Mugniyah behind establishment of Mahdi Army

Imad Fayez Mugniyah

Imad Mugniyah, the senior Hezbollah military commander who was killed in Syria earlier this month, helped form the Mahdi Army, the military wing of the radical Iraqi Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr, according to an Iraqi intelligence official. He was described as a “co-founder” of the Mahdi Army, Naharnet reported, based on a translation from the Iraqi daily Al Zaman.

Mugniyah helped form the Mahdi Army after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in April 2003. He recruited from the Shia communities in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and then sent the recruits to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley for training. “The 300 fighters were trained on the use of assault rifles, booby-trapping and kidnapping operations,” the unnamed intelligence official told Al Zaman.

Qassem Suleimani, the commander of Qods Force. Click image to view.

Once in Lebanon, the Mahdi Army recruits were sent to bases run by Brigadier General Qassem Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s Qods Force, the foreign special operations branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. Hezbollah operates numerous bases in the Bekaa Valley, under the supervision of Syrian intelligence.

The links between Hezbollah and the Mahdi Army are not new. Mahdi Army fighters have admitted to training in inside Lebanon with Hezbollah, while Muqtada al Sadr also admitted his forces trained with Hezbollah and mirrored their tactics.

“We have formal links with Hezbollah, we do exchange ideas and discuss the situation facing Shiites in both countries,” Sadr told The Independent in August 2007. “It is natural that we would want to improve ourselves by learning from each other. We copy Hezbollah in the way they fight and their tactics, we teach each other and we are getting better through this.” Sadr also said his fighters trained in Lebanon while the Mahdi Army leadership conferred with Hezbollah over Israel’s plans in the Middle East.

Hezbollah is essentially the Lebanese branch of Iran’s Qods Force. Mugniyah was Hezbollah’s mastermind terrorist and also a senior leader in Qods Force. Dr. Magnus Ranstorp, an expert on Hezbollah describesd Mugniyah as standing “with one foot within Hezbollah (reporting to Nasrallah directly) and with one foot in Iran inside the architectures of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) and the al-Qods unit within the Iranian Pasdaran [Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps].” Dr. Ranstorp also said, “there are two Iranian representatives (from the Iranian embassy in Beirut/Damascus) that provide a direct link on matters that require strategic guidance or Iranian assistance or arbitration” to Hezbollah’s executive Shura, or council.

The US military had proof of Hezbollah’s direct involvement with the Mahdi Army and the Iranian-backed Special Groups terror cells since early 2007. On July 2, 2007, Multinational Forces Iraq announced the capture of Ali Mussa Daqduq, a senior Hezbollah operative, inside Iraq. Daqduq was a 24-year veteran of Hezbollah, who has commanded both a Hezbollah special operations unit and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s security detail.

Daqduq had been operating inside Iraq for several years, and admitted to Hezbollah and Iran’s operations inside Iraq. His account is corroborated by interrogations of other Special Groups operatives and by information seized during multiple raids, including computers, diaries, and other documents. “In 2005, [Daqduq] was directed by senior Lebanese Hezbollah leadership to go to Iran and work with the Qods Force to train Iraqi extremists,” said Brigadier General Kevin Bergner, Multinational Forces Iraq spokesman, during a briefing in July 2007. “In May 2006, he traveled to Tehran with Yussef Hashim, a fellow Lebanese Hezbollah and head of their operations in Iraq. They met with the Commander and Deputy Commander of the Iranian Qods Force Special External Operations.” Daqduq made four trips into Iraq in 2006, where he observed the Special Groups operations.

Ali Mussa Daqduq, click to view.

Upon his return to Iran, Daqduq “was tasked to organize the Special Groups in ways that mirrored how Hezbollah was organized in Lebanon.” Daqduq subsequently began to train Iraqis inside Iran. Groups of 20 to 60 recruits were trained in the use of explosively formed penetrators (EFPs), mortars, rockets, and sniper rifles, and instructed on how to conduct intelligence and kidnapping operations.

