Mahdi Army uses “flying IEDs” in Baghdad


Click to view images of the improvised rocket assisted mortar launchers and related information.

The explosions in the Sha’ab neighborhood in the Baghdad district of Adhamiyah, which killed 16 civilians and wounded 29 more, have been “misreported,” according to the US military. The explosions in the Mahdi Army stronghold were initially reported in the media as a car bomb attack that targeted a police commander. The attack was held up as the largest bombing in Baghdad since mid-March.

But the US military has refuted the reports, saying the explosions were caused by the premature detonation of a Special Groups improvised rocket launching system. The system, which has been described as a flying improvised explosive device, or airborne IED, had received little attention until yesterday’s explosions in Sha’ab.

“There has been a lot of misreporting on yesterday’s event in the Sha’ab neighborhood of Adhamiyah, a district in northeast Baghdad,” said Lieutenant Colonel Steven Stover, the chief Public Affairs Officer for Multinational Division Baghdad, in an e-mail to The Long War Journal. “What I find disconcerting is there have been few corrections. This was not an engagement and these were not Special Groups transporting missiles and mortars in a bongo truck.”

The bongo truck was actually the “launch vehicle,” according to bomb experts who surveyed the scene. “This was a crude rocket launching system we call an IRAM [improvised rocket assisted mortars] that prematurely detonated causing the other rockets in the truck to catastrophically exploded,” Stover said. Two Mahdi Army Special Groups fighters were killed in the subsequent explosions, as well as 16 civilians. Twenty-nine civilians were wounded and 15 buildings were severely damaged.

There were five blast sites, the US military reported. The initial blast occurred at the rocket launcher, while the four other rockets were thrown several hundred meters to the east and detonated. “It is believed the intended targets were US Soldiers at [Forward Operating Base] Callahan and while in the final stages of preparing for the attack, for an unknown reason one rocket prematurely detonated causing the remaining rockets to launch and explode erratically.”

The IRAM and the “Lob Bomb”

While the US military related the IRAM explosions in Sha’ab to the April 28 IRAM attacks on Joint Security Station Thawra I in Sadr City and Forward Operating Base Loyalty, there may be two improvised weapons systems at play. Both the JSS Thawra I and the FOB Loyalty attacks were conducted by pulling trucks right outside of the bases’ blast walls and firing the improvised rockets into bases. The attack on FOB Loyalty resulted in two soldiers killed and 16 wounded.

The US military said the weapons used in the April 28 attacks had a limited range of between 50 and 150 yards, according to a source familiar with the attack who wishes to remain anonymous. The US military said the range and size of the warhead on the IRAMs is classified.

Based on the images of the launchers used in the April 28 attacks [see slideshow], the IRAM looks to be a large canister, perhaps a propane or fuel tank, filled with explosives and propelled by 107mm rocket booster. These types of improvised weapons — essentially flying IEDs — would have a short range and would be highly inaccurate.

Yet the military said the June 3 launcher in Sha’ab may have been pointed at Combat Outpost Callahan, more than 800 yards away from where the launcher exploded. The odds of hitting a US base more than 800 yards away with such a device would be extremely low. The 107mm rocket would be “grossly underpowered” to conduct such a long-range attack, according to a weapons expert.

What is clear is that the devices are using 107mm rocket charges. The US military said these charges are “of Iranian-manufacture.” The lot numbers and dates of manufacture show the rocket casings have been manufactured within the past three years.

The rocket casings shown in the images provided by Multinational Forces Iraq are the same type used in the Chinese-made Type 63 towed 107mm Multiple Launch Rocket. The Iranians manufacture this weapons system and the rockets, according to a former US military intelligence analyst familiar with Iranian munitions and weapons systems.

The type of improvised launch system and rocket is not new to warfare. The Irish Republican Army used a similar system to conduct a February 1991 attack on 10 Downing Street, the London office and home of the British prime minister.

DJ Elliott and Bill Ardolino contributed to this article.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.



