“Key” Special Groups financier captured south of Baghdad

Coalition Special Operations Forces captured a “key Special Groups financier” with direct links to Iran’s Qods Force in the city of Mahmudiyah on May 28. “He is suspected to be the primary financier between Iranian intelligence elements and Special Groups criminals in Mahmudiyah and southern Baghdad and was reportedly distributing funds to weapons smugglers supplying criminals in those areas,” Multinational Forces Iraq reported in a press release.

The Special Groups financier has conducted his activities outside Iraq, according to Multinational Forces Iraq. He is “believed to travel to Iran and Syria to procure funds on behalf of Special Groups senior leadership.”

Mahmudiyah is about 10 miles south of Baghdad. The city sits on what has been described as a sectarian fault line, where well-defined Sunni and Shia communities abut. Mahmudiyah was the scene of multiple mass-casualty suicide attacks in 2006 and early 2007, as al Qaeda in Iraq and the Mahdi Army battled for control.

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.

Iranian-made weapons flowing from the South into Baghdad would pass through Mahmudiyah. Iran established the Ramazan Corps, which is run by the Qods Force, to direct operations and move weapons, money, and fighters to what it views as critical battlefields in Iraq. Baghdad is considered the center of gravity to influence the outcome in Iraq.

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.

As Iraqi soldiers work to secure Sadr City, the raids and operations against the Mahdi Army continue throughout Baghdad. Twelve Mahdi Army fighters were killed in the eastern neighborhood of New Baghdad on May 28. Ten of those were killed in a single engagement in the Fedaliyah neighborhood in New Baghdad. US forces killed the Mahdi Army fighters as they were planting roadside bombs. Two more Mahdi fighters were killed as they approached US troops while “armed with loaded RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] launchers.”

New Baghdad is a Mahdi Army stronghold that is directly to the east of Sadr City. Incidents in New Baghdad as well as in Mahdi Army strongholds in northern and western Baghdad, particularly in the neighborhoods of Sha’ab and Shula, have increased since the cease-fire between the Iraqi government and the Sadrist movement was implemented in Sadr City.

Iraqi security forces continue to round up Mahdi Army fighters in the southern province. Thirty-four Mahdi Army fighters were captured during raids over the past two days.

Police arrested eight “gunmen” behind the murder of a police officer in Wasit province. Thirteen “wanted men” were captured in an operation in Hillah in Babil province. Iraqi security forces arrested 11 “wanted persons who were convicted in relation to criminal and terrorism-related cases” during operations in Basrah province. Iraqi and Coalition forces detained two more Mahdi Army fighters in Diwaniyah. “The force found a large number of small and medium arms during the raid,” a source told Voices of 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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31 Comments

  • Neo says:

    Trying to stir up trouble along the sectarian fault lines again. This time it’s Sadr’s people stirring up trouble. This seems to be the dominant tactic used by both sides much to the determent of the civilian population. I think the civilian population on both sides is aware that they have been the target of a cynical game to divide Iraq.

  • Caleb says:

    Bill, or anyone on the ground in Iraq, an extremely large number of “criminals” have been captured and detained over the last months, particularly since the IA started their operations in Basrah. Is there ANY indication of the disposition of these cases, or are they simply held for a while and then let go to resume their activities within the overall Islamic Jihad? Are any of them being given LOOONG prison sentences, or being executed, or just what? This is just a point that has been bothering me, and that I don’t see addressed anywhere by anyone that I would consider knowledgeable, like yourselves.

  • patrick says:

    Just listened to a CNN report from Michael Ware in Baghdad. The report as usual was negative and grim.
    He said Shia and Sunni are separated by walls and U.S./Iraqi soldiers and that the Shia Sunni civil war is just on pause until the US soldiers are not there to separate their militias.

    Wonder what you guys think of that view.

    My impression is that it has reached a tipping point towards a much lower level of violence.But that it will still be hard to eliminate totally the problem of AQ bombings and Iranian/militia trouble making.