Mugniyah’s involvement with the establishment of the Mahdi Army is a natural fit. He was at the forefront of the establishment of Hezbollah as a major force in Lebanon, then orchestrated numerous terror attacks across the globe. He began his career in terrorism in the 1970s with Force 17, the personal bodyguard detachment for Yassar Arafat, and later joined Hezbollah and quickly rose through the ranks.

His more infamous terror attacks include the April 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Beirut, killing 63; the October 1983 simultaneous truck bombings on the US Marine and French paratrooper barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Marines and 58 French soldiers; the hijacking of TWA 847; the kidnappings and murders of US military, intelligence and diplomatic personnel in Beirut; the bombing of the Israeli embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1992, killing 29 people; the bombing of a Jewish cultural center in 1994, killing 86 people. He is suspected of direct involvement in the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 US servicemen. He was also behind the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers in northern Israel, the event that triggered the Israel-Hezbollah War in July 2006.

Mugniyah was directly linked to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and former al Qaeda in Iraq commander Abu Musab al Zarqawi. Mugniyah was on the FBI’s list of 22 most wanted terrorists, with a $5 million dollar reward for information leading to his capture. US Special Forces aborted a raid to capture Mugniyah in the Persian Gulf in 1996. He was believed to have visited Syria in January 2006 to attend a meeting with Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Assad.

Mugniyah very likely played a support role in al Qaeda’s Sept. 11 attacks on the US. The 9/11 Commission Report was explicit about Iran’s connections with al Qaeda. “The relationship between al Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shia divisions did not necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist operations.” Contacts between Iran, Hezbollah, and al Qaeda were established in Sudan in the early 1990s. “Al Qaeda members received advice and training from Hezbollah,” according the 9/11 Commission Report. Many of al Qaeda’s Sept. 11 hijackers transited through Iran. “After 9/11, Iran and Hezbollah wished to conceal any past evidence of cooperation with Sunni terrorists associated with al Qaeda.”

For more information on Mugniyah’s role with the Mahdi Army and the Special Groups, see Mahdi Army trains with Hezbollah. 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 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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  • KW64 says:

    The war on terror will be a “long war” indeed if the current Iranian government is left around to fund and facilitate the terrorists.

  • Mark Pyruz says:

    “Hezbollah is essentially the Lebanese branch of Iran’s Qods Force.”–Boll Roggio
    This the second time I’ve seen this statement expressed on LWJ. Again, it is wildly simplistic, for both Hezbollah and Iran’s Qods Force. Hezbollah is a very large sized social and political force in Lebanon. By comparison, the military wing is small. While Hezbollah benefits from many forms of Iranian assistance, it is not an outright extension of Iran. The second reference in the statement, “Iran’s Qods Force”, is used in a misleading manner. Perhaps you could clarify this for us, Bill. Specifically, are you identifying “Iran’s Qods Force” as a form of Iranian Special Forces? If so, it really seems improbable that a relatively small Special Forces operation would be directly engaged in the massive social service undertaking that is carried out daily in Lebanon by Hezbollah. Wouldn’t you agree?
    Also improbable are many of the claims made in the referred article by an unnamed “Iraqi intelligence official”. Where is the actual evidence? Honestly, while the Mehdi Army would like to somehow emulate the social and military successes of Hezbollah, it has a long way to go to actually get there.
    One qualified opinion recently expressed is that Mugniyah was a liaison between the Pasdaran and the military wing of Hezbollah. That opinion goes on to state that the successful bombings of the French and USMC military bases in 1983 were actually Pasdaran operations, and that many of the claimed successes for Muqniyah are, in fact, simplistic constructions.

  • rob says:

    this article was very good till it got to the end and linked a hezbollah great to bin laden’s al Qaeda then it lost all credibility. any half imformed person would know very well the al Qaeda and hezbollah do not work together let alone even get along!!

