Iraqi Army interdicting Iranian operations in the South

Click to view larger interactive map of southern Iraq.

Iraqi and Coalition forces press operations against the Mahdi Army in Baghdad and Basrah despite the cease-fire signed with the Mahdi Army in Sadr City. The Iraqi Army has expanded its operations in Basrah province to the east just along the Iranian border, while 11 Mahdi Army fighters have been captured during operations in Baghdad over the past 24 hours.

Iraqi soldiers and police, backed by US and British advisers, have expanded Operation Knights’ Assault to the eastern town of Abu Al Khasib, in a region east of Basrah on the Iranian border. A brigade from the 1st Iraqi Army Division, backed by a battalion from 14th Iraqi Army Division and two Iraqi National Police battalions conducted operations along the border over the past two days. One suspect was detained and 52 AK-47 assault rifles and one submachine gun were found during the sweep.

Abu Al Khasib is on Highway 6 at the border crossing with Iran at Shalamcheh. The Iranian city of Shalamcheh is the main forward operating base for the Ramazan Corps’s southernmost command. The Ramazan Corps is the Qods Force command assigned to direct operations inside Iraq. Weapons, fighters, and cash smuggled across the border into Basrah would pass through Abu Al Khasib.

The Iraqi Army has been expanding its operations along the Iranian supply routes in the South during the month of May. After clearing the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed militias from Basrah, operations have expanded into Az Zubayr and Al Qurnah.

Iraqi troops from the 1st Iraqi Army Division entered Az Zubayr on May 25. Az Zubayr, which is just southeast of Basrah, sits at the crossroads to Nasariyah, a tactical distribution hub for Iranian weapons. Mahdi Army Special groups would pass through Az Zubayr as they moved weapons from Iran to Basrah to Nasariyah. Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured a Special Groups financier and weapons smuggler in Az Zubayr on May 21.

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.

An operation was conducted by Iraqi security forces in the city of Al Qurnah, which is about 50 miles north of Basrah, on May 13. Multinational Forces Iraq described the move into Al Qurnah as “a new phase of operation ” that “continues the process of targeting criminal elements by the Iraqi Army and Iraqi Security Forces as strongholds previously dominated by criminal militias fall.”

Al Qurnah is one of several strategic distribution hubs for Iranian-made weapons, such as rockets, mortars, and the deadly explosively formed projectile roadside bombs. Weapons flow across the border from Majnun in Iran to Al Qurnah. These weapons are warehoused in Qurnah and distributed to forward locations to conduct attacks against Iraqi security forces and Iraqi officials, and Coalition forces.

Pressure on the Mahdi Army continues in Baghdad

While operations progress in the South, Iraqi and US forces conduct raids against the Mahdi Army in Baghdad. Eleven Mahdi Army fighters have been captured in Baghdad during the past 24 hours.

Coalition forces captured four Mahdi Army fighters, including a “an individual suspected of smuggling Iranian weapons and coordinating Special Groups training in Iran” and “training others in sniper tactics and acting as a key conduit between Special Groups leaders in the western Baghdad area” during a raid in the Kadhamiyah district on June 1.

Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured a Special Groups operative behind rocket and mortar attacks along with another Mahdi Army fighter on May 31. The same day, US troops captured five Mahdi army fighters in separate actions in West Rashid, East Rashid, Mansour, and Adhamiyah. One of the men was behind EFP attacks, another was a weapons smuggler, facilitator and improvised explosive device maker, and another was responsible for conducting ethnic cleansing and weapons smuggling.

The Mahdi Army Special Groups are still conducting attacks against US and Iraqi forces in Baghdad. A US soldier was killed in an EFP attack in northeastern Baghdad on June 1. The district was not named, but the US and Iraqi forces have been active against the Mahdi Army in New Baghdad since the Sadr City cease-fire was signed in mid-May.