  • J House says:

    The US/coalition forces and Iraqi gov must not get complacent.
    They are but a single spectacular attack from another outbreak in sectarian violence, or, a wave of negative media coverage about the progress of the war, especially if an attack involves high US casualties.
    Let’s hope we can keep on these positive trends in the downward spiral of attacks.

  • Matthew says:

    Up tempo or Mop up operations?
    Probably a bit of both.
    As Patton said along these lines, “We’re going to grab them by the nose and we are not going to let go.”
    Keep it up boys!

  • J House says:

    I’d say the killing of key moderates in the Iraqi gov leadership (i.e., Maliki), or Sadr, or something equal to the karbala shrine attack would probably set it off, but perhaps not to the degree as prior.
    AQI is sufficiently diminished to be unable to carry out spectacular, high casualty follow on attacks.
    Equally, if a large number of US personnel (civilian or military) were killed in a suprise attack, the negative US/World press would work to doom the mission, a la Tet (God forbid).
    I agree that Iraq situation has reached a positive tipping point and they should have fairly good ‘law and order’ within their borders within a few years (with lots of US help, financial and military).

  • C. Jordan says:

    Caleb at May 29, 2008 12:56 PM ET
    “Is there ANY indication of the disposition of these cases, or are they simply held for a while and then let go to resume their activities within the overall Islamic Jihad?”
    I’ve wondered this myself. Why don’t we implant gps trackers? Let them go, and watch them. This idea could work well in Pakistan.

  • cjr says:

    Patrick:
    I dont think it there is so much of a “seperation” between Sunnis and Shiites at this point. I think there is more of a “seperation” now between those that promote and then profit from violance and those that are sick of violance and want it to end.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 05/29/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

  • ST333 says:

    Do we have people on the ground that are confirming the factories in Iran are producing these? If so, how about a Predator strike on one or on the vehicle carrying the cargo to the Iran/Iraq border? I wounder how long it is before one blows up “mysteriously”. Granted that could very well start problems, but I’m curious as to how the Iranian Government would react to an assault hey would be powerless to stop.

  • Matthew says:

    There is no reason not to track down the shipments and have them “vanish” as soon as they cross the border.

  • me says:

    Motown states that “Iraq is still about at 2005 levels of killings hovering just below 1000 civilian deaths a month, with a spike because of recent operations. ”
    The Iraq Body count project appears to have death counts much lower than “just below 1000 per month” and no spike evident in April and May.
    Going back in time from May 08 (numbers for May (378 killed) are up to and including May 28) the monthly totals are:
    378, 631, 819, 564, 485, 476, 471, 565, 752, 1598 1458.

  • BobbyD says:

    Good job, me. I was going to post the same thing. Also, Motown; How does taking cache sites, potentially large ones, hurt anything? Yes, gas will go up. Iran has pretty much declared war on the US by killing US troops. You think that Iran would be stupid enough to come across the border of Iraq with 160,000 and a couple hundred thousand Iraqis troops waiting for them? Its pretty apparent that the Quds Force training isnt very effective for anything but giving the US a headache.

  • Alex says:

    BobbyD,
    I wouldn’t be too surprised if there is action in Iran by CIA or Special Forces that we don’t hear about (classified) to try to neutralize some of these cache sites. Not as effective as a full-scale aerial campaign, but less fallout.
    The worst-case scenario that Iran could do is set up a minefield in the Persian Gulf. Oil transit would come to a standstill for months; of course, it would also be suicide for the Iranian regime since they are dependent on selling oil, but these guys aren’t the most rational bunch.

  • Neo says:

    motown67,
    I essentially agree with you that boarder clashes with Iran would not be in our interests at this point in the war. It would lack deterrent effect and would cause political complications at home and abroad. The flip side of that coin is the fact that the current internal security operations are working quite well within Iraq. Another added factor is that Iraqi troops are not trained for a boarder clash and the boarder guards aren’t trained for much of anything.
    Interdicting the shipments once they cross the boarder is fair game. If there is a clash with Iranian operators well within Iraq’s boarders, so be it.
    Someone suggested a few topics ago that they were mopping up Mahdi Army remnants. It is too early for to call this a mop up phase. They still haven’t cracked down on Sadr City and need more troops to do so. Before that though it looks like they are going to wear away at Mahdi Army elements across the south. Remember that the fighting is only part of the story. They want to take them down politically as well. Keep the pressure on and don’t do anything rash, that is the best course of action for now.

