Iraqi security forces detained an Iranian operative in southern Iraq in the latest operation designed to curb Iran’s influence in the war-torn country.
The Iraqi troops captured a weapons trafficker working for Qods Force, the covert external operations branch of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, during a raid in Basrah.
“Iraqi security forces detained a wanted man in central Basrah,” an official at Multinational Force Iraq told Voices of Iraq. “The man, a suspected member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, carries arms and munitions from a neighboring country into Iraq with the aim of backing the militias and armed groups.”
Iraqi security forces have detained four Iranian operatives since the beginning of October. On Oct. 1, the US military announced that Iraqi paramilitary police from the National Emergency Response Brigade arrested Khalid Masur Isma’il during a raid in the Shia slum of Sadr City. Isma’il served as “financier and recruiter” for the Hezbollah Brigades, or Kata’ib Hezbollah, a Shia terror group that receives funding, training, logistics, guidance, and material support from the Qods Force.
Two other Hezbollah Brigades operatives have been captured in Baghdad this month. On Oct. 3, Iraqi troops arrested a man thought to be affiliated with the Hezbollah Brigades during a raid in Baghdad. Another Hezbollah Brigades operative was detained on Oct. 12, also in Baghdad.
The arrest of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps officer comes just one day after the group suffered a devastating suicide attack that killed five senior Qods Force officers in Sistan-Baluchistan province in eastern Iran.
A Jundallah suicide bomber attacked a meeting between Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps leaders and tribal leaders in Sistan-Baluchistan province, and an IRGC convoy, killing 28 officers and civilians. Brigadier General Nour Ali Shoushtari, the deputy commander for the IRGC’s ground forces, and Brigadier Rajab Ali Mohammadzadeh, the IRGC’s provincial commander for Sistan-Baluchistan, were killed in the attack. In a press release on its website, Jundallah claimed the commanders of Iranshahr Corps, Sarbaz Corps, and the Amir al Mo’menin Brigade was also killed in the attack.
Hezbollah Brigades targeted as pressure is eased on the League of the Righteous
For over two years, the Hezbollah Brigades has been active in and around Baghdad. The terror group has increased its profile by conducting attacks against US and Iraqi forces, using explosively-formed penetrators and improvised rocket-assisted mortars, which have been described as flying improvised explosive devices. The Hezbollah Brigades has posted videos of these attacks on the Internet.
In July 2009, the US Treasury Department designated the Hezbollah Brigades as an insurgent and militia entity that threaten to destabilize the security of Iraq.
As the Iraqi security forces round up a senior Hezbollah Brigades leader, the US is continuing to release members of the Asaib al Haq, or the League of the Righteous, another Iranian-backed terror group.
More than 100 members of the League of the Righteous have been released since last week. According to a spokesman for the group, talks are underway with the US to release Qais Qazali, the former leader of the League of the Righteous who is currently in US custody. The US is planning to release all members of the group, even though the group is known to still hold a British hostage.
The US has also released several senior Qods Force officers, including Mahmud Farhadi, the leader of the Zafr Command, one of three units subordinate to the Qods Force’s Ramazan Corps. Farhadi was among five Iranians turned over to the Iraqi government and then subsequently turned over to the Iranians in July.
Background on Iranian activity in Iraq
Flash Presentation on the Ramazan Corps and the Iranian Ratlines into Iraq. Click the map to view. A Flash Player is required to view, click to download. Presentation by Nick Grace and Bill Roggio, December 2007.
Both the Iraqi government and the US military have said Iran has backed various Shia terror groups inside Iraq, including elements of the Mahdi Army. While the Iranian government has denied the charges, Iraqi and US forces have detained dozens of Iranian Qods Force officers and operatives, captured numerous Shia terrorist leaders under Iranian command, and found ample documentation as well as Iranian-made and Iranian-supplied weapons.
