New Special Groups splinter emerges on Iraqi scene

In the wake of Muqtada al Sadr’s defeat at the hands of the Iraqi and Coalition forces this spring and fall, Iran has increased its backing of splinter Shia terror groups operating in Iraq. A previously unknown group, known as the Asaib al Haq, or League of the Righteous, has recently appeared on Multinational Forces Iraq’s radar. On Aug. 19, the US military issued its first press release on the group, announcing the capture of four operatives in Diyala province. Multinational Forces-Iraq provided exclusive details on the Shia terror group to The Long War Journal.

Yesterday’s raid and subsequent press release was the first official mention of the League of the Righteous at Multinational Forces-Iraq’s website. Coalition forces, likely members of Task Force 88, the special operations hunter-killer teams assigned to track al Qaeda and Shia terror groups in Iraq, targeted an operative from the League of the Righteous in the town of Qasarin, just 18 miles north of Baghdad in Diyala province. Coalition intelligence indicated the operative, who was a weapons smuggler and financier, was “attempting to restart” League of the Righteous cells in the region.

The operative, along with two associates, was captured in the raid after family members confirmed his identity. He immediately provided the name of a senior leader in the region and guided Coalition forces to the home. The leader was also detained.

There is little public information available on the League of the Righteous. The name appeared in an Associated Press report last week on Iranian support for Shia terror groups in Iraq. But few details on the group were provided, other than it was being funded by Iran as an assassination squad targeting Coalition forces and Iraqi officials and security forces. A Multinational Forces-Iraq spokesperson who wishes to remain anonymous provided additional details on the League of the Righteous in an e-mail interview with The Long War Journal.

The League of the Righteous is an offshoot from the Mahdi Army, the military arm of Muqtada al Sadr’s political movement. The group split from the Mahdi Army after he declared a cease-fire “because they disagreed with the path the Office of the Martyr Sadr (OMS) was taking,” the spokesperson said. “They make up a group which actively opposed MAS’ [Muqtada al Sadr’s] call for cease-fire and continued, and even increased, their anti-Coalition and anti-Iraqi attacks. They are as much an enemy of OMS as they are the Government of Iraq and the Coalition.”

In June, Sadr announced he would disband the Mahdi Army and form a small, secretive military arm to fight Coalition forces. He also withdrew the Sadrist movement from the political process and instead vowed to back independent candidates. The decisions caused shockwaves in the Mahdi Army, as some leaders wished to continue the fight against US forces in Baghdad and in southern and central Iraq.

Iran plays an important roll in supporting the League of the Righteous’ activities in Iraq. “We assess that Asaib al Haq (AAH) receives funding, training, weapons and even direction from the Qods Force, who have shown a desire to destabilize the legitimate government of Iraq,” the spokesperson said. Qods Force is Iran’s foreign special operations branch tasked with spreading the theocratic Khomeinist revolution.

Members of the League of the Righteous are sheltering in Iran. “Some have been there for a long time, while others have been there since fleeing to avoid capture in the spring,” the spokesperson said, referring to the military offensive against the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed terrorist groups in Iraq that began in March and is still underway in the southern provinces. The information was obtained from members of the group currently in custody, “as well as other intelligence sources,” the spokesperson said.

Multinational Forces-Iraq declined to provide an estimate on the size of the League of the Righteous, but noted that “their numbers have significantly dwindled because hundreds have been captured, killed, ran away or simply gave up their criminal lifestyles.” The group operates in Baghdad and the South as well as in Shia regions in Diyala province.

The League of the Righteous conducts attacks with the deadly, armor-piercing explosively formed projectiles, or EFPs. These are the signature weapons of Iran’s Qods Force. “We assess that these criminals have engaged in numerous EFP and IED attacks, as well as kidnappings, sectarian killings and other heinous crimes,” the spokesperson said, while also linking Hezbollah to the group. “The munitions and training to conduct these anti-Iraqi acts come from training received in Iran from the Qods Force as well as Lebanese Hezbollah trainers.”