  • B.A. Hokom says:

    Here’s my view-
    Iran has been building a web of terrorists around the world for the past 26 years. Their intentions have been overtly obvious to the west for some time. As sick as it may sound, an event such as 9/11 was the catalyst or wake-up call for all western nations. The Iraq war was two-fold, create a front against the extremists (Iran) and remove an enemy from power, in all likelyhood if the United States did not invade Iraq…Iran was poised to do it, which is why Hezbolla and Mugniyah were brought into the arena…Al Qaeda got played by Iran to initiate the sectarian divide. Iran knew the Golden Mosque was a target long before it was hit, they organized it. What Iran did not count on was the arrival of Petraus and Bush’s will to stay the course, they fuled the media while pretending to be nice with clean hands, all the while trying to take advantage of the disaray to advance their nuclear ambitions. The systematic illimination of top terrorists linked to Iran will continue, the United States is at war with Iran, neither side wanting to declare it or commit to it.
    Iran will not be able to adjust quick enough, they are spending too much “oil” money to maintain an extremely long food chain for their networks. High oil prices play right into the plan of the United States. If and When Iran decides to turn up the heat a sharp rise in oil prices will ensue, but it will be short lived. When prices drop drastically by this fall Iran will collapse like an old rotten tree, and they know it, which is why they are hedging for a turn-around in Iraq and trying to build the bomb ASAP. Sadr, is a duck in the pond who’s importance 6 years ago was playing video games to pass the time, he’s the son-in-law.
    Regards, B.A. Hokom

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Go read the 9-11 Commission Report and get back to us. It is clear about Iran’s links with al qaeda and 9-11. Your statement that al Qaeda and Iran couldn’t cooperate EVER because one is Shia and the other Sunni has been repeatedly been proven false. What you choose to believe is entirely up to you.
    You are free to believe that Hezbollah is an indigenous Lebanese political movement merely receiving financial support from Iran, but that is overly simplistic. I’m quite aware of your argument. It’s very common. Hezbollah is fully funded and support by Iran. Hezbollah is part of Iran’s plan to spread its revolution throughout the Islamic world. This is no big secret. Senior Hezbollah commanders are also Qods Force officers. After the Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006, Iran invested over $1 billion to rebuild, all of the funds were sent through Hezbollah.
    Perhaps you missed Sadr’s statements last year about the Mahdi Army operating closely with Hezbollah, or Daqduq’s interrogation where he said he was directed by Nasrallah to go to Iran and assist in building the Special Groups along the lines of Hezbollah, or statements made by Mahdi Army fighters that said they were trained in Lebanon by Hezbollah…. It’s all in the entry so I’m not going to rehash it here.

  • AQI Losses says:

    I also was going to say, that it seems you haven’t read the bipartisan 9-11 commission report, but Bill beat me to the punch.
    Also, I came across this article you may want to read.
    I found this part directly related to your issue.
     Al Qaeda’s Iran branch has worked closely in helping to establish the group in Iraq. The late founder of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, had multiple meetings with Mr. Adel after 2001. In the past year, the multinational Iraq command force has intercepted at least 10 couriers with instructions from the Iran-based Shura Majlis. In addition, two senior leaders of Al Qaeda captured in 2006 have shared details of the Shura Majlis in Iran.
    “We know that there were two Al Qaeda centers of gravity. After the Taliban fell, one went to Pakistan, the other fled to Iran,” Roger Cressey, a former deputy to a counterterrorism tsar, Richard Clarke, said in an interview yesterday. “The question for several years has been: What type of operational capability did each of these centers have?

