Mahdi Army cell leader behind deadly Baghdad bombing

Wanted poster for Haydar Mahdi Khadum Al Fawadi.

Yesterday’s car bomb attack in the Shia neighborhood of Hayy Hurriyah in Baghdad’s Kadamiyah district was carried out by a Mahdi Army Special Group cell, and not al Qaeda in Iraq, the US military stated.

The bombing was the largest inside Baghdad since March. The Iraqi military indicates 27 Iraqis were killed and 40 wounded, while press reports put the number killed as high as 51, with more than 80 wounded.

A Mahdi Army cell leader named Haydar Mahdi Khadum Al Fawadi was behind the attack, according to intelligence information obtained by Multinational Forces Iraq.

“We believe the attack was not conducted by AQI [al Qaeda in Iraq],” said Lieutenant Colonel Steven Stover, the chief Public Affairs Officer for Multinational Division Baghdad in an e-mail to The Long War Journal. Though vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices are a trademark of AQI, our intelligence, corroborated through multiple sources, is this atrocity was committed by a special groups cell led by Haydar Mahdi Khadum Al Fawadi.”

Fawadi is behind multiple attacks on US and Iraqi forces. He uses the deadly explosively formed projectile weapons, which are manufactured in Iran, and more conventional roadside bombs in his attacks. “He intimidates the Shia population with threats of violence and murder,” said Stover.

Stover said the intelligence indicates yesterday’s attack was conducted to “incite Shia violence against Sunnis,” and Fawadi hoped to “disrupt Sunni resettlement in Hurriyah in order to maintain extortion of real estate rental income to support his nefarious activities.”


Click the image to view the most wanted Mahdi Army leaders in Baghdad.

A Special Groups cell did take credit for the attack, said Stover. They claimed to have been targeting Coalition forces, but the closest forces nearby were more than 150 yards away.

While the attack has the hallmarks of an al Qaeda in Iraq strike, the type of vehicle used in the attack and the unknown origin of the explosive materials used in the attack, along with the other information, point to the Mahdi Army.

The Mahdi Army Special Groups have mimicked al Qaeda in Iraq attacks in the past. The November 24 bombing of al Ghazi pet market in a predominately Shia neighborhood in Baghdad, which killed 15 Iraqis and wounded 56, was carried out by the Special Groups. The terrorists packed a birdcage with explosives and ball bearings to simulate a suicide vest.

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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  • me says:

    This sort of thing devastates the ability of Shia militias to win hearts and minds.

  • Just makes me sick to my stomach every time I hear about these guys killing people. They have absolutely no respect for life at all, just like a bunch of animals. Worse then animals actually.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 06/18/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front lines.

  • Neo says:

    Even now there are people who still believe that we should somehow accommodate Sadr’s people, bring them onboard, or use them as a political counterweight to SIIC. Such a viewpoint seems rather incredible considering the unapologetic violent and chaotic nature of Sadr’s group. It should be clear that the leadership within Sadr’s organization has no interest in participating in the Iraqi government. Their opposition to the government of Iraq is explicitly stated. In fact their loyalties to Iran are increasingly transparent as leadership figures flee across the Iranian boarder and in the recent fight in Basra an Iranian general calls the shots on the cease-fire agreement. Can anyone in their right mind still contemplate bringing Sadr’s people into the political process? As for the idea of using Sadr’s organization as a political counterweight against other Shiite groups, it takes a special sort of malevolent stupidity to think you can use an enemy who is engaged against the current government and US forces to politically offset the influence of parties within the governing coalition.

  • KW64 says:

    I can’t help but wonder if Iran encourages such attacks directly or merely facilitates them via funding, weapons and training.
    It would be nice to know what we learn in interrogating the leaders when we catch them about what they are instructed to do in those Iranian training camps.

  • Radio Free Tuscaloosa says:

    Yesterday’s car bomb attack in the Shia neighborhood of Hayy Hurriyah in Baghdad’s Kadamiyah district was carried out by a Mahdi Army Special Group cell, and not al Qaeda in Iraq, the US military stated.

