Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Return Of The Special Groups

Special Groups was a term coined by the U.S. during the Surge to identify Shiite militants that were supported by Iran and/or were not following Muqtada al-Sadr’s cease-fire decree. After Baghdad’s crackdown on militias in southern Iraq beginning with Basra in 2008, many of these Special Groups were scattered, arrested, or fled to Iran. Now they seem to be making their return. In a July 18 article in the Washington Post U.S. officials warned of a new spate of attacks on American forces by these armed groups. An official named three main culprits, the League of the Righteous, Khataib Hezbollah, and the Promised Day Brigades.

A review of English-language press reports shows that there has been a steady increase in incidents from March to July 2009. 1st these are only articles from southern Iraq. It’s difficult to determine who is behind many of the attacks in Baghdad. The southern section of the country however has been relatively peaceful, and has been a base of Special Groups and Mahdi Army activities in the past, so any attacks that occur there on the Americans are most likely done by one of these organizations.

In March 2009 there were only a few incidents involving the British in Basra and none with the United States, but since April there have been several attacks aimed at Americans across a variety of southern provinces. In March there were no attacks against American forces in the region. There were two rocket attacks on the English in the Basra airport however. In April things changed when five incidents were reported, and all involving U.S. troops in Maysan, Qadisiyah, Wasit, and Basra. Attacks went up in May to seven and were all concentrated in Basra, Babil, and Wasit. In June incidents went down to four, but again were spread out over the region in Dhi Qar, Muthanna, Basra, and Wasit. From July 1 to 28 there have been eight attacks on Americans occurring in Dhi Qar, Qadisiyah, Karbala, and Basra. The most dramatic was a roadside bomb that went off against U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill’s convoy in Dhi Qar on July 13. In four and a half months there were a total of 26 attacks on U.S. forces, and only a few casualties. While that is not a large amount compared to the more violent areas of the country, it does constitute an increase from earlier in the year.

Iran has conducted a multi-layered political, military, economic, and cultural strategy in Iraq since 2003. Supporting Shiite militiamen is only one part of this, and is aimed at tying down U.S. forces so they don’t attack Iran, and making the Americans pay a price for invading. In the past, when important events came up in Iraq such as the 2009 provincial elections, Iran has limited the amount of weapons and money that it provides to dampen violence so that it might focus upon its more important political goals. Afterwards Special Group attacks and activities have traditionally gone up. That appears to be what is occurring now. This could be a message from Iran that they are still capable of fomenting instability in Iraq and challenging Coalition Forces. Iraqi domestic issues may also play a part in some of these attacks. The League of the Righteous for example, has said that it wishes to participate in the 2010 parliamentary vote, so a few of these incidents may be a way to show that it is still relevant. Others may be conducted by violent gangs, which are active in places like Basra. Whatever the ultimate motivation, the last few months have shown that there are still militants in southern Iraq capable of attacking U.S. forces.

Attacks Against U.S. Forces In Southern Iraq

March 2009 – 0 Total

April 2009 – 5 Total

4/6/09 Rocket attack on U.S. base in Amarah, Maysan

4/20/09 IED attack on U.S. patrol in Basra

4/20/09 Rocket attack on U.S. base in Kut, Wasit

4/22/09 Rocket attack on U.S. base in Diwaniya, Qadisiyah

4/30/09 Sniper killed 2 U.S. soldiers in Amarah, Maysan

May 2009 – 7 Total

5/3/09 Rocket attack near U.S. consulate in Hilla, Babil

5/4/09 IED attack on U.S. patrol in Basra

5/11/09 IED attack on U.S. vehicle in Basra

5/14/09 IED attack on U.S. patrol in Wasit

5/14/09 IED attack on U.S. vehicle in Babil

5/16/09 One U.S. soldier killed in Basra

5/28/09 Rocket attack on U.S. base at Basra airport

June 2009 – 4 Total

6/1/09 Rocket attack on U.S. business in Wasit

6/7/09 Attack on U.S. patrol in Basra

6/16/09 IED attack on U.S. convoy in Muthanna

6/29/09 IED attack on joint Iraqi-U.S. patrol in Dhi Qar

July 1-28, 2009 - 8

7/5/09 Rocket attack on U.S. base in Diwaniya, Qadisiyah

7/10/09 Rocket attack near U.S. base in Basra

7/13/09 Rocket attack on U.S. base in Basra

7/13/09 Roadside bomb attack on U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill’s convoy in Dhi Qar

