Senior Special Groups leader captured at Baghdad airport


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

The US military detained a senior Special Groups leader as he flew into Baghdad International Airport this morning. He was detained without incident after the US military received intelligence he was arriving in Baghdad via air.

The leader, who was not named, is described as being “part of the most senior social and operational circles of Special Groups” by Multinational Forces-Iraq. “The man has been known to travel in and out of Iraq to neighboring nations including Iran and Lebanon, where it is believed he meets and helps run the Iranian-backed Special Groups in Iraq,” Multinational Forces-Iraq reported in a press release.

The leader is said to be behind the deadly bombing at the Sadr City District Advisory Council meeting on June 24 that killed two US soldiers, two members of the US State Department, and six Iraqis. The meeting took place after the Mahdi Army called for a cease-fire and allowed Iraqi troops to enter the northeastern Baghdad neighborhood.

The unnamed Special Groups leader is likely to have close connections to Hezbollah and Iran’s Qods Force, which has established a command to fight a covert war inside Iraq. Hezbollah and Qods forces have established groups such as the Hezbollah Brigades and the Army of the Righteous to attack Coalition and Iraqi forces and to target Iraqi leaders for assassination.

The US military claims the Mahdi Army is not part of the Special Groups, but the fighting this spring and early summer in Sadr City, Basrah, and much of southern and central Iraq was aimed at Mahdi Army strongholds. The senior most wanted Special Groups leaders are all senior Mahdi Army commanders.

The US military uses the term Special Groups as part of its strategy to divide the Mahdi Army and provide room for the moderate elements of the militia to join the political process.

The Mahdi Army took heavy casualties while opposing the Iraqi security forces in Basrah and the South and against US and Iraqi forces in Sadr City during operations to secure the areas in March, April, and May. More than 1,000 Mahdi Army fighters were killed in Sadr City alone, according to a Mahdi Army commander in Baghdad. Another 415 were killed in Basrah. More than 400 were killed during fighting in the southern cities of Najaf, Karbala, Hillah, Diwaniyah, Amarah, Samawah, and Nasiriyah in late March and early April, according to numbers compiled by The Long War Journal. Thousands more have been wounded or captured.

For more information on the Special Groups and Iran’s role in the Iraqi insurgency, see Iran continues to train Shia terror groups for attacks in Iraq, Iran’s Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq, and Targeting the Iranian “Secret Cells.” For more information on the Mahdi Army, see Sadr calls for Mahdi Army cease-fire and Dividing the Mahdi Army.

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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  • Bruce B says:

    Weird that the terrorists feel fine traveling by air with everyone looking for them. Do they need more Air Marshals over there?

  • David M says:

    The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/28/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  • Ed says:

    AP is reporting that Ali Al Lami has been arrested by US forces at the Baghdad Airport. A surprising development to say the least.
    BTW, you guys rock. Keep up the great work.

  • Mike says:

    That is really surprising that they would walk into the baghdad airport. But I guess they thought they still have the support of the people. Got to imagine the airport security would have pictures of all the suspects.
    People forget how powerful computer face recognition is nowadays. Even the London police are using street cameras to automatically identify and locate suspects.


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