Iran undermines Iraq’s Awakening movement

Qods Force logo, click to view.

US and Iraqi security forces continue to pressure the Iranian-backed Shia terror cells even after Muqtada al Sadr’s extension of the Mahdi Army’s unilateral cease-fire. Today, Baghdad’s chief intelligence officer said Iran is working to destroy the Awakening movements, while raids against the Special Groups terror cells have not abated.

The latest charge leveled against Iran is that Qods Force, the special operations branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, is working to destroy the Awakening movements that oppose al Qaeda and Shia terrorist groups. Mohammed Abdullah Shahwani, the director of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, accused Iran of sabotaging the Awakening, or Sahwa, movements. The Awakening movement and associated Sons of Iraq (formerly the Concerned Local Citizens) movements have been instrumental in securing vast regions of Iraq during the past year.

“We have information confirming that Iranian secret services have sent agents to sabotage the Sahwa experience in Iraq,” Shahwani said in a press release issued today. Shahwani is a Kurd who served as a brigadier general in a Republican Guard unit under the regime of Saddam Hussein. Shahwani later organized efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Several days ago, an unnamed senior Iraqi intelligence officer told Al Hayat that Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed terror group, was behind the initial formation of the Mahdi Army. Imad Mugniyah, who was killed in Syria on Feb. 12, was reported to have recruited and trained Mahdi fighters in Lebanon. The US has also linked Hezbollah to the formation of the Special Groups after the capture of a senior Hezbollah/Qods Force officer in Iraq in early 2007.

Both the Mahdi Army and the offshoot Special Groups cells have clashed with Shia members of the Awakening and Sons of Iraq movements. Special Groups cells have attack Awakening and Sons of Iraq checkpoints and murder and kidnapped members. The Mahdi Army has waged an aggressive campaign to prevent the formation of Awakening movements.

While Iraqi intelligence pointed the finger at Iran for attacking the Awakening and Sons of Iraq movements, US and Iraqi forces continue to target the Special Groups cells. Since Sadr declared the cease-fire on Feb. 22, there have been 11 raids against the Special Groups cells.

The most significant raid netted a yet-to-be-named senior Special Groups commander. Coalition forces captured a senior regional Special Groups finance facilitator and six associates during a raid in Suwayrah on Feb. 25. “The targeted individual was reportedly a finance leader for Iranian-affiliated Special Groups criminals and militias in Iraq’s southern provinces to include Najaf, Karbala, Babil, Wasit and Qadisiyah,” Multinational Forces Iraq noted in a press release.

The Special Groups financier also doubled as “a mortar and rocket specialist who had trained in Iran.” He served as a weapons trainer who conducted attacks with the deadly, armor-piercing explosively formed penetrator mines against Coalition and Iraqi troops.

Multinational Forces Iraq began targeting Special Groups weapons trainers during the fall of 2007 after knowledge of the Shia terror cells expanded. “Iran has adopted a ‘train the trainer’ model to facilitate attacks in Iraq,” a senior US military officer serving in Iraq told who wishes to remain anonymous told The Long War Journal. Weapons trainers are instructed by the Iranian military, and then sent into Iraq to conduct attacks and disseminate knowledge to their cells.

Other recent raids against the Special Groups include:

Feb. 27: Coalition forces captured a Special Groups operative involved in attacks on Iraqi and Coalition forces during a raid in Baghdad.

Feb. 25: US soldiers detained an editor of Al Forat, a prominent Shiite-run television station, and his son for supporting Special groups operations. Al Forat is run by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Feb. 24: US troops captured a Special Groups leader and several operatives during raids in the Sha’ab neighborhood in Baghdad. “The detainees were captured with components of explosively formed projectiles,” Multinational Forces Iraq reported. “The components were allegedly imported from neighboring countries.”

Feb. 22: Coalition forces captured a weapons facilitator in the Sha’ab neighborhood in Baghdad.

Feb. 22: Coalition forces captured a Special Groups intelligence operative who supported attacks against Iraqi security forces and Coalition forces.

Feb. 22: US soldiers captured two Special Groups operatives during a raid near Sabaa al Bour, northwest of Baghdad.

Feb. 22: Iraqi troops killed Saad Rashid, a key Mahdi Army commander, during a confrontation during a patrol in Baghdad

Feb. 21: US soldiers detained a Special Groups operative involved with EFP attacks in Sabaa al Bour, northwest of Baghdad.

Feb. 21: US forces detained 19 Special Groups operatives in the Sha’ab neighborhood. Iraqi residents identified the Special Groups operatives during the raids.

Feb. 19: US soldiers captured a Special Groups cell leader in the Rashid district of Baghdad.

For more information on the Special Groups and Iran’s role in the Iraqi insurgency, see:

Iran’s Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq

Targeting the Iranian “Secret Cells.”

For more information on recent operations against the Special Groups and Sadr’s extension of the cease-fire, see:

Report: Sadr to extend cease-fire

Pressure on Sadr and the Iranian-backed Special Groups continues

Special Groups behind Sadr City bombing

Iranian-Backed Terror Cells Still Active in Iraq

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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  • KW64 says:

    If the general Shia population becomes convinced that Iran is sabotaging an awakening movement that was key to reducing sectarian violence, it is hard to see a pro-Iranian element winning fair elections.

  • Mark Pyruz says:

    Bill, the logo provided is actually that of the Pasdaran (IRGC). Note the similarity to Hezbollah. The Pasdaran assault rifle image sports a straight clip, like an Iranian standard issue HK G3, while the Hezbollah rifle image features a curved clip, like an AK-47.
    It should be pointed out that Shia elements of the Iraqi government, including PM Maliki, have expressed displeasure at the fact that Sunni groups such as the “Awakening” are being armed and financed by the US. Also, the mayor of Tehran was in Baghdad today on a diplomatic visit, and Ahmadinejad will be visiting there on May 2. As has happened in the past, the occasion may be marked by further security agreements signed between the governments of Iraq and Iran.

  • Neo says:

    FYI, the Awakening is not armed by US forces. They supply their own weapons. How many times does that need to be explained. They are financed by both US forces and the Iraqi government. Yes, the Iraqi government has been reluctant to pick up these groups especially in Diyala province. It’s also true that the Shiite’s don’t trust the Awakening groups either the US tries to keep them on a fairly short leash for just that reason.
    Why do people that should know better by now keep repeating that the US is arming the Awakening groups when it has been openly refuted over and over. It’s almost like some people are trying to will it into being true. Disinformation!

  • Mark Pyruz says:

    Thanks for pointing that out, Neo.
    I would just like to ask, where does the financial support for arming these Sunni groups come from? The weapons appear new. And the Shia dominated Iraqi government is not at all happy these groups have recently been empowered as such.
    It is a very complicated arrangement, the arming and financing of these Sunni groups. And it represents a very short term solution that could eventually backfire in a spectacular way, given any change to US policy concerning continued payment of tribute to these groups, or any reduction in size to the US military occupation of Iraq.

  • Neo says:

    “where does the financial support for arming these Sunni groups come from? The weapons appear new.”

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