    Not exactly the proper way to win friends and influence people. I’ve been able to conclude by reading “Long War Journal” that JAM is losing popularity with the Shia very quickly, especially in Sadr City. This act wreaks of desperation. Am I reading this correctly?

    Fantastic site, Bill. You and your “new media” brethren will be instrumental in winning this war.

  • Hamidreza says:

    motown67 – The Sunni insurgents are tribal or Baathist based and they have come around to understand that they happen to be a minority without the oil. The wakeup call of losing Baghdad taught them to go into coalition with others.
    On the other hand Sadr and JAM are anti-secular and rabidly religious fascist and backed by all the might of hardliners in Iran. It is wrong to compare the two.
    There is no way Sadr will come around. His whole existence, power and identity is based and built on intimidation, paramilitancy, and postcolonialism. These people do not see a secure, much less secular, Iraq as something desirable – unless of course they are fully in control of the levers of power as in Iran.
    The ex-CIA veterans who are pushing for dialogue and alliance with Sadr (such as those in the Abu-Muqawama defeatist blog) should learn their lesson from this event and cease being so unprincipled and simplistic in their analysis. I believe Petreus is just giving lip service to Sadr in order to peel off the fence sitting Shiites from JAM and that is all. If Sadr and JAM cease to exist, I doubt Petraeus will give a hoot.

  • Freedom Now says:

    I have no problem with your right to take the opposing view, but please take into account that the Sadrists are against efforts to roll back de-Baathification and are responsible for destabilizing Shia majority areas not affected by Al Qaeda attacks.
    Not too mention their fanatical vision of Sharia Law, which is quite unpopular in Iraq.
    The Sadrists started their campaign of violence without any provocation…
    – Attacking their fellow Shia like al-Khoei
    – Attacking cities/towns like Najaf, Karbala, Qawliyya, etc…
    – Surrounding Al Sistani’s home and threatening him
    – Becoming a criminal racket profiting from kidnapping and extortion.
    After the Sadrists were defeated at Najaf they were given a second chance to join the Iraqi government peacefully. Yet they continued to be a source of instability and proved that they are not sincerely willing to join the political process. They see the path to power is by the butt of the gun.
    Enough is Enough…

  • Neo says:

    I find it unlikely that the leadership of Sadr’s organization would honestly participate in any sort of parliamentary power sharing. To date there has been absolutely no cooperation from Sadr’s organization other than to call for frequent cease fires when the Mahdi Militia gets itself shot up. Previous posts by Hemidreza and Freedom Now pretty much covered the bases on that explanation.
    Sadr seems to be doing a fairly good job of isolating himself. His latest decision not to participate in the local elections saves the government the trouble of banning his organization from the next round of elections. Support does seem to be dropping away from Sadr’s organization. So far the best way of undercutting Sadr’s Militia has been to taking control of areas the Mahdi army operates in. It remains to be seen how much this undercuts his organization.
    I shy away from comparing the situation within the Sunni community with that of Sadr’s organization. Within the Sunni community the choices for political participation are still fairly narrow. If organizations are banned you risk disenfranchising blocks of people who may resort to violence. That violence can easily spread. The political situation on the Shiite side is a little less brittle. Supporters of Sadr’s organization have other places to go. Since the government is dominated by Shiites there is less of a chance of large groups of people feeling they have been frozen out of the process.
    It may be approaching time for Maliki and parliament to legally crack down on Sadr’s organization. This is Iraqi government business, not the business of Petraeus or the US Army. Eventually the will need to officially take away offices that have been abused by Sadr’s organization. The Iraqi Army may choose to do this process from the ground up without official pronouncements by moving Sadr’s people out of hospitals and government offices. Eventually though, there will have to be some sort of official replacement.
    In the long term the Iraqi government cannot allow separatist militias. At some point they need to officially warn Sadr’s party that continued attacks on the government are unacceptable and will lead to legal sanction or ultimately banning the party from political participation. The membership of Sadr’s organization is quite another deal. They would be able vote and are free to participate in the political process outside of Sadr’s organization.
    If you have noticed, I am being a little guarded about issues of timing and implementation. I think this is best approached as a methodical process rather than the Iraqi government coming up with a hard line that they cannot enforce. It is important that the government not over-reach or take measures in a hard-line manor that would easily insight.