    A senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and Iran expert, Vali Nasr, said he did not know that the Shura Majlis had reconstituted in eastern Iran, but he did say his Iranian contacts had confirmed recent NATO intelligence that Iran had begun shipping arms to Al Qaeda’s old Afghan hosts, the Taliban in Afghanistan.
    Mr. Nasr, however, said Iran’s recent entente with Al Qaeda could be simply a matter of statecraft. “Iran and Al Qaeda do not have to like one another,” he said. “They can hate each other, they can kill each other, their ultimate goals may be against one another, but for the short term Iran can unleash Al Qaeda on the United States.”
    Mr. Cressey said the Iranian regime’s relationship with Al Qaeda is one of tolerance as opposed to command and control.
    “I think the Iranians are giving these guys enough latitude to operate to give them another chit in the game of U.S.-Iranian relations,” he said.
    An intelligence official sympathetic to the view that it is a matter of Iranian policy to cooperate with Al Qaeda disputed the CIA and State Department view that the Quds Force is operating as a rogue force. “It is just impossible to believe that what the Quds Force does with Al Qaeda does not represent a decision of the government,” the official, who asked not to be identified, said. “It’s a bit like saying the directorate of operations for the CIA is not really carrying out U.S. policy.”
    Some intelligence reporting suggests, the source said, that the current chief of the Quds Force, General Qassem Sulamani, has met with Saad bin Laden, Mr. Adel, and Mr. Abu Ghaith.
    A common foe, especially a powerful one, can unite two unlikely allies, who otherwise would be bitter enemies
    Look at our own history, we were allies with the Soviets in WWII, but once our common enemy, the Nazis were defeated, the Cold War began. We even went to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

  • Neo says:

    Mark Pyruz,
    I realize that I have an unqualified opinion, but I find a large number of problems with your post.
    Yes, the Naharnet article is attributed to an unnamed Iraqi intelligence official. In itself it doesn’t expound or directly present evidence supporting the assertion that Mugniyah was involved in Iraq. THat part is true. I might point out that none of the material presented in Bill Roggio’s article is sourced from the Naharnet article either. I must admit some of the information on Hezbollahs activities in Iraq are rather murky. It is after all about a terroristist operations that have a rather murky existence in the shaddows. It is not being asserted that Lebanese Hezbollah is in charge of Shiite groups in Iraq only that they are aiding and abetting insurgent activity.
    “Where is the actual evidence”

  • Neo says:

    While we are at it, about the quote:
    “Hezbollah is essentially the Lebanese branch of Iran’s Qods Force.”–Boll Roggio
    This is perhaps the weakest sentence in Bill’s article. In a strict sense the hierarchy is probably wrong. Qods force and the Hezbollah militia are responsible to the party, Hezbollah(The party of Allah) in their respective countries. Hezbollah is responsible to the religious hierarchy (as accepted by the Qom religious establishment). Or perhaps it might be more accurate to say that the Party of Allah is the accepted religious establishment at Qom. Taken in itself, the sentence is probably a gross simplification, though essentially true in practice at least for the military part of the organization. It is the party not Qods force that has control of the rest of the organization.
    Much of the Shiite religious establishment is outside Hezbollah. All of the religious establishment inside Hezbollah are within the Qom religious establishment though. You cannot be a member of the “Party of Allah”

  • Neo says:

    Perhaps I should clarify my last paragraph. Hezbollah is by no means the only Shiite party in Lebanon. Amal is another large Shiite party (or used to be fairly large). There also is a sizable Shiite religious establishment outside of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Not all that is Shiite in Lebanon is Hezbollah.
    Hezbollah of Lebanon has gained a great deal of autonomy, especially in the late 90’s up until the years before the latest Lebanon crises. Now that the region is more or less on a war footing the ties between Hezbollah, Iran and Syria have been much more prominent. Hezbollah relies on Iran and Syria for support. Likewise Bashar Assad gains much in the way of legitimacy in relationship and backing of Hezbollah. He also gains a venue in which to pressure Israel without Syria taking the brunt of Israeli retaliation.
    That’s enough of me blabbing on. I hope others do a little digging on the subject. The situation in Lebanon probably is due for a reappraisal and scholarship on the internal politics of Iran is almost non-existant.