  • Colin says:

    This seems to be a rather inefficient weapon system. The entire system appears to be a one shot affair and is abandoned after use.
    I suspect that this is intended more as a symbolic weapon than something actually designed to produce tactical results.
    If this is the case then there is the possibility that the Mahdi Army is no longer capable of combat operations and has been reduced to the level of symbolic attacks that produce no real military effect.

  • Alex says:

    That is what I was thinking. Since the Basra campaign and the Sadr City campaign, their smuggling operations and extortion rackets have been crippled. The only real remaining option for them (besides surrender) is guerrilla attacks like with these rockets, but this will only further distance them from the Iraqi mainstream.

  • Anti-Herman says:

    Perhaps they were in a rush to fire these things before capture by the IA. I doubt you could bury this thing like an AK-47.
    Also, how “special” was this Special Group detail?

  • Richard1 says:

    From what I can tell, the idea as to barage a FOB and cause American casulties.

  • Batman says:

    Now that’s what I call good reporting.

  • Batman says:

    Looks like it could have been much worse. Appears that most of the mortars hit the side of the street, right in the middle of a very developed area.

  • Matthew says:

    Yeah, like Colin said – “inaccurate.”
    What frosts me is that if the U.S. military attempted to attack a legitimate target and missed “by a mile,” we would never hear the end from U.S. and Iraqi reporters (and they would be in the right) while not reporting (at least from the U.S.) what the enemy is doing in their desperate attempt to spectacularly create U.S. causalities on bases. I have no idea if U.S. initial media reports of a car bomb was subsequently corrected.
    One good spot – Iraqis tend to do a great job reporting these incidents pretty accurately as I understand it.

  • MattR says:

    Matthew, I put “flying ied” into google news and found Wired News and LWJ. I also tried “improvised rocket baghdad” and got those as well as the International Herald Tribune in France as well as NewsBlaze.

  • J House says:

    How many Iranian-assisted attacks must our country suffer before we unleash the full military might of the U.S. on Iran?
    They have been responsible for killing our troops directly and by proxy now for over 25 years.
    When will we have a leader that will say ‘enough’, and bring war to the Iranian leadership responsible for this?
    Would we have taken this crap in 1944?

  • David M says:

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

  • Mark Pyruz says:

    Crude, improvised weaponry. There are, by far, better suited weapons in Iranian arms stockpiles to deliver attacks as such. The fact that the militias must go to such extents in fabricating such crude delivery systems goes to show that they’re not receiving anywhere near optimal weapons support from the Iranians.
    Very good reporting, by the way. Excellent pics and captions.

  • Edward says:

    Mark Pyruz, would you say that JAM was basically led to believe that it could call on (better) outside support to defend its territory, only to be left to their own devices right when they had neither the mobility* nor the conventional power to wholy defeat the various elements of coalition/Iraqi power?
    * Tactically Sadr City may have been difficult to take, but strategically it’s not like it’s going anywhere — unlike the “archetypical” guerilla. I credit Stuart here for the idea.

  • methna7 says:

    Seems to remind me a lot of the PIRA’s Mk 10 and 15 mortar systems…

  • cedar man says:

    those are not almahdi army ,those are hezbollah brigades in iraq ,it is too strange that the american press didnt know about that.
    and this is the attacks _ videos-

  • Kristian says:

    COP Callahan is damn small. Maybe a football field or so in size. Outside, unprotected vehicle park. Has only a couple of buildings on it which would not withstand a major barrage. This could have been a very serious attack if executed correctly.
    As for the point that some others have made that this is indicative of the poor state of combat readiness of the Mehdi army, I would agree. Then again I would say, other than a few cells capable of team and squad level actions, the Mehdi army has been a defeated force since mid-2007.

  • jic says:

    “The type of improvised launch system and rocket is not new to warfare. The Irish Republican Army used a similar system to conduct a February 1991 attack on 10 Downing Street, the London office and home of the British prime minister.”
    Weren’t those ‘ordinary’ improvised mortars, without rocket engines?


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