Iraqi Special Forces capture Special Groups commander in Baghdad


Soldiers from Troop B, 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment, maneuver down a path while receiving heavy indirect fire and rocket-propelled grenade fire just on the outskirts of Shula May 16. (US Army photo / Sergeant James Hunter)

Iraqi Special Operations Forces have captured a senior Mahdi Army Special Groups leader in the Shula neighborhood in the Ghazaliyah district in northwestern Baghdad. The Shula neighborhood has been a target of US and Iraqi forces over the past several weeks as the fighting in Sadr City has largely subsided.

The Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured what Multinational Forces Iraq called a “mid-level Special Groups leader” along with two associates during a raid on May 25. The commander, who is “affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps,” is thought to lead a 300-man battalion of Mahdi Army fighters. He has been behind the kidnapping and murdering of Iraqis and works for the Ministry of Interior.

In related raid, Coalition forces detained a Mahdi Army Special Groups leader in Suwayrah. The operative is described by Multinational Forces Iraq as an “explosively formed penetrator expert believed to be responsible for coordinating and directing attacks on Coalition forces in the Wasit province.” The leader sent his fighters to Iran “for paramilitary training.”

The US military has long made distinctions between the Mahdi Army and what it calls Iranian-backed Special Groups. The military makes these distinctions as part of an effort to divide the Mahdi Army and provide the nonextremist elements a way to end the violence. The Special Groups, which are Iranian trained, armed and funded, are essentially a subset of the Mahdi Army.

The “rogue element” and “Special Groups” narrative has provided Mahdi Army fighters and commanders a path to lay down their arms and join the political process. Multinational Forces Iraq has refused to categorize the entire Mahdi Army as “irreconcilable elements” to give Mahdi Army fighters this out.


Map of Baghdad neighborhoods. Click to view.

Iraqi and US forces have made a push into the Shula neighborhood (number 61 on the map) over the past several weeks. US forces engaged in heavy fighting during a search operation in Shula on May 16.

“We encountered perimeter defenses in Shula,” said Captain Robert Gillespie, the commander of Bravo Troop, 1st Squadron, 75th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division. “We were able to fight through those and take the objective of what we were looking for and conducted our mission safely until we were finished and moved back.” The soldiers were hit with IEDs, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and machinegun fire before clearing the area. Two Mahdi Army fighters were confirmed killed, but US troops believe they killed up to nine.

The 22nd Brigade of the 6th Iraqi Army Division took control of the headquarters of the Office of the Martyr Sadr in the Shula neighborhood in the second week of May and have established a presence in the neighborhood. The Sadrist office was occupied by Iraqi troops because it was being used by “Special Group extremists.” Iraqi troops clashed with the Mahdi Army as it took over the Sadrist office, and the Sadrists claim 30 of its members were detained in the operation.

Iraqi soldiers also detained 35 hospital workers in the Mohammed Bakr Hakim hospital in the Shula neighborhood on May 6. The hospital workers are suspected of treating wounded Mahdi Army fighters and providing assistance to the militia.

The hospitals in Sadr City are known to be infiltrated with Mahdi Army and Sadrist bloc members who continue to use the hospitals for criminal activities. The Mahdi Army used hospitals as staging areas for sectarian attacks and weapons storage depots. The US military killed Arkan Hasnawi, a senior Mahdi Army Special Groups commander, during a guided rocket strike on a Mahdi Army command and control center situated next to the Sadr Hospital in Sadr City on May 3.

The US military has said the fighting has increased in western Baghdad since Iraqi forces have moved into Sadr City and the attacks there have died down. Iraqi and US forces have pursued Mahdi Army forces into western Baghdad as well as in the eastern district of New Baghdad.

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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  • Lorenzo says:

    It seems to me that all the war news in Iraq depicts the “Mopping Up” of small vestiges of terrorists with only the last few neighborhoods to finish. Deadly stupid scum.
    There will be no place to hide soon in Iraq for the foreign terrorist and the homegrown must fade into another life or be hanged.
    FABULOUS, simply FABULOUS soldiers of peace!

