On July 1, 2008 the Associated Press interviewed an Iraqi army officer and two Shiite politicians who said they were Sadrists who spoke extensively about Hezbollah’s role in Iraq. They claimed that Hezbollah was operating two training camps east of Basra in Deir and Kutaiban since 2006. Up to ten Hezbollah instructors worked there training Special Groups militiamen from Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. When the Iraqi government launched Operation Knight’s Charge in Basra in March, the Lebanese operatives fled to Iran. They also said that Hezbollah was involved in two attacks on Coalition forces. First, it helped direct the January 2007 raid on Karbala’s provincial government office in which Shiite militiamen dressed as U.S. soldiers killed one U.S. soldier, and kidnapped four others that were later found dead. Second, the Lebanese group also took part in the kidnapping of five Britons from the Finance Ministry’s offices in Baghdad in May 2007. Hezbollah’s main role in all these acts has been as an intermediary between the Iranians and Iraqi Shiites.
Hezbollah became involved in Iraq to assist its ally and patron Iran. As early as January 2004, there were reports that up to 100 Hezbollah fighters were in Iraq assisting Iranian intelligence. All of these operations have been under the command of General Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guards Qods Force, who oversees Iran’s policy in Iraq. Suleimani was the one that introduced Hezbollah into Iraq. Until his death in February 2008, Imad Mughniyeh was the top Hezbollah commander that worked with Suleimani. Mughniyeh is believed to have participated in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marines in Beirut and the 1992 attack on the Israeli embassy in Argentina.
The main task of the Lebanese has been to train Shiite militiamen in weapons, explosives, and tactics. Besides the two camps allegedly near Basra, Hezbollah has also worked with Iraqis in Sadr City, Iran and Lebanon. Their main students have been members of the Mahdi Army, known as Special Groups. The main Special Groups commander in Sadr City, Mahdi Khadam Alawi al-Zirjawi for example, along with up to 2,000 other Shiite fighters have all gone through these camps.
Hezbollah’s most famous contribution to the fighting has been the Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) that Hezbollah developed to fight Israel. The bomb has the capability to destroy American tanks. The British, in October 2005, were the first ones to publicly charge Hezbollah with giving the EFP technology to the Mahdi Army so that it could attack English troops stationed in southern Iraq. Since then the EFP has been used throughout central Iraq against Coalition forces.
Diagram of how EFPs are arrayed for an attack on a vehicle
Sadr has been quite open about his relationship with Hezbollah. In August 2007 the English Independent reported Sadr saying, “We have formal links with Hizbollah, we do exchange ideas and discuss the situation facing Shiites in both countries.” He continued, “It is natural that we would want to improve ourself by learning from each other. We copy Hizbollah in the way they fight and their tactics, we teach each other and we are getting better through this.” Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has also become more involved in Iraqi affairs. According to a Lebanese newspaper he allegedly spends a couple hours a day going over Iraq, and in May 2008 gave a speech about the “resistance” going on there.
U.S. and Iraqi Operations
When the U.S. and Iraqi governments began cracking down on Sadr’s militias in 2007 and 2008, they began confronting Hezbollah operatives as well. In March 2007 they captured a senior Hezbollah commander Ali Musa Daqduq in Iraq. Daqduq helped oversee training and recruitment of militiamen. In response, Hezbollah helped plan the raid on the Finance Ministry in Baghdad in May 2007 that captured five Britons as trade bait for Daqduq. The five are still held captive today. In March 2008, when Iraqi forces moved into Basra, they also captured a Hezbollah commander who was turned over to the U.S. Together, U.S. and Iraqi forces have gone a long way to break up Hezbollah’s operations in Iraq in 2008.
Since the 2003 U.S. invasion, Iran has extended its influence throughout Iraq, and used Hezbollah as part of its plans. Hezbollah are Shiite Arabs, making the recruitment and training of Shiite Iraqis easier. They have introduced deadly technology in the form of the EFP, and helped plan and carry out attacks on Coalition forces. Sadr proved a willing partner as he has modeled parts of his organization after Hezbollah with its social service and armed wings. With the surge and recent government crackdowns against the Mahdi Army, these networks are just beginning to be rounded up. As long as Iran chooses to confront the U.S. in Iraq militarily however, Hezbollah can be expected to have a presence in the country.
Allam, Hannah, Landay, Jonathan, and Strobel, Warren, “Is an Iranian general the most powerful man in Iraq?” McClatchy Newspapers, 4/28/08
Associated Press, “Shiite militia may be disintegrating,” 3/21/07
Ayman, Dr. Hashemi, “A detailed and dangerous report about the Iranian role in the destruction of Iraq,” Homeland Security US.net, 3/19/06
Azzaman, “Assassinated Hizbollah leader had links with Iraq’s Mahdi Army,” 2/22/08
BBC, “Iran ‘behind attacks on British,’” 10/5/05
Bruno, Greg, “Iran’s Revolutionary Guards,” Council on Foreign Relations, 10/25/07
Cordesman, Anthony, “Iraq’s Insurgency and Civil Violence,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 8/22/07
Daragahi, Borzou, “Iran fomenting violence in Iraq, U.S. says,” Los Angeles Times, 3/10/08
Gordon, Michael, “Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says,” New York Times, 2/10/07
- “Hezbollah Trains Iraqis in Iran, Officials Say,” New York Times, 5/5/08
Gordon, Michael Filkims, Dexter, “Hezbollah may be helping militias,” San Francisco Chronicle, 11/28/06
Hendawi, Hamza and Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Hezbollah said to train Shiite militiamen in Iraq,” Associated Press, 7/1/08
Katzman, Kenneth, “Iran’s Activities and Influence in Iraq,” Congressional Research Service, 12/26/07
Latif, Nizar and Sands, Phil, “Mehdi fighters ‘trained by Hizbollah in Lebanon,’” Independent, 8/20/07
McElroy, Damien, “John Bolton: US should bomb Iranian camps,” Telegraph, 5/6/08
Paley, Amit, “U.S. Deploys a Purpose-Driven Distinction,” Washington Post, 5/21/08
Peterson, Scott and Blanford, Nicholas, “A gauge of Iran’s hand in Iraq,” Christian Science Monitor, 7/5/07
Phillips, James, “Iran’s Hostile Policies in Iraq,” Heritage Foundation, 4/30/07
Porter, Gareth, “US Military Ignored Evidence of Iraq-Made EFPs,” AntiWar.com, 10/26/07
Pound, Edward, “The Iran Connection,” U.S. News & World Report, 11/22/04
Roggio, Bill, “Iranian involvement in Iraq: an old or a new case?” Long War Journal.org, 10/15/07
- “Mahdi Army trains with Hezbollah,” Long War Journal.org, 8/20/07
Tanter, Raymond, “Iran’s Threat to Coalition Forces in Iraq,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1/15/04
Visser, Reidar, “The Sadrists of Basra and the Far South of Iraq,” Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, May 2008
Ware, Michael, “Inside Iran’s Secret War for Iraq,” Time, 8/15/05
White, Jeffrey, “Fighting Iran in Iraq,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2/14/07