Monday, July 11, 2011

How Iran Used Explosively Formed Projectiles (EFPs) To Influence Events In Iraq

On July 7, 2011, two more U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq. They died just outside their base at Camp Victory, Baghdad at the hands of an Explosively Formed Projectile (EFP). EFPs were first introduced into Iraq in 2005 by Iran, utilizing Iraqis and smuggling routes they had relationships with dating back to the 1980s. The EFP is one of the deadliest weapons encountered during the war. Tehran began supplying them to militants as part of its policy to make the Americans pay for the invasion of Iraq, and to eventually force them to leave.
An EFP (Wikipedia)

Iran began shipping EFPs to Iraq at the beginning of 2005. EFPs are different from regular roadside bombs, which rely upon an explosive force to cause damage. Instead, the EFP sets off a charge behind a series of plates, which are then turned into slugs that are specifically designed to penetrate armor. They were first encountered just after the January elections. In May, they started being noted in the press when one killed ten British soldiers in Basra. They would soon show up across southern Iraq, and then the rest of the country by the end of the year. At the time, Tehran was expanding its military operations in Iraq. Immediately after the 2003 invasion, it had relied upon its Iranian Revolutionary Guards, intelligence agents, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and its Badr Brigade to collect intelligence on the Coalition forces, carry out sabotage attacks, and assassinate Baathists and officials associated with the Iran-Iraq War. By 2005 however, Iran had decided to confront the occupation more directly, and began reaching out to Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army and its various breakaway groups, which would later become known as Special Groups. Providing them with EFPs was part of this stepped up military campaign.

In the summer and fall of 2005, the Coalition began publicly complaining about Iranian assistance to militants, and especially about EFPs. In June, the Pentagon claimed Iran was sending EFPs into Iraq. (1) The next month, a large shipment of the devices was captured in Diyala. The Pentagon then claimed that the weapon was behind the May death of the ten British soldiers in Basra. That led U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalizad and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to tell the press that Tehran was interfering in Iraq. The U.S. military also found two high-quality videos of how to build EFPs, which were just like CDs captured by Israel from Hezbollah in Lebanon. That set off speculation by the Americans that the Lebanese group was working within Iraq, which they had been since 2003. In September, Sadrist cleric, and breakaway Mahdi Army commander Sheikh Ahmad Majid al-Fartusi was arrested for carrying out attacks upon the British in Basra, which included EFPs. By October, the English were also chiming in, accusing the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah of providing EFPs to the Mahdi Army in southern Iraq. Tehran denied any involvement at that time, hoping to hide its decision to try to force the Coalition out of Iraq by supporting a variety of Shiite militant groups.
EFP cache found by U.S. troops (Wired)
The man delivering EFPs to Iraq was Abu Sheibani. He was a former commander in the Badr Brigade, who was in charge of their operations in Baghdad during the 1990s. In 2005, he had around 280 men under his command broken up into 17 cells. Some of them had received training in Lebanon from Hezbollah. They were not only responsible for shipping weapons to Iraq, but for sending Iraqis to Iran for training. Sheibani also conducting some attacks upon Coalition forces himself. He was told by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to contact as many groups as possible that were opposed to the occupation, and get them to carry out attacks in return for armaments. At its height, there were EFP cells stretching from Basra in the south to Kirkuk in the north where Shiite Turkmen and Arabs were used. Sheibani was eventually put on a waned list by Baghdad, and he ended up fleeing to Iran. While Sadr and his Mahdi Army were usually blamed for carrying out attacks upon the Coalition, it was actually older Badr Brigade elements that were arming them. The Badr Brigade was created by Iran during the Iran-Iraq War as part of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and fought against Saddam Hussein. They were therefore more trusted than Sadr or any of his militiamen, who Tehran considered unpredictable, and it was they who early on were delivering weapons into Iraq.
Some of the supply lines used by Iran to ship weapons into Iraq that had been used since the 1980s
Sheibani’s network relied upon old smuggling routes, which Iran and anti-Saddam Iraqis had been using since the 1980s. These originated in Iran, and went to Basra and Maysan in southern Iraq, and Diyala in the east. They then stretched out to other parts of the country such as Kut in Wasit, Qurnah in Basra, Hillah in Babil, Diwaniya in Qadisiyah, Samawa in Muthanna, and Nasiriyah in Dhi Qar. Trucks carrying legitimate Iranian imports were usually used to ship in the weapons, and most of the EFPs ended up in Sadr City, Baghdad. These same routes had been used by Iran throughout the 1980s and 1990s to support Shiite parties like the Supreme Council and the Dawa Party that opposed Saddam Hussein. When Tehran decided to oppose the U.S. occupation, they used many of the same people and the same trails they had been using for the last twenty years.