For more information on Iran’s operations inside Iraq, see Iran’s Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into 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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  • Nic Vasilchek says:

    Good Job, Thanks for the news. Coalition Forces seem to continue to push back the Iranians weapons flow/influence. The Madhi Army, especially the “special groups” are getting ripped apart. Glad to hear the positive news about Iraq. Seems like things are falling into place. What a great turnaround from the prediction of another Vietnam.

  • mjr007 says:

    Does the operation in al-Qurnah include not only targeting criminal elements but also blowing up the warehouse where the weapons smuggling operations transpire?

  • Rhyno327/lrsd says:

    Iam sure we don’t know all that is going on, but I have to believe there have been cross border raids, there must be surveillance in place, but cutting it at its source, in Iran, covertly will help stop it. It would be great if they can target a warehouse, command center, in Iran. We will not confirm or deny, but I feel we must send a strong message. Iran has gotten away with nonsense for years, they are way overdue.

  • mjr007 says:

    I question not the logic of covertly attacking the ratline facilitation points in the forward operating bases (FOBs) in Al Sheeb, Maajnun and Shalamcheh. I DO, however, question whether the same effects could not be achieved through overt attacks inside Iraq in the FOB counterparts in southern Iraq, namely: Qurnah and Basrah.
    I believe that this is the strategy Petraeus is employing. Anything at this point, I believe, transpiring on the Iranian side of the border must remain covert and even then we must consider the cost/benefit of such actions. Covert operations in Iran are a Catch 22 in that I don’t believe there can be such things as covert ops in Iran because I do not believe the possibilty of plausible deniability exists. The whodunnit question doesn’t really exist. Not that it matters and it may eventually come down to that. At THAT point, however, the actions will most likely be overt. Basically saying, yeah WE did it. What are you going to do about it especially given all the mountains of evidence compiled indicting Iran in Iraq affairs.
    I think proceeding overtly against Basrah and al-Qurnah is having the same effect and is in concert with Petraeus’ grand scheme.
    It just makes sense to me.
    That being said,

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Actually “I do not believe the possibilty of plausible deniability exists” understates the situation.
    Any SpecOps in Iran will be blamed on the US no matter which country performs it. Even natural disasters and accidents are attributed to the US.
    Which means, since we are going to be blamed for everything and anything anyways…

  • I’m impressed with the numbers of EFP’s that the Iraqis are collecting in Baghdad. Maybe depressed, too.
    I’ve been wondering for some time if the GoI is inclined to take any covert actions against either Syria or Iran. Or Turkey for that matter. At some point the GoI has to feel like a punching bag for its neighbors and want it to stop.

  • pedestrian says:

    The operations are hard to follow these days, with less and less coverage I spot. There is no such claims as n% of the surge is complexted in city x, like as in the surge in Bagdhad. What I am thirsty is about how much percentage of Eastern Shiite Sections are cleared and searched, as well as Basra, and how much is accomplised in percentage.

  • Dan R. says:

    “Which means, since we are going to be blamed for everything and anything anyways …”
    Well, if that’s the case then (and I agree that it probably is), then what have we got to lose by hitting the Iranians where it hurts? I mean, everybody knows that it’s the Iranians who are stirring up trouble in Iraq, yet they sit back, smile, and quietly deny everything while their munitions and surrogates kill our troops. Why can’t we play the same game? We’d just feign surprise, deny all responsibility, and place the blame on separatists within Iran or perhaps “rogue elements” of a militant sunni faction that we can’t control. “Sauce for the goose … ”
    As long as there isn’t a cost imposed on the Iranians for their meddling, they’ll continue to try and stir up trouble. But if a Hellfire missile, for example, were to come flying into the bedroom window of the commander of the Ramazan Corps, or if maybe a certain cleric’s private limo in Qom were to be blown to pieces, then maybe their calculation of the risk/reward ratio might change.

