Iranian-backed Special Groups remain in the crosshairs

The controversy over Iran’s involvement with the Shia terror groups continues to rage in the media. Late this week, a report indicated the top leaders at Multinational Forces Iraq believe Iran has ended its support for the Shia terror groups attacking Iraqi and Coalition forces. This report was incorrect. As the debate over Iran’s involvement in Iraq’s violence continues, Coalition special forces continue to target Iranian Qods Force-backed Special Groups cell

On Jan. 3, The Washington Times reported that Colonel Steven Boylan, the spokesman for General David Petraeus said Iran’s leadership has cut off support for the Special Groups. “We are ready to confirm the excellence of the senior Iranian leadership in their pledge to stop the funding, training, equipment and resourcing of the militia special groups,” The Washington Times quoted Boylan.

Boylan immediately denied Iran has cut off support for the Special Groups. “[The Washington Times] misunderstood the context and intent of what I was saying,” Boylan said in an email conversation with The Long War Journal. He indicated Multinational Forces Iraq was prepared to recognize that Iran has assisted in reducing attacks, but evidence of this does not exist.

Boylan clarified his position on Jan. 3 in a letter written to the news outlets that carried The Washington Times report. “We do not know if there has been a decrease in the supply of Iranian weapons,” Boylan wrote. “It is not clear if Iran’s leaders stopped supplying weapons or training to extremist elements in Iraq. We hope that they have, but until we can confirm it, we are in the wait and see mode. We have seen a decrease in the attacks using four specific types of Iranian weapons. However, this should not be misunderstood as anything other than lowered levels of attacks using these specific weapons.”

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.

This position matches the assessment made by Multinational Forces Iraq in the quarterly Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq report released in mid-December. Coalition and Iraqi interdiction, and not the Iranian government, was thought to be behind the decrease in attacks. “This reduction may be attributed to effective interdiction of EFP [explosively formed projectile] networks, death or capture of EFP facilitators, seizure of caches and other factors,” the report stated.

Raids against the Special Groups occur on a near daily basis. Since Dec. 27, 2007, when Coalition forces killed 11 Special Groups fighters in the city of Al Kut, there have been six raids reported against the terror network. The Dec. 27 raid in Al Kut resulted in 11 Special Groups fighters killed. Al Kut is a strategic weapons distribution hub for the Special Groups.

Two days later, six Special Groups operatives were captured in a raid targeting a weapons trainer in the Ad Daghgharah area south of Baghdad. On New Year’s Eve, Coalition forces captured the Special Groups recruiter and weapons trainer for Karbala Province.

On Jan. 2, Coalition forces captured another Special Groups weapons trainer in the Adhamiyah district in Baghdad. The next day, US soldiers found an explosively formed penetrator cache in the Amil neighborhood in Baghdad.

There were two separate raids against Special Groups cells in Diyala province on Jan. 5. A raid in the Huwaysh area netted a Special Groups leader who acted as “an intelligence source and financial facilitator” for the province. Eight suspected associates were also detained. A second raid in the Qasarin area resulted in the capture of a financial facilitator who also planned attacks in the province.

Coalition and Iraqi forces began targeting the Iranian-backed Special Groups network in December 2006, just prior to the surge in US forces. Several Qods Forces officers, a senior Hezbollah leader, and numerous Special Groups commanders have been captured since then. Special Groups trainers have become a focus of Coalition operations since early December 2007.

For more information of the Special Groups and Iran’s role in the Iraqi insurgency, see Iran’s Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq and Targeting the Iranian “Secret Cells.”

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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  • Neo says:

    At some point Iran will have to ask the question: Does continuing support for armed Shiite groups within Iraq help or hurt Iranian interests? If they think that they still can destabilize the Iraqi regime than they might find use in continuing their efforts. However, if the Iraqi regime is likely to survive regardless of Iranian efforts than continued violence becomes increasingly counterproductive. Right now, Iran is only succeeding in driving a wedge between the current Iraqi administration and itself.
    The Iraqi people want stability more than anything else. The Iranians are an impediment to stability. No one should assume that because both countries are Shiite that they automatically will end up on friendly terms or the Iraq will fall into Iran’s orbit. Right now the Iranians are acting on the presumption that southern Iraq will continue to tolerate the reckless actions of these militia groups. I think that presumption is wearing a bit thin.
    There might even come a point where it makes more sense for the Iranians to engage the Iraqi regime constructively. If indeed the Iranian regime is capable of that, and can act rationally in their own national interests.

  • AMac says:

    12/27/07 — Amarah — 11 SG fighters killed
    12/27/07 — al Kut — 11 SG fighters killed
    12/29/07 — Ad Daghgharah — 6 SG operatives captured
    12/31/07 — Karbala — SG recruiter/trainer captured
    1/2/08 — Adhamiyah — SG trainer captured
    1/5/08 — Huwaysh — SG intel source/facilitator & 8 assocs captured
    1/5/08 — Qasarin — SG financier/facilitator captured
    Is there any way of knowing more about these forty individuals? Are any Iranian nationals? Ethnic Persians? Native Farsi speakers? Do some have records of residing in Iran, training or association with Hezbollah? With al-Quds?
    The absence of curiosity about such questions by most media outlets might suggest that there is some there there.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    I’ve inquired about this in the past. MNF-I has been explicit when it believes it has captured Iranian operatives (and even a Lebanese Hezbollah operative). I suspect there would be some difficulty identifying some Iranian infiltrators, but am not aware of large percentages of these captures being Iranians.
    The footsoldiers and lower and mid-level commanders are Iraqis. I’ve been told the Iranians are using a “train the trainer” model. So Iraqis are brought over to Iran or to training centers in Iraq, given weapons training on EFPs, IEDs, mortars, rockets, etc., and then these trainers pass on the knowledge. MNF-I is trying to block this, hence the focus on trainers the past month or so.

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