7/17/09 Rocket attack on U.S. base in Basra

7/20/09 IED attack on U.S. convoy in Karbala

7/20/09 Bomb attack on U.S. convoy in Nassiriya, Dhi Qar

7/20/09 Rocket attack on U.S. base in Diwaniya, Qadisiyah


Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Anti-US Iraqi cleric facing leadership challenge,” Associated Press, 2/20/09

Adas, Basil, “Mahdi Army militia ‘going underground,’” Gulf News, 6/26/08

Aswat al-Iraq, “2 Katyushas land in U.S. camp in Diwaniya,” 7/20/09

- “2 Katyushas land in U.S. forces camp in Diwaniya,” 7/5/09

- “3 MNF soldiers injured in Basra,” 7/17/09

- “3 rockets land near U.S. consulate in Hilla,” 5/3/09

- “4 missiles fall near Echo camp in Diwaniya – spokesman,” 4/22/09

- “Blast in Nasseriya, no casualties, loses reported – U.S. spokesman,” 7/20/09

- “Bomb explodes on U.S. vehicle patrol in Wassit,” 5/14/09

- “British base in Basra rocketed,” 3/13/09

- “Hand grenade targets U.S. patrol, no casualties,” 6/7/09

- “IED explodes near joint convoy in Thi-Qar,” 6/29/09

- “IED targets U.S. convoy in Muthanna,” 6/16/09

- “IED targets U.S. convoy north of Karbala,” 7/20/09

- “IED targets U.S. patrol in Basra,” 5/4/09

- “MNF base in Kut rocketed,” 4/20/09

- “Roadside bomb hits MNF patrol in Basra,” 4/20/09

- “Rockets hit U.S. base in Amara,” 4/6/09

- “Sniper downs 2 U.S. soldiers in Amara,” 4/30/09

- “U.S. base at Basra airport rocketed,” 7/13/09

- “U.S. firm rocketed in Wassit,” 6/1/09

- “U.S. Hummer ablaze in Babel,” 5/14/09

- “U.S. vehicle damaged in IED blast in Basra,” 5/11/09

Gamel, Kim, “US military works to keep out Iraq militia leaders,” Associated Press, 8/6/08

Graff, Peter, "Influence wanes for followers of Iraq's Sadr," Reuters, 11/24/08

Haynes, Deborah, “Hope for British hostages in Iraq after release of Shia militant,” Times of London, 6/9/09

Issa, Sahar and Kadhim, Hussein, “Round-up of Daily Violence in Iraq – Thursday 28 May 2009,” 5/28/09

Londono, Ernesto and DeYoung, Karen, “Iraq Restricts U.S. Forces,” Washington Post, 7/18/09

Multi-National Corps – Iraq, “MND-S Soldier dies from combat-related injures (Basra),” 5/16/09

- “U.S. Forces respond to rocket attack in Basra province,” 7/10/09

Peter, Tom, “After setbacks, Sadr redirects Mahdi Army,” Christian Science Monitor, 8/11/08

Reuters, “U.S. ambassador to Iraq unhurt by convoy bomb,” 7/13/09

Rubin, Alissa and Gordon, Michael, “U.S. Frees Suspect in Killing of 5 G.I.’s,” New York Times, 6/9/09

Small Wars Journal, “SWJ Interview with Bing West (Part 1),” 8/14/08

Weaver, Teri, “U.S. troops keeping a low profile in Basra,” Stars and Stripes, 6/1/09


AndrewSshi said...

I wonder how much of the ups and downs of Special Groups activities can be attributed to the Byzantine politics that one encounters in southern Iraqi politics and the relationships between the military, police, and the various Shi'ite parties and their closeness or distance from Iran.

Joel Wing said...

Not sure they are directly related. Like I wrote, I think it's more related to the elections. Big drop for the Jan. 09 elections, than increase, then probably another drop as the Jan. 2010 vote gets closer. Gen. Odierno just said that is the new focus of Iran, influencing the elections. I think Iran uses meetings and cash to influence the Shiite parties.

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