The Iraqi military and Multinational Forces-Iraq have recently stepped up its attacks on the Hezbollah Brigades, another “Special Groups” offshoot that has conducted EFP and improvised rocket-assisted mortar, or IRAM, attacks on US and Iraqi forces. US forces have detained a senior Hezbollah trainer and several Qods Force officers inside Iraq since late 2006. Iran sent in Hezbollah operatives along with Qods Force into Iraq to train the Mahdi Army to operate along the same lines as Lebanese Hezbollah.

Iran’s Qods Force established the Ramazan Corps, the command assigned to direct the campaign against Coalition and Iraqi forces, after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Ramazan Corps ran three training camps in southern Iraq and established a network of supply and distribution points for Iranian-manufactured weapons. The Ramazan Corps also operated a command and control center in Amarah in southern Maysan province, a stronghold of the Mahdi Army. This infrastructure has been uprooted during the Iraqi-led offensive.

For more information on Iran’s involvement in supporting the Shia terror groups in Iraq, see:

Iranian Qods Force Agents Detained in Irbil Raid,

Jan. 14, 2007

The Karbala attack and the IRGC,

Jan. 26, 2007

Iran, Hezbollah train Iraqi Shia “Secret Cells”,

July 2, 2007

Surging in Wasit Province,

Sept. 18, 2007

Captured Iranian Qods Force officer a regional commander in Iraq,

Oct. 3, 2007

Iran’s Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq,

Dec. 5, 2007

Sadr forms new unit to attack US forces,

June 13, 2008

Sadrist movement withdraws from political process,

June 15, 2008

Mahdi Army decimated during recent fighting,

June 26, 2008

Iraqi forces detain Sadrist leaders, uncover Special Groups headquarters in Amarah,

July 2, 2008

Iraqi forces detain Sadrist leaders, uncover Special Groups headquarters in Amarah,

July 2, 2008

Iran continues to train Shia terror groups for attacks in Iraq,

Aug. 15, 2008

For more information on the Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq, see:

Hezbollah Brigades propaganda specialist captured in Baghdad,

July 21, 2008

Coalition forces capture Hezbollah Brigades operative in Baghdad,

July 31, 2008

Coalition forces capture 9 Hezbollah Brigades operatives in Baghdad,

Aug. 12, 2008

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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  • KW64 says:

    When Iraq is stong enough to deter actual Iranian invasion, they will still have to deal with Iran’s efforts to undermine democracy and stability in Iraq through assasination, terror and sabotage through agents such as these. At some point, you would think the Iraqi government would start thinking that they can return the favor by at least assasinating some of the Iraqi’s who are operating against the government of Iraq from Iran.

  • Buff52 says:

    Surely there are Persian/Farsi speaking people in the world who know democracy and freedom. We need to support freedom loving Persians in and outside of Iran who will fight to kick out the Revolutionary Mullahs from power. Then the subversion will stop.
    An ideology of Persian Peace and Freedom needs to be developed.

  • Private Finch says:

    Are we giving Iran a small dose of the problems they give others? While sitting on a sea of oil, they have only one refinery- a major weak link that can be damaged. Damage the refinery and you damage their fragile economy.

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/20/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • Neo says:

    By creating all these small groups, Iran is just trying to remarket and re-label the same product under a slightly different guise. It’s called dressing up a pig. Having rejected Sadr’s movement, I doubt the Iraqi people put themselves behind any of this nonsense. Iran can dress this up any way they want and use as much makeup as they please. It’s still a pig.

  • ST333 says:

    Time to step up the clandestine operations. We need to make a lot of infrastructure “mysteriously” explode. I’m with Pvt. Finch, that refinery needs to go. The more pressure they have domestically, the less time they will have to focus on making trouble for their neighbors and us. With the recent Russian movements, I’m guessing they are only gaining confidence.
    I’ll bet since Russia and Syria signed a defense pact, Iran is pressing the Russians to make a similar deal with them. If that happens, then things will get REAL interesting regarding their nuke situation.


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