  • newyorkdude says:

    You guys who hang on every bit of the absolutely latest news are missing the bigger picture. Iraq now has a competent military. Iraq is located next door to Iran and will be next door to Iran for a while. Iraq’s military is no longer a pushover–something Iran will have to think long and hard about. If Iran continues to meddle in Iraq Iraq’s military will be a significant threat for years to come. Iran stuck a finger in Iraq’s eye when Iraq’s military was down. Now that Iraq’s military is up the story changes….for years to come.

  • Major John says:

    Basrah is just about cleared. Note the pattern of ops and their locations.
    I think the 14th DIV has been a bit more involved, Michael, than is reported here – and I don’t just say that out of pride either 🙂
    One thing people aren’t getting told is that local cooperation with the IA and INP is very, very good right now…it is alot easier to catch folks when you roll up and the locals point them out. Or call you first…

  • MoroccoMama says:

    I have to wonder if some of these fine Iranian weapons aren’t being funneled back into Iran to disident groups there. It would be a great way to help the internal struggle.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Don’t get overly enthusiastic. There is still work for Major John over there.
    – Short logistics
    – Short engineers
    – No Field Artillery.
    – Air Force is a transport and reconnaisance group at best.
    These are just some of the major items on my checklist for the IA…

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 06/02/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

  • MattR says:

    We have other leverage over Iran. Iran apparently ships between $1B and $2B worth of goods to Iraq every year. What would happen if that stopped? Such as close the border. That might cause more internal Iranian problems than a few hellfire missiles. Assuming Iraq can find other sources of air conditioners, building materials, etc, this could solve a few problems. Iran is weakened and their people have even more incentive to change things. The economies of countries a little more friendly to the West would be strengthened as Iraq shops elsewhere. The Iraq economy would be encouraged to grow to produce what was being imported. And no more EFPs would flow into Iraq. This would be very drastic but much more practical than expanding the war. Make it very well known that the border stays closed until Iran leaves Iraq. What can Iran do? close trade from Iraq to Iran? There isn’t much. They have no military options they haven’t already tried short of explicilty attacking.

  • Neo says:

    The US isn’t going to risk getting into a boarder engagement with Iran. We know what sort of press it would get, the public wouldn’t support it, and oil prices would go through the roof. I really doubt we are putting special forces across the boarder. I have no doubt have many moles among the Shiites that get trained in Iran and within the Mahdi Army itself. They are probably a fairly easy group to penetrate. Sabotage would be possible but than again information is probably more valued in the major scheme of things.
    Similarly, Iran damages itself if it get too involved in open warfare with the US. They don’t have to worry too much about what their public thinks but they do depend on their oil sales. They have to worry about their strategic relationship with Russia an China.
    Contrary to what many media sources tell you the primary purpose of all the saber rattling by the US is not to start another war but to keep Iran from escalating its support of Iraqi insurgents. So far they have for the most part refrained from inserting their own troops into the fray. That would be a major escalation. I am sure many of you have noticed that the Iraqi insurgency has been much more limited in its weaponry than Hezbollah. I doubt if that is restraint solely on the part of the Iranians. I think it is fairly obvious that they have been directly ordered not to use modern Russian and Chinese equipment by their suppliers. Russia and China will block any meaningful action against Iran as long as Iran keeps it’s modern weapons imports out of the Iraqi conflict. Russia and China want the US broken and humiliated. They don’t want a war in the Persian gulf because it would destroy their economies as well.
    The saber rattling is about deterrent, and has done its job well enough under these conditions. So far efforts have kept the Iranians from directly involving themselves in the Iraqi war. The deterrent at Iran-Iraq the boarder remains only so long there is sufficient armed force to maintain it. For the moment that means US troops. It will be a few years before the Iraqi’s can defend their own boarders.

  • ECH says:

    It took tens of thousands of Iraqi Sunni deaths and being almost totally shut out of the decision making process for a few years before they learned to accept the Shia led government. And, now they are telling the Sunni Arab governments in the region to do the same, but that won’t happen for a long time.
    Iran will be the only major regional power to help the Iraqi government significantly until at very least until the next Iraqi government is elected. Iraq will always hedge its bets with Iran as long as they are their biggest $ supporter in the region.

