Friday, August 29, 2008

Continued Reports of Iranian and Hezbollah Training of Shiite Militants

This month, August 2008, there were reports of continued Iranian support for Shiite militants. The first came from the Associated Press on August 15 that was based upon a U.S. intelligence officer. It said Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Qods Force and Lebanon’s Hezbollah were training Iraqis in four camps in Iran. Those were located in Tehran, Qom, Ahaz, and Mashhad. They were allegedly working with two breakaway Mahdi Army factions, the League of the Righteous and the Hezbollah Brigades. Abu Dhabi’s The National, also interviewed two Sadrists who claimed they and around 100 others had recently returned from Hezbollah training in Lebanon. They claimed they went through a two-month long weapons, tactics and religious program. These articles join a litany of others documenting Iran’s ties to Shiite fighters in Iraq.

Iran has had extensive connections with Shiite militias since before the U.S. invasion. They established the Badr Brigade during the Iran-Iraq war, and sent in thousands of their operatives immediately after the invasion. Later they shifted support to Moqtada al-Sadr, and created Special Groups that were more heavily armed and focused upon attacking U.S. and British forces. During that time they were reported to have set up camps in Qadisiyah, Dhi Qar, Maysan, and Basra, and carried out training in Najaf and Baghdad as well. Hezbollah has been employed as advisors and organizers of the Shiite militants. Iran also has a network of Qods Force bases inside Iran along the Iraqi border to support militias, and Americans have captured Hezbollah and Iranian operatives within Iraq. Now they are working with smaller Shiite groups as well.

Since the U.S. invasion, Iran has had a multi-faceted, and often contradictory approach towards Iraq. As reported before, they have become one of Iraq’s largest trading partners, they send thousands of religious pilgrims to Iraq each year, they provide energy to several different Iraqi provinces, and have close ties to many Iraqi exile politicians. Iran has supported the formation of a Shiite-Kurdish led government as well. At the same time, they have backed various Shiite groups to carry out attacks on Coalition forces. This apparent inconsistency in policy was due to divided opinions within Iran. Some support violence to tie down and punish U.S. forces in Iraq, while others have pushed for supporting the government. It seemed like Iran could do both, until Prime Minister Maliki decided to take on his political rival Sadr in March 2008. Since then, many of the fighters Tehran worked with have been killed, jailed, forced to go into hiding, or have fled to Iran. Still, the Qods Force was able to play both sides by brokering cease-fires in Basra and Sadr City. This division has continued since then, as Iran has negotiated new trade deals with Iraq, is supposedly supporting Maliki’s demand for a withdrawal of U.S. combat troops, while at the same time continuing to train and support Shiites willing to carry out attacks inside Iraq. It appears that Tehran still believes that it can have its cake and it eat too in Iraq.

SOURCES

Abedin, Mahan, “The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI),” Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, October 2003

Agence France Presse, “US nabs death squad chief in Baghadad,” 6/8/08

Cochrane, Marisa, “The Battle for Basra,” Institute for the Study of War, 5/31/08

Cordesman, Anthony, “Sadr and the Mahdi Army: Evoluation, Capabilities, and a New Direction,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, 8/4/08

Hendawi, Hamza and Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Hezbollah said to train Shiite militiamen in Iraq,” Associated Press, 7/1/08

Hess, Pamela, “Hit squads training in Iraq,” Associated Press, 8/15/08

Nasr, Vali, “Iran on Its Heels,” Washington Post, 6/19/08

The National, “Hizbollah training us: Mahdi Army,” 8/23/08

Nourizadeh, Ali, “Iran’s Revolutionary Guard to Train Iraqi Shiite Youths,” Asharq Alawsat, 8/19/08

Phillips, James, “Deter Iranian and Syrian Meddling In Postwar Iraq,” Heritage Foundation, 4/4/03

Porter, Gareth, “U.S. Officials Admit Worry over a ‘Difficult’ al-Maliki,” IPS, 8/15/08

Rahimi, Babk, “Moqtada al-Sadr’s New Alliance with Tehrn,” Terrorism Monitor, Jamestown Foundation, 3/1/07

Roggio, Bill, “Iran continues to train Shia terror groups for attacks in Iraq,” Long War Journal.org, 8/15/08
- “Iran’s Ramazan Corps and the ratlines into Iraq,” Long War Journal.org, 12/5/07
- “New Special Groups splinter emerges on Iraqi scene,” Long War Journal.org, 8/20/08
- “Report: Iraqi security forces preparing operation against Mahdi Army in Maysan,” Long War Journal.org, 6/12/08

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