Since late 2006, US and Iraqi forces have captured and killed several high-level Qods Force officers inside Iraq. Among those captured were Mahmud Farhadi, one of the three Iranian regional commanders in the Ramazan Corps; Ali Mussa Daqduq, a senior Lebanese Hezbollah operative; and Qais Qazali, the leader of the Qazali Network, which is better known as the Asaib al Haq or the League of the Righteous. Azhar al Dulaimi, one of Qazali’s senior tactical commanders, was killed in Iraq in early 2007.
Since mid-October 2008, Iraqi and US forces have killed one Qods Force operative and captured 17 during raids throughout southern and central Iraq.
Qods Force, the special operations branch of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, has supported various Shia militias and terror groups inside Iraq, including the Mahdi Army. Qods Force helped to build the Mahdi Army along the same lines as Lebanese Hezbollah. Iran denies the charges, but captive Shia terrorists admit to having been recruited by Iranian agents and then transported into Iran for training.
Immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Iran established the Ramazan Corps to direct operations inside Iraq. The US military says that Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah have helped establish, fund, train, arm, and provide operational support for Shia terror groups such as the Hezbollah Brigades and the League of the Righteous. The US military refers to these groups along with the Iranian-backed elements of the Mahdi Army as the “Special Groups.” These groups train in camps inside Iran.
US military officers believe that Iran has been ramping up its operations inside Iraq since its surrogates suffered a major defeat at the hands of the Iraqi military during the spring and summer of 2008. Iraqi troops went on the offensive against the Mahdi Army and other Iranian-backed terror groups in Baghdad, Basrah, and central and southern Iraq.
More than 2,000 Mahdi Army members were killed and thousands more were wounded. The operation forced Muqtada al Sadr to agree to a cease-fire, disband the Mahdi Army, and pull the Sadrist political party out of the provincial elections. Sadr’s moves caused shock waves in the Mahdi Army, as some of the militia’s leaders wished to continue the fight against US forces in Baghdad and in southern and central Iraq.
Iranian-backed Shia terror groups in Iraq
The League of the Righteous is a splinter group that broke away from Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army after Sadr announced he would disband the Mahdi Army and formed a small, secretive military arm to fight Coalition forces in June. The new group, called the Brigade of the Promised Day, has not been linked to any attacks since its formation last summer.
Sadr loyalist Qais Qazali was commander of the League of the Righteous up until his capture in 2007. The group is now said to be under the command of Akram al Kabi, a former Sadr loyalist.
The League of the Righteous receives funding, training, weapons, and direction from the Qods Force. The League of the Righteous conducts attacks with the deadly armor-piercing explosively formed projectiles known as EFPs, as well as with the more conventional roadside bombs.
The size of the League of the Righteous is unknown, but hundreds of members of the group were killed, captured, or fled to Iran during the Iraqi government offensive against the Mahdi Army from March to July of 2008, according to the US military.
Sadr is looking to pull the rank and file of the League back into the fold of the Sadr political movement. Earlier this year Sadr issued a message rejecting the US-Iraqi security agreement and said he “extends his hand to the mujahideen in the so-called Asaib but not their leaderships who have been distracted by politics and mortal life from the [two late] Sadrs and the interests of Iraq and Iraqis.”
The Hezbollah Brigades, or Kata’ib Hezbollah, has been active in and around Baghdad for more than a year. The terror group has increased its profile by conducting attacks against US and Iraqi forces, using the deadly explosively-formed penetrator land mines and improvised rocket-assisted mortars, which have been described as flying improvised explosive devices. The Hezbollah Brigades has posted videos of these attacks on the Internet.
The terror group is an offshoot of the Iranian-trained Special Groups, the US military said last summer. Hezbollah Brigades receives funding, training, logistics, guidance, and material support from the Qods Force.
Both the US military and the Iraqi military believe that the Special Groups are preparing to reinitiate fighting as their leaders and operatives are beginning to filter back into Iraq from Iran. On Feb. 4, Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin, the deputy commander of Multinational Forces Iraq, said that Iran continues to arm, fund, and train the Special Groups, and that munitions traced back to Iran continue to be uncovered in Iraq. Recent intelligence and the finds of new Iranian caches “lead us to believe that Iranian support activity is still ongoing,” Austin warned.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.