US forces detained five members of the Hezbollah Brigades in Baghdad on Saturday as part of a renewed push to blunt the return of Iranian-backed Shia terror groups reentering Iraq. The Iraqi and US military have stepped up operations against the Special Groups over the past two weeks. Iraqi and US forces killed two Special Groups fighters and captured 107 since Sept. 16.
The latest series of raids in Baghdad netted five members of the Hezbollah Brigades in New Baghdad, a former stronghold of Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army. The Hezbollah Brigades is an Iranian-backed terror group that has been behind multiple roadside bombings and rocket attacks against US and Iraqi forces in Baghdad. The group films these attacks and posts them on the internet. More than 30 Hezbollah Brigades operatives have been captured over the past two months. The group is estimated at having several hundred members.
The US military says Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah have helped establish, fund, train, and arm, and have provided operational support for Shia terror groups such as the Hezbollah Brigades and the League of the Righteous. The US military refers to these groups as well as the Iranian-backed elements of the Mahdi Army as the “Special Groups.” These groups train in camps inside Iran. The US Treasury Department placed sanctions on a senior Iranian general and a Mahdi Army commander for arming, training, and funding Shia terror groups in Iraq on Sept. 16.
Recently an Iraqi police chief said Special Groups fighters and leaders were beginning to return into Iraq from bases in Iran.
“The Special Groups are returning from Iran after receiving training in using new tactics,” Brigadier General Sabah al Fatlawi, the chief of police in the southern province of Dhi Qhar, told AFP on Sept. 16. “We have seized 20 motorcycle bombs in Nasiriyah. Some groups have arrived in Nasiriyah … They are crossing the border through Amarah.” Amarah borders Iran and served as the Mahdi Army and Special Group’s headquarters in the South.
One of the largest single roundups of Iranian-backed fighters occurred on Sept. 25-26 north of Nasiriyah. Iraqi forces detained 53 Special Groups operatives and found large weapons caches during a series of operations north of the city.
The Special Groups and the Mahdi Army fled to Iran after the Iraqi military, backed by Coalition forces, launched a series of operations against the Mahdi Army in central and southern Iraq in March 2008.
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.
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. The Mahdi Army has been disbanded while Sadr still lives in Iran.
Recent operations against the Iranian-backed terror groups operating inside Iraq:
Sept. 27: Coalition forces captured five Hezbollah Brigades fighters in New Baghdad
Sept. 25-26: Iraqi and US forces captured 53 Special Groups operatives north of Nasiriyah. Large amounts of weapons were also uncovered.
Sept. 24: Coalition forces captured a senior weapons smuggler for the Army of the Righteous in Amarah.
Sept. 21: Coalition forces detained five Hezbollah Brigades operatives during two separate raids in New Baghdad.
Sept. 20: Iraqi and US forces captured two Special Groups fighters in Al Kut in Wasit province.
Sept. 19: US soldiers captured two Special Groups operatives in the Hayy Jihad neighborhood of Baghdad’s Rashid district.
Sept. 18: Iraqi security forces killed one Special Groups fighter and detained four during a raid in Hillah.
Sept. 16-18: Iraqi Special Operations Forces and Iraqi Special Weapons and Tactics teams captured eight Special Groups fighters and killed one during operations in Hillah, Amarah, Diwaniyah, and New Baghdad.
Sept. 16: Iraqi police captured six Special Groups fighters behind an IED attack that killed a policeman in the Ur neighborhood in Baghdad.