraq. Muqtada al Sadr’s office in Al Kut stated US forces fought the Mahdi Army in the city, and four Mahdi fighters were killed and three wounded.

The incident highlights the fractured nature of the Mahdi Army, and the interconnectedness of Mahdi Army forces and Iran’s Qods Force that supports Sadr and elements of his Mahdi Army. The Special Groups are made up of elements of Sadr’s Mahdi Army, which trains, arms, and funds the attacks inside Iraq. Sadr called for a cease-fire after fighting in Najaf resulted in more than 50 dead during a religious festival.

Multinational Forces Iraq has repeatedly offered Sadr and his Mahdi Army an outlet to end the fighting and joint the political process. In the Multinational Forces Iraq press release on the incident, Major Winfield Danielson pointed to Sadr’s cease-fire while warning the “criminal elements” that they would be pursued. “We commend all those who honor al-Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr’s ceasefire pledge,” said Danielson. “Significant progress has been made in the fight for a secure and stable Iraq, but dangerous criminal elements still exist.” A similar warning follows every press release where Special Groups forces are targeted.

Flash Presentation on the Ramazan Corps and the Iranian Ratlines into Iraq. Click the map to view. A Flash Player is required to view, click to download.

Al Kut is known to be a strategic distribution hub for the Special Groups supply lines from Iran into Iraq. Weapons, such as the deadly explosively formed penetrator land mines, rockets, and mortars are stored by the Special Groups in Al Kut and other cities, to be pushed forward to tactical depots to be used in attacks in Baghdad and the Shia South.

US and Iraqi forces clearly have been targeting the Special Groups networks in Al Kut for the past two weeks. Today’s engagement was the fourth such raid since December 18. On that date, elements of the 8th Iraqi Army Division captured an improvised explosive device cell leader during a raid in the city. “The suspect, reported to be a leader within the Office of the Martyr Sadr in An Nasiriyah, is allegedly linked to illegal armed groups in the area and conducts and facilitates IED attacks specifically targeting Iraqi Security Forces and Coalition Forces throughout Wasit Province,” Multinational Forces Iraq reported in a press release.

Coalition forces captured three Special Groups fighters during an operation in Al Kut on December 23. The target of the raid was a “senior-level Special Groups criminal element leader” who planned explosively formed penetrator attacks in Wasit province, as well as a leader of a death squad. It is unknown if the Special Groups leader was captured in the raid.

The next day, Coalition forces killed two Special Groups operatives and captured two during a raid in Al Kut. Coalition forces sought to capture a “Special Groups leader responsible for attacks against Coalition forces and its supporters” who “received training on urban combat tactics and explosives, including Explosively Formed Penetrators (EFP) and Improvised Explosive Devices (IED).”

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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  • Marlin says:

    There was good news today against al Qaeda in Iraq as well.
    The Iraqi army captured a senior al Qaeda militant in a clash south of Baghdad on Thursday, a government security spokesman said.
    Baghdad security spokesman Qassim al-Moussawi said the militant, Ahmed Turki Abbas, claimed the rank of defence minister of the al Qaeda-linked group Islamic State of Iraq.
    Moussawi said Abbas was lightly wounded and was in the custody of Iraqi forces after being captured in the clash near the town of Mahmudiya, 30 km (20 miles) south of Baghdad.
    Reuters: Iraq says captures senior al Qaeda figure

  • When I wrote that Pakistan was in a bad way compared to Iraq, I did not expect this

    When I wrote this, I did not expect Benazir Bhutto to be shot to death. NPR has almost panoramic (and bordering on hagiographic) coverage here.
    Unfortunately, in such situations misery loves comedy, or comedic fatuousness by repoters. On particularly …

  • Neo says:

    I have been waiting for this for about two months. This is a lot bigger deal than most readers realize. There are lot of other developments waiting for more security in western and central Wasit province. If Sadr’s operations in central Iraq had a neck, it’s right here in central Wasit. Grab hold and squeeze the life out.
    Normally, I would think a strategic move like this would get a lot more resistance. I think Sadr realizes that the political route is the most viable for him. Maybe being the figurehead on someone else’s resistance movement doesn’t suit Sadr much either. Either way he seems to be letting the Iranian operations within his organization die a slow death. It may also be true that the Iranians are coming to the conclusion that keeping Sadr politically viable may be their best bet and armed operations are becoming a delaying tactic. In that case they will keep insurgent pressure up but won’t risk further escalation.
    In any case I expect a good amount of squirming and kicking as we strangle their operations in Wasit.

  • Boss429 says:

    Did I miss something in there? Were the 11 killed Iranian nationals or Iranian supported Iraqis? The link at InstaPundit gives the impression they were Iranian nationals.

  • Sean says:

    I’m pretty sure the Special Groups forces are Iraqis, not Iranian. Iranian trained, but still Iraqi.
    The article is written a little vaguely (although it does state explicitly way down in the meat that the SG are Mahdi army), potentially leaving a casual reader with the impression that these were Iranian soldiers.
    Insty probably just skimmed…

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Boss, Sean,
    The Special Groups are Iraqis trained, equipped, etc. by Iran’s Qods Force / Ramazan Corps. While we have killed or captured Iranian Qods agents (and a senior Hezbollah operative) in Iraq, none of the 11 killed in this incident appear to be Iranian.
    I may be guilty of being too far into the weeds on this issue, I’ve written extensively on the Special Groups / Iranian activities in Iraq and may take the point that the members are largely Iraqi for granted.

  • Sean says:

    I personally thought it was pretty clear. But the fact that Instapundit was able to misread it, probably means that other fast-skimmers might as well.
    It’s all very confusing, too.
    But I think you’re doing a great job, as always.

  • ajacksonian says:

    This is sounding to be part of the breakdown of the criminal networks supporting Sadr, starting with the Kazali take-downs this MAR-APR, plus another affiliate network. Its almost as if someone is putting a criminal dossier together on Sadr and asking him to stop now… before he ends up in court.
    I am almost certainly wrong on that, as COIN does go after similar for the same reasons… still… announcements like that sound like ‘preparing the ground’ for a different avenue to be opened up as all of this is going on after the stand up of the CCC and law enforcement. Especially if they are quite *public* announcements meant to remove public sympathy, what little he has left. Wouldn’t that be fun?

  • Neo says:

    I probably contributed to the confusion when I loosely referred to Special Operations groups as “Iranian operations”

  • Boss429 says:

    Thx Bill & Sean…I read the article 3 times looking for 11 dead Iranian spec-ops. I know I can miss things the first time around, but on the third try my lips move while I read. Glenn Reynolds updated, which reassured me I’m not losing what I have left of my mind.

  • One of these mooks was the 20,000th terrorist killed in Iraq. Public holiday, anyone?


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