  • Dan R. says:

    So now the Mahdi Army is setting off car bombs in the middle of shiite neighborhoods? Yeah, THAT’LL win ’em over, all right.
    KW64, I have no doubt but that these attacks are being encouraged by the highest level clerics in Qom and by the senior leadership of the Quds Force and the Revolutionary Guard. Their worst nightmare is a vibrant, democratic Iraq right next door to them that is an ally of the United States. The mullahs in Iran and the Revolutionary Guard thugs that keep them in power know full well that a majority of the Iranian population will want what Iraq has, thus threatening their own power. They will do anything to keep this from happening.

  • SoldiersDad says:

    “Even now there are people who still believe that we should somehow accommodate Sadr’s people”
    Let’s review some local US politics so we can see this issue an accurate lens.
    If one visits private homes in Massachusetts one will find in a significant number of homes a Cross with Jesus hanging on one wall and a photo of JFK(John F Kennedy) on another. If one wants to be a US Senator from Massachusetts one merely needs to be a relative of John F Kennedy or have the same initials as JFK (IE John F Kerry) and talk about carrying on the legacy of JFK. Those folks that have the picture of JFK on the wall will vote for you…not actually for you…they are really voting for JFK’s legacy. This is a reality of Massachusetts politics. Doesn’t matter that Ted is a drunkard…or that he killed that girl in the car wreck.
    If one goes into private homes in various locations in Iraq one will find a picture of Mohammed hanging on one wall and a picture of Mookie’s father on another wall. In those places if one wants to get elected to something one only needs to be a relative of Mookie’s father and talk about carrying on Mookie’s fathers legacy. Doesn’t matter that one can barely read or is more interested in playing nintendo than studying religion. People will vote for his fathers legacy.
    If we return to our Massachusetts example. There have been Republican Governors in Massachusetts. They have all basically run as “Technocrats”. They don’t talk bad about the Kennedy’s. They talk about the efficient delivery of government services and law and order.
    What does MNF-I talk about? Arresting “Criminals” and “Restoring Services”…they don’t talk bad about the Sadr family.

  • KW64 says:

    Nice Analogy SoldiersDad. It will be even better if we can claim the people we are arresting are “sullying the image of the Senior Sadr — may he be praised.”
    Dan R. — If you are right about Iran directly ordering such attacks as these, and we can prove it to the Iranian people, it should facilitate getting a basing agreement passed. Iran will have exchanged a Enemy Sunni Dictatorship in Iraq that all Iranians hated for an Enemy Shia democracy that many Iranians will feel sympathy for — may Patreaus and the Surge be praised.

  • KW64 says:

    Typo– Meant prove it to the IRAQI people not IRANIAN people. (Though proving it to the Iranian people would be nice too.)

  • Drexel says:

    There has been and continues to be a common thread of truth from this site which makes it a blessing for those who recognize it and appreciate it. The sophistication of the writers and of the contributors to this site continues to astound me and I am so thankful for the fact that our country and the efforts of our great military are reported honestly here and the issues are debated fairly and truthfully.
    I have just one observation and it relates to the amazingly quick identification of a suspect for this despicable attack. In the past there were so many attacks and a lack of trust and cooperation from the Iraqi side that sorting through this labyrinth was an incredibly difficult undertaking. Now, instead of being a fuel for a civil conflict, the investigation can be given the proper attention quickly, thoroughly, and in all likelihood having had good intelligence available, giving the population accurate and timely information. This allows the citizens to remain calm and not to panic, which is the opposite of what the destabilizing forces intended to have happen.
    There is a different dynamic in play now and the elements and sponsors of AQI, Shiite militias, and others who wish to destabilize the country, do not have a free hand any longer to act and then blend in with the chaos.
    This site has been instrumental in helping sort all of this out. Thank you!


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