Saturday, December 8, 2007

Iranian Qods Force & Proxy Actions in Iraq

Bill Rogio at the Long War Journal is doing a tremendous job of documenting the information known about the two significant threats to our forces in Iraq. They are al Qaeda, currently on the run and attempting to reform in the North of Iraq, and Iran with its funding and sponsorship of terrorism through special groups.

The issue of Iranian complicity in the Iraqi insurgency has been contentious since US and Iraqi forces began heavily targeting the Iranian networks in late 2006. While news reports have touted Iran's role in reducing the violence, US military officers believe Iran still serves as a source of weapons and fighters in Iraq.

. . . Iran began to extend its influence in Iraq immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in April 2003. Through the Qods Force, Iran's external wing of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, Iran immediately moved money, weapons, and operatives inside Iraq to influence the various fractured Shia political parties and militias.

Iran worked through various militias such as the Mahdi Army, the Badr Corps, the Qazali Network, the Shebaini Network, and a host of other surrogates to attack Coalition forces, Iraqi Security Forces, and rival political leaders. When groups like the Badr Corps and its political backer the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq broke from the Iranian sphere of influence and integrated with the government, the Iranian-backed militias, which have since been designated the Special Groups, began attacking them as well.

To streamline operations in Iraq, the Qods Force established a unified command, called the Ramazan Corps, and split Iraq into three roughly geographical regions.

The Ramazan Corps - Qods Force Iraq Command

The picture of Qods Force's command structure and operations in Iraq became clearer since US forces began heavily targeting the Iranian networks in late December 2006. Several high-level Qods Force officers – including Qais Qazali, Azhar al Dulaimi, Ali Mussa Daqduq, and Mahmud Farhadi – have been captured in Irbil, Baghdad, and several unnamed locations.

During these raids, Coalition forces seized computers and computer drives, documentation, journals, and other evidence that reinforced information obtained through the interrogations of the Qods Force officers. While military and intelligence sources would not discuss other methods, communications intercepts and satellite imagery are also likely to play a key role in understanding the Qods Force's activities in Iraq.

Critical information about the structure of the Ramazan Corps comes from the Iranian operatives captured in Iraq. . .

Multinational Forces Iraq learned that Iran set up the Ramazan Corps as a sophisticated command structure to coordinate military, intelligence, terrorist, diplomatic, religious, ideological, propaganda, and economic operations. "This Corps is responsible for most of the Qods Force operations in Iraq," said Major General Kevin Bergner, the spokesman for Multinational Forces Iraq, during a briefing in Baghdad on October 3.

The Ramazan Corps is based out of the Ramazan Command Center in Tehran, but information obtained by The Long War Journal indicates significant elements have forward deployed to Mehran on the border to coordinate activities.

The Ramazan Corps is split into three separate commands – Nasr, Zafar, and Fajr – each covering a roughly geographical area in Iraq.

The Long War Journal confirmed this information with a spokesman at Multinational Forces Iraq, which was hesitant to provide additional information on the Ramazan Corps. "At this particular time MNF-I is only prepared to confirm the names of the three commands that are subordinate to Ramazan Corps and that [Mahmudi] Farhadi is the Commander of the Zafr Command," said Lieutenant Commander Kevin S. Anderson.

The Nasr Command is based in Marivan in the Iranian north and deals with operations in the Kurdish regions and portions of Diyala province. The Zafar Command is based in Mehran in central Iran, and deals with operations in central Iraq, including Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Babil, Wasit, and portions of Diyala province.

The Fajr Command is based in Ahvaz in the south, although information obtained by The Long War Journal indicated command elements have moved forward to bases in Khorramshahr and Shalamcheh to direct operations. The Fajr Command directs operations in Basrah, Dhi Qhar, Maysan, and Muthanna.

Inside Iraq, the city of Amarah in Maysan province serves as a Qods Force / Ramazan Corps command and control center as well as one of the major distribution points for weapons in southern Iraq.

The southern and central Ratlines

The Ramazan Corps' operations begin inside Iran and flow through several points of entry along the border to destinations inside Iraq. Once inside Iraq, weapons are stockpiled and then distributed to local cells to conduct attacks on the primary and secondary targets of opportunity. The Long War Journal has obtained detailed information on the Qods Force ratlines in the central and southern regions.

