UPI reported that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force has activated Abu Yaser Mustafa Sheibani’s Special Group. As noted before, Tehran is hoping to step up attacks by its Shiite allies so that it can claim that it forced the Americans to withdraw from Iraq. The U.S. commander for western and central Iraq for example, recently said that Iranian supported groups were behind a series of missiles fired at the U.S. Embassy and Green Zone in Baghdad. Back in August 2010 Asharq al-Awsat claimed that another notorious Special Groups commander Abu Dura, aka Ismail Hafiz al-Lami, had also returned to Iraq from Iran to carry out operations. Dura was known as the Shiite Zarqawi during the sectarian civil war because of his brutal attacks on Sunnis.
Sheibani was originally a Badr Brigade commander, which was the militia of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council. In the 1990s he was in charge of their operations in Baghdad and central Iraq. After the U.S. invasion he began smuggling weapons to Shiite militiamen using the networks he created under Saddam’s rule. That was a way for Iran to influence violence in Iraq by controlling the amount of weapons and money available to Shiite militants. He allegedly introduced the Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) shaped charge to Iraq. He also ferried Iraqis to Iran for training, received aid from Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and his network was responsible for some high profile attacks as well. In 2006 he was placed on Iraq's most wanted list, and ended up fleeing to Iran. His return could mean an attempt to reconstitute this flow of men and material between Iraq and Iran.
While the number of operations by Special Groups has significantly increased, their overall numbers are rather insignificant, and their damage inconsequential. In the last week of September for example, there were 11 rocket attacks upon the Green Zone, and one in Basra that were believed to be carried out by Shiite groups. That was only 10.7% of all security incidents in the country that week. Abu Sheibani and Abu Dura’s presence in Iraq can only be bad news, but it is largely a sideshow. Even when former U.S. commander General Ray Odierno originally warned about an up tick in Iranian-backed activity, he said that it was only short-term, posed no threat to stability or the Iraqi government, and that Tehran was much more interested in its political and economic influence. Hopefully then in a few months these attacks will subside. The question is what will these Special Groups commanders be doing afterward? They have very little support within Iraq and are only good at spreading violence. They could turn to crime, which is a new favorite pastime of many militants, or they could go back to Iran. Their future is the real question that should be explored rather than their current mayhem.
Babnews, Al-Rafidayn, “U.S. General: Iran Behind Attacks on Green Zone,” MEMRI Blog, 9/24/10
Fadel, Leila, “Amid threat, U.S. heightens security at its Iraq bases,” Washington Post, 7/13/10
Felter, Joseph and Fishman, Brian, “Iranian Strategy in Iraq, Politics and ‘Other Means,’” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, 10/13/08
Olive Group, “Weekly Security Update for 30th September 2010,” Iraq Business News, 9/30/10
Peterson, Scott, “Odierno: Militants trained in Iran prepare to attack US bases in Iraq,” Christian Science Monitor, 7/13/10
UPI, “Iraq: Return of Sheibani’s killer squads,” 9/30/10