  • KW64 says:

    I can’t imagine that the Iraqis would want to lose the many dollars they make on Iranian tourism/pilgrimages by cutting trade/relations with Iran. The Shiite shrines which are mostly in Iraq draw lots of Iranians when relations are good.
    It will probably be enough for the Iraqi government leaders to defeat the local insurgents with the steadily improving IA and Police forces and count on US armor and air power to keep Iran to indirect meddling.
    Meanwhile, its possible that the government sees the Iranians as trying to hurt the Americans rather than themselves and cut them some slack behind the scenes.

  • Neo says:

    “The Maliki government doesn’t want an escalation between the U.S. or Iran either because they will be the ones stuck in the middle. Right now the U.S. and Iran are Iraq’s only real allies, and despite all the Special Groups activities, etc. the ruling Iraqi parties want good relations with Iran.”

  • Private Finch says:

    Russia is the main ally of Iran and they always support them at the UN. Russia wants the price of oil high and the weak Russian economy is kept expanding by high oil prices. Despite Iran sitting on so much oil, they have only one refinery. They have cronic shortages of gasoline. What about a few critical refinery parts getting ‘damaged.’ Parts break. This could cause problems in the economy and an angry public. Just an idea.

  • MattR says:

    There sure is an interesting relationship between Iran and Iraq. If Iran is Iraq’s only friend and they want to improve relations, why is Iran sending EFPs into Iraq? This doesn’t sound like a friend so much as someone trying to gain as much influence as possible anywhere they can find it. Sadr was the tip of the iceberg with respect to Iranian influence and it’s taken a long time to reduce Sadr’s power. Whether it’s best to slowly or quickly remove Iranian influence in Iraq, I don’t know, but it has to end. Otherwise we end up with another Lebanon.

  • Hamidreza says:

    I think destroying Iran’s economic infrastructure is too early, and is part of an escalation plan.
    But border incursions against Ramazan facilities with drones and GMLRS should begin close to the border to send a message that US is not concerned about the rabble that Iran is going to arouse. I think some of the IRGC people in Iran actually believe that US’s wings are clipped and is too scared to launch an attack inside Iran.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    “Outside of the attacks on the U.S., Iran is trying to expand their influence into Iraq, something that never happened before the invasion.”
    False premis.
    Just because the MSM didn’t report it does not mean they were not trying to do it. They have tried from 1979 to present.
    – The Iran-Iraq War 1979-1988.
    – In the 90s, elements of 23rd SF Division operated in Iraq supporting elements against Saddam.
    – Now they are targeting US and the GoI.
    Iran does not want a strong Iraq. A strong Iraq is a threat to Iran…
    I spent way too many deployments in that region to believe the propaganda that states otherwise.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Still false premis.
    Iran has been losing influence every since the US chose to go the distance rather than a quick in-and-out.
    That region respects power. No matter what you have or are, if you are perceived as powerfull, you are respected.
    If you show weakness, you are prey.
    Iran is demonstrating its weakness vs the US in that it is losing its proxie fight and is incapable of fighting US openly.
    No Arab is going to respect that display of weakness or stay alligned with it. They might take the money but, they are only being rented…

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Politicians are only rented.
    Your baseline problem is that you are assuming that the politicians will stay bought. Why?
    In all history, no politician has stayed bought once they gained power.
    Iran rented some politicians for awile. Now those politicians have made the big time and their Iranian connections are an embarsment.
    Remember that Persians think that Arabs are dirty rotten desert thieves and Arabs know this. Why should they stay bought now that they are in power in an Arab society?