  • Michael says:

    “Mark Pyruz” sure gets round on different blogs and forums. Curious what motivated his comment, I yahooed this little gem…
    Below he courts Professor Juan Cole’s affections. For example:

    At 10:26 AM, Mark Pyruz said…
    Thanks for posting that, Professor Cole.
    Putin, ElBoradei and Powell speak peace, while Washington and Tel Aviv scream war. Interesting times we live in.
    Interesting times indeed. When terrorist blow up innocents around the world, largely supported by Tehran, Syria and Hezbollah. And Putin, former KGB builds a reactor for a terrorist rogue nation, and IAEA El Baradei failed miserably to uncover North Korea’s processing prior to 2001.
    Going back to Mark’s comment on one single line of reference by Bill, “Hezbollah is essentially the Lebanese branch of Iran’s Qods Force.” He had somewhat of a knee-jerk hyperinflated response.
    Bill has solidly built evidence of how each organization works together not just in this article, but many since he started Fourth Rail and LWJ. Not only has Bill, but so many other sources as well connected the dots long ago. But then, any informed reader since 2001 knows how cozy Syria, Iran, Hezbollah have been thru the years when any one of them has been threatened.
    Iran has trained, weaponized, recruited, influenced politically and funded Hezbollah as a Shia proxy. The US Military captured Hezbollah agents in Iraq. This is not a big secret. Nor is Qods forces involvement a surprise.
    There are no accidental meetings taking place in Damascus in the past, or after Mugniyah bit the dust. Syria has supported Hezbollah for years. Iran has likewise been deeply rooted in the success of Hezbollah. It does not matter one iota if they’re also funding social issues. That is all part of the terrorist insurgency gameplan.
    Finally, Hezbollah exist not only to usurp power in Lebanon, but to attack Israel, which they did constantly over the years.
    This is not some wild tangent, but a legitimate frame of reference long overdue that must be brought into the light.
    Thanks Bill and others for all the hard work you do.

  • Michael says:

    Neo, excellent points which need to be made for casual readers, thanks for comment.

    Now that the region is more or less on a war footing the ties between Hezbollah, Iran and Syria have been much more prominent. Hezbollah relies on Iran and Syria for support. Likewise Bashar Assad gains much in the way of legitimacy in relationship and backing of Hezbollah. He also gains a venue in which to pressure Israel without Syria taking the brunt of Israeli retaliation.

    You make a statement that is under utilized. What I discovered re: connections in the Middle East was a steep learning curve of how our enemies play the terrorist proxy game. Essentially, we have multiple enemies, some more agressive, others passive, others maybe can care less. Russia weaponizes our enemies, much like Afghanistan in reverse.
    Russia -> Iran -> Syria -> Hezbollah
    China -> Iran for oil, Sudan for oil and is trying to expand in SA, Iraq. The supply weapons as well.
    They do not care about tyrants oppressing people, go figure. Russia, especially under Putin now is agressively supporting our enemies when it can against us. Russia was in Iraq and one of Saddam’s favorite rulers was Stalin. Communist go way back in Iran/Iraq and all over Egypt today. They love the conflict, raises their oil prices, which is the only thing keeping their economy floating. Especially since renationalizing all major industry yet again to his former KGB cronies.
    Putin for peace? Now that is a good line. He just sends weapons to all these nations to keep the peace.
    Back to the triangle of death, Syria-Iran-Hezbollah, with Russia at top. After 2001, meetings have taken places between all these groups, especially in Damascas at times between the lower teer three. The fact that Mugniyah was given his due in Syria speaks loads of the terrorist neighborhoods and camps in Syria.
    The first time I read about all the meetings, it astonished me that the MSM was not all over the facts of each connection.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 02/25/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

  • Michael says:

    So if I understand what this article is saying, Hezbollah had ties to Sadr even back when Sadr’s party was part of the Iraqi government. This does go along with other reports of ties Hezbollah has with PM Maliki.
    But the claim that Mugniyah has ties to al Qaeda is curious, since al Qaeda and Hezbollah are enemies. Currently, there are reports of al Qaeda cells being formed in Lebanon which are battling with Hezbollah.

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