  • Neo says:

    I believe the casualty figures that “ME”

  • Dan R. says:

    Hey “Me”, something tells me that a good portion of those reported 1,000 “civilian” deaths each month are actually people who probably needed killing and who won’t be missed. i.e.: insurgents. Of course, we can’t count on our biased media to make that critical distinction.
    But something tells me that a repeat of something like the Samarra mosque bombing wouldn’t set off the same violence that it did in 2006. I say this because I think that most Iraqis are smart enough to see that the previous bloodletting accomplished absolutely nothing for either sunnis or shiites. My impression is that the great majority of sunnis and shiites are more than happy to coexist peacefully with each other if there is sufficient security in place to allow them to do so. The only ones who want chaos are the extremists on either side.

  • BobbyD says:

    Motown, if you look at the majority of your statistics they are from March which everyone will acknowledge was a bloody month due to the offensives in Basra and Bagdad. Still nowhere near the levels pre-surge.

  • Neo says:

    I thought I might take a rough look at the Iraq Body Count.org data and match it to known events. First, the “surge”

  • mjr007 says:

    Excellent post, neo.
    Thanks for that fine comprehensive report and analysis.

  • Matthew says:

    Thank you Neo. Very nice overview of the happenings of the past few months.
    The improvement of the Iraqi army really HAS been the underreported story out of more than a few underreported stories about Iraq as you pointed out.

  • Hamidreza says:

    Thanks Neo for the wrap-up and analysis. Always good to counter the lefty narrative.

  • mjr007 says:

    Bill,
    I’ve taken some time to study the ratline slide presentation embodied in this story and I have a few comments and questions.
    The Ramazan Corps are being directed ultimately out of Tehran but the three commands of Nasr (North), Zafar (Central), and Fajr (South) are HQ’d in Sanandaj (??), Mehran, and Ahvaz, respectively.
    It is mentioned earlier in these comments why we don’t strike these HQ’s in Iran? Obviously this presented a completely different gameplan, one of which I have been a strong advocate. That said, since we apparently are not going to surgically strike at these weapons manufacturing facilities and depots on the Iranian side of things, would it make sense for us to focus efforts on the cross border distribution hubs in Badrah, Al Kut, Qurnah, and Basrah. Obviously, we have been clearing opposing forces in the south in Basrah and the wider south including Nasiriyah which receives strategic support from Amarah, Qurnah, and Basrah.
    Can you comment as to the effects on Nasiriyah clamping down in Basrah has had?
    Also, could the progress being made in Sadr City progress itself on into Maysan as mentioned by Nibras Kazimi at: //talismangate.blogspot.com/
    This would seem to be a natural progression to eliminating the Iranian influence in Badrah and thus Mehran on the Iranian side.
    Another related question: what is the status of ops in and around Amarah which, as designated by the ratlines slide show, is the command and control center for the Ramazan Corps inside of Iraq.
    Hard to figure how these Iranian hubs can continue to function given the progress of the IA and ISF in concert with MNF.
    Thanks for all that you provide here.

  • KW64 says:

    Excellent short history of the surge Neo. The upgrading of the Iraqi Security Forces over the past 1.5 years is indeed a crucial element in the reversal of fortunes in Iraq and as you observe, it seems totally unnoticed. The media really focused on one unit that failed in the Basra surge but completely missed how effective the overall security forces proved to be in this Spring’s offensives.