  • Matthew says:

    “He has been behind the kidnapping and murdering of Iraqis, and works for the Ministry of Interior.”
    I cannot even begin to talk about the irony here – cancel his paycheck for God’s sake. Isn’t it time that the Iraqi government oversee the Ministry of Interior to clean house of their Shia death squads? This is a good step to capture this guy, but I obviously don’t think it is enough.
    I’m very glad to see that Iraq is developing a well-trained Special Forces suited for their counterinsurgency missions. Our S.F. troopers should be proud for taking part in their training.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    They have been purging the ranks.
    But, a force of over 350,000 IP/INP/DBE/FPS will have some rotten apples.
    Each percentage point of that number is 3,500+.
    So, if the MoI was 95% clean, that would mean 18,000 rotten apples.
    I doubt that any police force on the planet is 95%…

  • Mike says:

    I read the Boston Globe online this morning. Cover to cover. Not one mention of this anywhere. Not even an inch if type on page 9.
    As usual, Bill and company are on top of it. Good work.

  • From The Long War Journal: Iraqi Special Forces capture Special Groups commander in Baghdad

    The US military has long made distinctions between the Mahdi Army and what it calls Iranian-backed Special Groups. The military makes these distinctions as part of an effort to divide the Mahdi Army and provide the non-extremist elements a way to end t…

  • Joseph Sixpack says:

    My impression in reading this is that an ISOF unit did an operation with a conventional US force. Is this the case? I thought ISOF always worked in conjunction with our own SOF or on its own.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Joseph Sixpack
    These are multiple seperate operations.
    1st ISOF normaly works with 2CT providing the breach force and 36Cdo the perimeter but,
    there are times that conventional forces have been used for perimeter. Including armor/mech units…
    Think of 2CT as the Delta operators and 36Cdo as Rangers.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 05/27/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

  • Alex says:

    I wouldn’t be too surprised if Petraeus announced a major drawdown in troops after the July pause.

  • Steve-o says:

    DJ Elliot,Matthew,
    The “rotten apples to be expected” argument has merit. Many years ago (1974) I was majoring in criminology. I learned that year that nearly 100 New York City police officers were discovered to be heroin addicts. That was less than 1% of the force, but that was also just one problem, and didn’t cover all the other possible corruption in the force.

  • me says:

    “I read the Boston Globe online this morning. Cover to cover. Not one mention of this anywhere. Not even an inch if type on page 9.”
    The good news coming out of Iraq is not as interesting to most US media as stories of gloom and doom. Peace and quiet are not that Pulitzer worthy.

  • C. Jordan says:

    “Peace and quiet are not that Pulitzer worthy.”
    Isn’t that sad?

  • Matthew says:

    Steve-o and DJ,
    Thanks for putting that issue in perspective. Reforming the security forces won’t take overnight and human nature will always ensure that a small percentage of security personnel, no matter the country, will cross that line to the wrong side of the law. Think about Columbia and the reforms they had to make in their security forces while battling the FARC rebels.

  • Hamidreza says:

    Richard1 – Sadr has been calling for demonstrations throughout the years. Either it is cancelled or only 10,000 people show up (and reported as 50,000 by NYT).
    There is this whole postcolonial narrative that al-Sadr owns all Iraqi Shias like Nasrollah, and all other dissenting Shias are stooges of the Americans.
    The evidence suggests otherwise. In fair elections Sadr may receive 25% of the vote, but even less if the economy recovers. It would be very interesting to see what the provincial elections would say. It is important the the government control the election process – something that was lacking in the past in Shia areas where the Mahdists would be standing over the shoulders of the voter while he was filling his ballot.

  • Euro 2.0 says:

    Good news rarely makes headlines.
    BTW have you seen that report of missiles fired from Iran into Iraq?

  • Rhyno327/lrsd says:

    Iam not surprised at all that none of this news is covered by the US media. You have to come here, then access foreign news online to learn of things you never hear on mainstream US news. I was surprised to learn that 75th Cav., 101st AB was in the thick of the fight. Looks like the “divide and conquer” strategy is working. The hell with cease fires and giving the enemy time to regroup and gear up for Coalition Soldiers, thats why they WANT a cease fire. No, not anymore, this tactic was used at Tora Bora, and I hope US commanders have learned from this. Keep up the pressure, and eliminate the Mahdi and thier Iranian masters.


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