Inside Iran, Qods Force manufactures and distributes weapons, provides training for Iraqi recruits, then facilitates the movement of weapons and fighters inside Iraq. Iraqi recruits, largely radicalized Shia from Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army, are sent to Iran for what one US military officer described as "basic jihadi training." The recruits receive several weeks of training with small arms and, depending on the units assigned, mortars and the use of explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs.

Several US military sources stated the EFPs are indeed "manufactured" inside Iran at "production lines" in the Iranian hubs of Ahvaz and Mehran. One officer stated the EFPs should not be considered IEDs, as they are professionally manufactured landmines.

"The EFP is not an IED, in that there is nothing improvised about them. They are manufactured in factories, mostly I believe in Iran," said the US military officer who is familiar with both the Sunni and Shia variants of IEDs used in Iraq. "The true IED can be put together by small insurgent cells with little or no support. The EFP indicates a large logistical network."

In the south and center, recruits and weapons are smuggled through four points of entry. In the central regions, the Mehran point of entry in the central province of Wasit is controlled by the Zafar Command. This is the primary conduit of Iranian weapons into Baghdad. The Al Sheeb entry at Maysan province and the Majnun and Shalamcheh entry points at Basrah province are fed by the Fajar Command based out of Ahvaz.

After being smuggled through the border crossings, Iranian weapons are moved to what are described as "strategic distribution hubs" in the cities of Badrah, Al Kut, Amarah, Qurnah, and Basrah. From these distribution hubs, weapons stocks are then moved forward to "tactical distribution hubs" in Hillah, Diwaniyah, Al Fajr, Samawah, and Nasiriyah.

After the weapons are moved to the strategic distribution hubs, they are warehoused for later use. From strategic hubs, the weapons are distributed to the tactical distribution hubs. From these tactical hubs, the weapons are then distributed to local cells for attacks on US troops, Iraqi Security Forces, and rival political and militia leaders as needed.

Baghdad is considered strategic center of gravity for EFP and mortar strikes. The Iranians believe they can influence events decisively by attacking Coalition and Iraqi targets in and around Baghdad. Iranian-made mortars and larger rockets are fired regularly at the massive Victory complex south of Baghdad where the US military maintains a large presence. US and Iraqi military patrols are targeted by EFPs inside Baghdad.

Iraqi and Coalition forces and rival political groups are targets for the Iranian-backed terror groups. The Ramazan Corps views the south as a means to shape and influence operations in and around Baghdad.

The cities of Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, and Basrah are the primary target locations in the south. Diwaniyah is fed by caches in Al Fajr; Nasiriyah is fed by the caches in Amarah, Qurnah, and Basrah.

Is Iran still active in Iraq?

Since the surge began, Coalition and Iraqi forces have made significant efforts to target the Qods Force-backed Special Groups operating in Iraq. Raids on Special Groups and rogue Mahdi Army cells skyrocketed since the surge began in January, while border crossings have been reinforced with Iraqi and Coalition forces.
In Wasit province, Multinational Division Central deployed a Georgian Army brigade along the border to specifically intercept the Iranian ratlines flowing from Badrah to Al Kut and Baghdad.

While several senior Iraqi officials and US military commanders have stated Iran has cooperated in reducing the flow of weapons and fighters into Iraq, some US combat commanders engaged in fighting the Special Groups disagree.

On November 15, Major General James Simmons, the Deputy Commander for Multinational Forces Iraq said the reduction in Iranian-inspired attacks along with a lack of evidence that weapons were crossing the border indicate Iran has agreed to a pledge to reduce violence in Iraq. "We believe that this indicates the commitments Iran has made appear to be holding up," Simmons said.

Iraqi spokesman Ali al Dabbagh agreed. "Iran is showing more restraint in sending people and weapons to destabilize Iraq," said Dabbagh on November 18. "[Prime Minister Maliki] spoke very frankly with the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] in Mashad. He said Iran had to choose whether to support the [Iraqi] government or any other party. ... Everything gives the feeling that Iran is making good on its pledge. The freezing of the Mahdi Army is evidence of its good intentions. Iran played a role in this.”

But three US commanders directly in the fight against the Special Groups in three of the most active theaters for the Ramazan Corps -- Baghdad, central provinces, and along the Iranian border -- disagree.

. . . The Iraqi Shia in the south have begun to organize against Iranian activities inside their country. In November, over 300,000 Shia, including 600 tribal leaders “signed a petition accusing Iran of sowing ‘disorder’ in southern Iraq.” "More than 300,000 people from the southern provinces condemned the interference of the Iranian regime in Iraq and especially in spreading security disorder in the provinces," the sheikhs said in a statement released to Reuters.