  • Neo says:

    My emphasis was to show the 60 percent drop in civilian casualties at the end of 2007 and the major causal factors in that drop such as the elimination of AQI’s major staging areas around Baghdad and the development of the Iraqi Army into an effective security force. The drop in violence has been sustained in spite of the recent offensive against the Mahdi Army. More than eight months have passed since this major drop in casualty rates and in that time AQI has been reduced to the point where large scale insurgency operations are no longer feasible. Sadr’s forces may be in the process of folding as well.
    I am not stating that things are all hunky-dory for the Iraqi’s. The economic, infrastructure and political elements of this are all a mess and not getting better quickly. The situation in the divided Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods is still very tense. The fight with Sadr’s forces still hasn’t gone through its last stages. I don’t think even the Iraqi’s have any idea where they are going politically.
    There are a few major factors that I could have added to the mix last summer but what I stated will suffice. I’m a bit surprised at the utility they have gotten out of the Iraqi police during the last year or so. It might also be worth stating that the successes that happened with the surge were not totally out of the blue. They reflected smaller scale successes already happening in a number of places. Not only that but people forget that the security cooperation for the Iraqi elections had been a large scale success. The Iraqi Army had some successes to build on but when the Bush administration attempted to disengage in early 2006 when nothing was ready for transition. It only invited the disaster that happened in 2006.
    The truth of the matter is the Bush administration never really wanted much to do with Iraq once the Saddam and the Baathists were pushed out of power. They have tried to draw down a couple times including a major attempt at disengagement in 2006. They could never find a way to drop Iraq without causing turmoil throughout the region. Disrupt the region and you end up undermining the world energy economy.
    The world’s energy economy is integrated so any major disruption affects everyone. A major disruption in the Persian Gulf threatens the worlds financial and business economies even though we don’t get most of our fuel from there. You won’t be paying $10 for gas because it will be rationed for food production and essential purposes. It has been a known primary concern since the 70’s. I don’t understand why intelligent people are in denial about what is at stake in the middle east, and describe contemplation of problems as “scare tactics”

  • Michael says:

    How many of the Iraqi “body counts” are terrorist?
    It would be a good idea to get a valid estimation by our defense forces to counter MSM reports. Sadr militias and Al Qaeda groups all are outside Geneva standards, do not wear uniforms and hide in civilian homes. Often the reports come across as enemy dead that are left behind. This translates into “civilian” deaths.
    I’d suggest that someone at Defense turn some good statitician loose with collected information on enemy killed and chart the stats along with civilian reports. It should be a very big eye opener for the public.
    Instead, all we get are guilt complexes from MSM or activist cites against the war of liberation.
    I’d love to see one day someone on MSM have to explain that the majority of deaths reported are 1) caused by the terrorist, 2) are the terrorist themselves, 3) miminal civilian deaths caused by our military.
    This war is as much about perception as reality back home.

  • Michael says:

    Neo,
    Thanks for the look back and great comments.

    sp correction above: cite=site

  • Colawman says:

    Excellent recap Neo. I just wanted to add a point you made:
    The cease-fire is but one factor in with about a dozen others many of which had far more effect. In the fall of 2007 there is a further falling off in casualty rates as MNF-I and IA forces further erode the remnants of AQI and target the elements within JAM, despite Sadr’s cease-fire.
    General Petraeus actually altered his strategy based on the erosion of AQI and shifted the focus on JAM.
    The General’s plan was text book COIN and had been successfully used in small pockets within Iraq prior to the implementation of his surge plan. It should also be noted that COIN is what Special Forces bread and butter has always been. The General took the play book from Special Forces and applied it across the entire theater.
    Embedding our troops as cadre with the IA and IP is again SF doctrine. It was quite effective in Afghanistan and has proven to be successful again but on a much larger scale.

  • patrick says:

    Neo,
    Always good to read your analysis.
    I had the impression that the Al Sadr ceasefire 2007 was as result of the surge, that he felt the Mahdi could not prevail against the increased presssre.
    Or no surge no ceasefire in other words. A connection never made by MSM.
    Is this impression accurate you think?

