Iraqi Special Operations Forces captured a senior Mahdi Army commander with “close ties” to Muqtada al Sadr’s office in Najaf on June 19. Two other senior Mahdi Army commanders in Baghdad and Hillah were captured on June 20 and 21.
The Mahdi Army commander captured by Iraqi special forces is thought to be “an influential advisor in west Baghdad” with close ties to the Office of the [Martyr] Sadr in Najaf,” Multinational Forces Iraq reported. The commander also is able to appoint Mahdi Army officers into command positions.
The US military would not release the identity of the leader as it would “threaten security or intelligence gathering efforts,” said US Navy Lieutenant Patrick Evans, a Public Affairs Officer for Multinational Corps Iraq. “The capture of this suspect will likely lead to information on other key Special Groups criminal leaders operating in the area,” said Lieutenant Colonel Neil Harper, the spokesman for Multinational Corps Iraq.
The leadership of the Mahdi Army, which the US refers to as the “Special Groups” in an effort to divide and conquer the militia and entice moderate elements into the political process, has been heavily targeted this year. The Mahdi Army has received funding, training, weapons, and support for Iran’s Qods Force.
Over the next 24 hours, Coalition forces captured two senior Mahdi Army commanders in Baghdad and Hillah.
A senior “Iranian-trained Special Groups commander in Adhamiyah” was captured in northeast Baghdad along with two associates. The Mahdi Army commander is thought to have run all of the Mahdi Army’s operations in southeastern Baghdad.
“The targeted criminal’s reported close ties and connections to Iranian intelligence agents, along with his weapons and finance facilitations make him a key capture for Coalition forces,” the US military stated.
Coalition special forces teams also captured a key Mahdi Army leader and an associate in the Hillah region south of Baghdad. The commander was “wanted for running Special Groups recruiting efforts, as well as ordering assassinations and directing the specialized training of Special Groups criminals.”
The three arrests come as the Iraqi military is pressing its operation in the Mahdi Army stronghold in the southern province of Maysan. The Mahdi Army has surrendered the provincial capital of Amarah without firing a shot, and six senior Sadrists, including the mayor of Amarah, have been detained. Security has also tightened in the neighboring provinces of Wasit, Dhi Qhar, and Basrah.
On June 14, US forces captured a Mahdi Army brigade commander in Baghdad. The most high-profile Mahdi Army leaders killed or captured this year include Arkan Hasnawi and the leadership of the Imam Ali Bin Abi Talib Jihadi Brigades in Karbala. Many weapons smugglers, financiers, cell and battalion leaders, facilitators, counterfeiters, and other senior operatives have been killed or captured.
The US and Iraq military have also plastered Baghdad walls with wanted posters of senior Mahdi Army commanders, including Tahseen al Freiji, the senior Mahdi Army commander in Sadr City, and Mahdi Khaddam Alawi al Zirjawi, a senior Mahdi Army commander with direct links to Iran and Hezbollah.
For more information on the relationship between the Mahdi Army and the Iranian-backed Special Groups, see Iran’s Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq, US military killed Mahdi Army commander Arkan Hasnawi in May 3 strike. For more information on recent operations against the Mahdi Army in the South, see Iraqi Army interdicting Iranian operations in the South and Maysan operation continues to target Sadrist leaders.
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