Behind Sheibani was the Revolutionary Guards Qods Force’s Ramazan Corps. The Corps was created in the mid-1990s to coordinate its anti-Iraqi operations. It ran three camps along the border in Ahvaz, Khorramshahr, and Nasr. By the time of the U.S. invasion, it had three commands as well, the Nasr Command, which was in charge of Kurdistan and Diyala, the Zafar Command that dealt with Baghdad, Najaf, Karbala, Babil, Wasit, and parts of Diyala, and the Fajr Command that operated in Basra, Dhi Qar, Maysan, and Muthanna. With most of this infrastructure in place for two decades, it was easy for Tehran to begin supplying EFPs and other means of assistance to militants after the 2003 invasion.

In 2006, the use of EFPs was increasing, and so were the casualties. From January to December EFP incidents increased 150%, and accounted for 30% of U.S. casualties by the last quarter of the year. In June, the British found an EFP factory in Majar al-Kabir, Basra. In November another factory was discovered by the Americans in Baghdad. It was apparent that Iran, Hezbollah, and the Sheibani network had not only developed a group of militiamen willing to carry out operations against the Coalition, but also taught them how to build their own EFPs so that they were not completely reliant upon supplies from Tehran.

As Washington sent in extra troops and changed tactics with the Surge of 2007, Tehran also upped its opposition to America’s plans. In January, EFPs only made up 2.5% of all IED attacks within Iraq. They then reached a high in July with 36 incidents, leading to 23 of the 69 U.S. casualties that month. Almost all of these occurred in Baghdad, which accounted for 66.9% of the 623 EFP attacks for the year. The capital was the center of operations for the Surge, so it should have been no surprise that most EFPs were deployed there as Tehran tried to make the U.S. pay for its troop increase.

In the summer, the use of EFPs suddenly dived. From July to October 2007, there were 50% less attacks using the devices. This was part of a larger cut back in operations by Special Groups. The cause of the decrease was Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who told Iran that it needed to stop its weapons shipments because they were not only leading to more American casualties, but also Shiite on Shiite violence. He was referring to the Badr Brigade and the Mahdi Army, which were carrying on a running war against each other across southern Iraq. By December, Iraq’s Foreign Minister claimed that Iran was helping with the security situation. Tehran used the flow of weapons and money to militants as a way to control them. When the Surge started at the beginning of 2007, they vastly increased the number of EFPs heading to Iraq. By the middle of the year, when these weapons were being used by Iran’s allies against each other, it rolled back some of its support in order to put a damper on the internecine violence.

This policy continued until 2009. EFP attacks dropped 60-80% to around 20 by July 2008 for example. In the second half of the year, Iran was focusing upon the January 2009 provincial elections. Iraqi politics was always Tehran’s main priority, and it would consistently cut back its military policy when an important date such as the voting was approaching. There were thus fewer arms flowing into Iraq until all the negotiations over forming local governments were completed in 2009.

In 2010, Iran’s focus changed again. Under the Status of Forces Agreement, the United States was to withdraw all of its troops by the end of 2011. Iran wanted to take responsibility for this pull out, so it began once again to supply EFPs and other armaments to its Shiite allies. As a sign of that, it was reported in September that Abu Sheibani was returning to Iraq. He was allegedly sent back by to organize forces to attack the Americans as they prepared to leave. It was also noted that he joined the League of the Righteous, a Sadrist breakaway group. By June 2011, the U.S. was publicly complaining about EFPs, Special Groups, and Iranian interference all over again, topped off by retiring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates accusing Iran of supplying armaments, just as his predecessor Rumsfeld had done six years before. This time, Iran’s role is more out in the open as it wants everyone to know that it is forcing the Americans out of Iraq. That has led to new highs in American casualties, with 14 soldiers killed by Special Groups in June, and two more in July. Just like in 2005, Iran is using its most effective weapon the EFP to carry out its military plans in Iraq.

The overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 was seen as both a challenge and an opportunity by Iran. On the one hand, U.S. forces were just on its border, and the Bush administration was making threatening statements about it being next. On the other, Tehran’s greatest threat, Saddam was overthrown, and friendly Shiite and Kurdish parties swept in on the coattails of the Coalition, and would eventually take control of the government. When that was guaranteed after the 2005 elections, Iran began focusing upon making the U.S. and its allies pay for occupying Iraq. The EFP was at the forefront of that strategy, as Sheibani and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards supplied them to almost any militant willing to use them. When political issues became more important like making peace between Shiite parties in 2007 and the provincial elections in 2009, Iran would ratchet back the flow of weapons. When 2010 rolled around and a withdrawal date was set for U.S. forces, Tehran again began focusing upon feeding EFPs to Special Groups. That is the current situation in Iraq, and the reason why American casualties are going up. When the fate of American troops are finally decided upon by Baghdad, Iran will likely return to its political and economic focus, and the flow of EFPs will go down, until they are needed once again to prove a point by Tehran that it must be considered when making any policy choices about Iraq.


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