Tribal militias in Wasit province formed to help secure the Iranian border. "The leader of the Migasees tribe here in Wasit province, acknowledged tribal leaders have discussed creating a brigade of young men trained by the Americans to bolster local security as well as help patrol the border with Iran," the Associated Press reported. Tribal militias are forming in Maysan and Basrah provinces, Multination Forces Iraq told The Long War Journal in a recent inquiry on the status of the Concerned Local Citizens forces currently forming nationwide.

Iran’s complicity with the Iraqi insurgency has been a problem since the Coalition invasion of Iraq in March 2003. It was only in late 2006 that the US began to address this problem seriously. Whether Iranian intervention in Iraq is increasing, decreasing, or unchanged, Coalition and Iraqi forces must continue military and counterterrorism operations against the Ramazan Corps inside Iraq. While there have been several reports of Coalition special forces conducting raids inside Iran these accounts are unconfirmed. The Iraqi and Coalition governments must continue to pressure Iran both militarily and diplomatically to halt its terror operations inside Iraq in order for the central government to gain stronger control of the security of the country as a whole.
Read the entire article here.Then, in another post, the Long War Journal discusses the ongoing targeting of the special groups by our forces in Iraq, as well as the composition of those special groups.
While US and Iraqi forces focus on combating al Qaeda as it shifts to the northern provinces, Coalition Special Forces teams continue to target the Iranian-backed Special Groups terror cells operating in the central and southern provinces. Since December 4, Special Forces teams have conducted three raids against the Iranian-supported Shia terrorists in and around Baghdad. Each of the targeted individuals in the raids received "received special weapons training."

The largest raid occurred on December 6 in the Al Hayy region southeast of Baghdad. Coalition forces captured the targeted Special Groups leader along with five associates. Two others were killed and two wounded in a firefight. "The targeted individual reportedly received special weapons training in order to train Special Group criminal element members for insurgent operations," Multinational Forces Iraq noted in its press release. "His skills consist of improvised explosive device operation, sniper fire, rocket propelled grenades, operational security, mortars and insurgency combat tactics. He is also believed to be an associate of several other senior-level criminal element leaders who were involved in attacks on Coalition forces."

Coalition Forces conducted a second raid on December 6 in the city of Al Kut in Wasit province. "The operations targeted an individual who reportedly received specialized weapons and tactical training, including sniper rifle and rocket-propelled grenade employment, the construction of improvised explosive devices, and operational security," Multinational Forces Iraq stated. "He was also suspected of being involved in training Special Group criminal element members on weapons and operational tactics," as well as involved with other senior leaders.

It is unclear if the targeted Special Groups leader was captured, or if he was a Qods Force operative. "Identification is pending further exploitation, but we are reviewing information recovered on the scene as well as assessing the level of involvement of the detainees," Multinational Forces Iraq's Press Desk responded to an inquiry from The Long War Journal.

A third weapons trainer was targeted in the Khan Bani Said region north of Baghdad on December 4. "The targeted individual was reportedly a significant explosively formed penetrator facilitator and trainer within Special Group criminal elements," a Multinational Forces Iraq press release stated. Two Special Groups fighters were captured, but it is still unclear if the leader was among them.

The capture of these Iranian-backed operatives erodes claims that Iran is dialing back the attacks and operations inside Iraq. In late November, Special Groups operatives bombed a pet market in Baghdad and attempted to make the attack look like an al Qaeda strike.

Several senior US military officers engaged in regions where the Special Groups are active believe the Iranian ratlines are still open. These ratlines are managed by Qods Forces' Ramazan Corps, the special command assigned to manage operations in Iraq.

While Multinational Forces Iraq has not identified the weapons trainers as Iraqi or Iranian, Qods Force or native Special Groups fighters, the likelihood is they are Qods Force trainers. Senior and junior Qods Force officers need not be Iranians to serve in the unit. Two prominent Qods Force officers -- Mussa Ali Daqduq and Imad Fayez Mugniyah -- are in fact Lebanese. . . .

Continue reading the article here.For anyone who has been following Middle East terrorism for more than a decade, the name Mugniyah of Hezbollah fame ought to be as familiar as bin Laden. One would suspect that Iran dreams of creating something similar to a Hezbollah force beholden to Iran in the southern Shia provinces of Iraq.

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