  • CHrisD says:

    Hi all- I’m a lurker here. Love the blog.
    There’s a blog called “BackTalk” run by a statistics professor at some west coast university- for ~2 years he has been compiling, adjusting, and analyzing body count statistics as you’re seeking and zeroing in on root causes (terrorist vs shia retaliation) – he fits it into an overall narrative of how the MSM ignores obvious evidence of what’s happening in Iraq. You may find the analysis you’re looking for there. For a long time he was doing daily posts on Iraq. Recently he’s slacked off and has been spending more time on the US election, but look at the “labels” section on the left of his blog and you’ll see a rich library on material you’re looking for. Here’s a link to his May 1 post on Monthly Iraq casualties
    //engram-backtalk.blogspot.com/2008/05/casualties-in-iraq-april-2008.html

  • Neo says:

    Thanks for all the positive comments.
    I acknowledge that my account of events both leading up to the summer of 2007 was a bit sketchy, and didn’t go much into the further decline in violence during the fall of 2007. I wanted to make a primary point about the sharp decline in violence at the end of summer of 2007 and the events that surrounded it. I know I left some important items out, a few of them on purpose.
    During that time period there were also substantial operations north west of Baghdad on the west bank of the Tigris from the base at Taji stretching all the way up to past Balad air base toward Samara with Thar Thar at the western edge of the area. This area is far too widespread for typical COIN operations. Instead the many bases in this area were used as staging points for an intelligence driven Special Ops campaign to funnel the AQI into certain areas and quickly jump on them at the most opportune time. Special Ops successes in the area where commonly released in the press reports, so it wasn’t real hard to infer what was going on. This campaign took out a lot of AQI leadership, in fact more so than the Diyala campaign. For a while there, it almost seems like Ops knew were the enemy was going to be before the enemy knew. Either Special ops was very good or they turned someone high up in the AQI chain of command. Both maybe??? That sort of thing is tough to use in this sort of an argument though. Last we shouldn’t forget the Marine campaign in west Anbar that was so strict about operational security that hardly anyone knew they were out there. It might be noted that by the middle of the fall 2007 special Ops was also leaving its association with events out of the press releases. Maybe we will know more about what happened at some future point. Maybe not.
    On another subject, I’ve made a point out of tracking the news releases about operations against JAM both in Bill’s articles and statements by Sadr. Even among commenter’s here there seems to be a perception that operations against JAM picked up only after the summer of 2007. I would maintain that that perception is only partly true. It is more accurate to say that there has been a constant moderate level effort to erode certain key elements within JAM. These efforts go all the way back to the fall of 2006 and have typically taken out several hundred and up JAM members per month since the fall of 2006. This campaign has been relentless. In my opinion it is now paying off.
    What exactly happened at the Karbala clash is hard to get at. Bill correctly notes the campaign of harassment by JAM leading up to the clash and the substantial casualties that JAM was taking in the process. The press seems to think the clash itself was a spontaneous result of animosity between JAM and the Badr Brigades. I find it too suspicious that so many Sadr protesters were coming in heavily armed and trying to get their weapon through tight security. If memory serves me, it was weapons confiscations that touched of the fight. I seem to be alone in maintaining the hypothesis that much larger street action and much larger group of protesters was planned, and the whole thing flopped. So you have three competing theories about what happened at Karbala. Why did JAM call for a cease-fire? Who knows? I do believe they thought they had much more time to deal with whatever issues they had. There’s a difference in opinion about their motivations for calling the cease-fire. The media seems to think that Sadr had genuine concern about the spiraling violence causing the clash. If Sadr was so concerned about violence among Shiites, why so many assassination attempts against Badr figures. Also this strange religious sect that got hammered by security forces was nothing more than a JAM associated front group, with a rather contrived cover. A suicide brigade if you will. Bill has stated that he thinks Sadr was trying to save face after Karbala. I maintain that it was the other end of the body politic he was trying to save, and that there was considerable dismay within JAM about how poorly their people were fighting. The details make sense to me that way, at least. I’m definitely open to supporting or detracting evidence on that one.
    By the way Sadr has been complaining and threatening to do something about the constant attacks on his Militia for much of the entire conflict. You can go back to the spring of 2007 and find the same thing going on. I’ve come to think of him as the “Black Knight”

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