  • DJ Elliott says:

    PS The Persians have been trying to regain their Mesopotainian Provinces every since Alexander’s Generals split them off. These power politics are just part of the background noise in the ME…

  • DJ Elliott says:

    You might want to study history other than what is in the (approved) history books. The machine politics of the 1870-1970s is not as clear cut or applicable and the politicians regulary shifted to the perceived winning side. The more powerfull side…
    Also, the US is the most radical individualistic society on this planet. Leasons from our system of internal politics does not translate well to international politics.
    Iraq and Iran are not seperate states in the same union. The dynamics are quite different.
    That you are using that particular example, says everything about your perspective and where the GIGO factor is coming from…

  • Dan R. says:

    “Iran has been losing influence every since the US chose to go the distance rather than a quick in-and-out. That region respects power. No matter what you have or are, if you are perceived as powerfull, you are respected. If you show weakness, you are prey.”
    This is exactly correct … and it is precisely why an Obama victory in November could be absolutely disasterous for our standing in the region.

  • DJ Elliott says:

    Your mistake is your professional bias.
    You are trying to make Mideast tribal international politics fit a US individualistic internal political model.
    Apples and oranges.
    Take it from someone that has been in that region too many times, US political models do not apply…
    That, by the way, is and has been the re-occuring problem with US policies for decades.
    Our politicians, press, and public assume the US model has validity outside of our country.
    It doesn’t.
    Most of the rest of the world think we are insane.
    We are the most radically individualistic society on this planet and that skews the models when dealing with other countries.
    Take it from someone who’s profession took him to 43 of those other countries and required him to get into the mindset of even more.
    Relearning the US mindset after my retirement has been fun…

  • DJ Elliott says:

    “If one of the goals of Iran is to have a friendly Iraq that will never be a threat to Iran again than increasing the trade and economic ties which has been rapidly increasing since the U.S. invasion would seem to be part of that.”
    The operative word in that is “IF”. I have never bought into the Iranian propaganda that claims that.
    – Iran does not want a strong Iraq.
    – Iraq is the military/territorial roadblock to Iranian domination over the Arabian Peninsula.
    – Iraq is the natural counter-balance to Iranian expansion plans and has been since Alexander’s General’s split it off of Persia.
    – Iraq is a competitor in oil exports and could reduce Iran’s proffits. It cost more to extract oil in Iran than in Iraq and GCC. The higher prices of oil propped up by destabilizing Iraq is to Iran’s advantage.
    Iraq is a threat to Iran just by existing. In no way shape or form does Iran want Iraq to be stable or powerful unless they outright own it. And the only methods they have to prevent Iraq from becoming powerfull is to destabilize it and that requires that friendship be optional. There are no friends in power politics.
    As to the Kurds, I do not count them. Iran can afford to be magnanumous there because, they are not in the way of dominating the Arabian Peninsula. Besides, causing trouble in Kurdish areas irritates the Turks, that is their sector…

  • Private Finch says:

    Maybe some of you can give me your views on my theory that Russia is something of a ‘puppet master’ in the Iran – Iraq area. The Russians have armed, financed and helped both Iran and Iraq to generations. My theory is that Russia wants to keep the US from attacking Iran. They wish to have Iran various problems in the Middle East to keep the price of oil high. Russia has almost no other international income other than oil and gas. When the price of oil is as high as it is now, Russia is rolling in cash. I think that is why Russia got so angry that we invaded Iraq. They wish Iran to keep things boiling to keep our military tied down. They hope for a president like Obama who will pull out at once and leave Iran to pick-up the pieces left of Iraq.

  • me says:

    Motown claims that Iranians have increased their influence in the Kurdish region following the liberation of Iraq.
    It’s hard to see how this can be true given that under saddam there was a minimal US presence on the ground in Kurdistan and the rest of the world had no interest in the region because the Kurds could not sell oil. Both things have now changed, to the detriment of Iranian hegemony.
    He also fails to realize that the influence that a democratic and free Iraq has on Iran. The Iranian opposition is empowered by the relatively liberal Iraqi nation next door. It is easy for them to travel there and organize/hide/plan. In Saddams day the Baathists tenuous hold on the South of Iraq left it in the hands of Shiite hard-line factions much more to the liking of the Iranian mullahs. This is especially true following Malikis actions to enforce the rule of law throughout southern Iraq.


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