Friday, July 1, 2011

Three More U.S. Soldiers Die In Iraq, Hezbollah Brigades Suspected

June 2011 ended with three more U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. That brings the total to 15 American deaths for the month, fourteen of which died in enemy attacks. The Iranian-backed Hezbollah Brigades are suspected of being behind this latest incident.

On June 29, several rockets landed on a U.S. base in Wasit province, southern Iraq along the Iranian border killing three soldiers. The incident involved an improvised rocket-assisted mortar (IRAM), which also left more than a dozen others wounded. That brings June’s total to 15 U.S. soldiers killed, with 14 in hostile actions. Also this month, an American contractor working for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was killed by a sticky bomb attached to his car in Baghdad. The last time U.S. forces had such losses was in June 2009 when 15 were killed as well, 10 of which were by enemy actions. The previous high for combat deaths was 24 in June 2008

IRAM used against U.S. Camp Loyalty, Baghdad, April 2008
(Long War Journal)
(Danger Room, Wired Magazine)
Hezbollah Brigades were the likely suspects behind this latest incident. The U.S. military said they are the only group in Iraq that uses the IRAM. The organization also took responsibility for a June 6 attack upon Camp Loyalty in Baghdad that left six Americans dead. It posted a video claiming that an IRAM was used then as well. The weapon was first seen in Iraq in April 2008 when they were also used against several American bases in Baghdad. It is made up of several large canisters filled with explosives and Iranian manufactured rockets. After their brief appearance that summer one was not used again until January 2010 in an assault upon a camp in Amarah, Maysan. At that time, the U.S. military said that IRAMs had only been used 14 times since the 2003 invasion. They are apparently now back in Iraq.

Hezbollah Brigades was founded in 2007, and is led by Abu Mahdi Muhandis, aka Jamal al-Ibrahimi. Muhandis was born in Basra, and first joined the Dawa Party in the early 1970s. In the 1980s he worked with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Qods Force to carry out attacks upon the Kuwaiti royal family, and the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait City in an attempt to deter them from supporting Iraq in the Iran-Iraq War. Afterward, he fled to Iran where he joined the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council’s militia, the Badr Brigade in 1985. He fought on Tehran's side in the Iran-Iraq War, and became Badr's deputy commander by 2001. He resigned the next year when the Supreme Council agreed to work with the Americans before the U.S. invasion. Muhandis then ran in the 2005 parliamentary elections, winning a seat as part of the United Iraqi Alliance, the main Shiite list that year. At the same time, he ran a weapons smuggling network from Iran to Iraq, and shipped militiamen to the latter for training. In 2007, the U.S. and Iraqi forces began targeting his network, which led him to flee to Iran where he became an adviser to the Qods Force commander General Qassim Suleimani. Muhandis ran for office again in 2010, but was defeated.

Hezbollah Brigades is a small organization that receives weapons and funding from Iran. It has about 1,000 fighters, each of which receives a salary of between $300-$500 a month according to an Iraqi intelligence officer. Besides IRAMs, Special Groups like Hezbollah have also been using advanced rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) against U.S. forces. Like the IRAM, these are all supplied by Iran, which uses smuggling routes through Diyala province to Baghdad, and from Um Qasr port in Basra to southern Iraq, along with buses carrying Iranian pilgrims to religious sites. 

Iran has been known to step up its military operations to coincide with important political events in Iraq. This time it is focusing upon the December 31 date for U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraq. Beginning in April, American officials began traveling to Baghdad to try to convince the government to allow some residual force to stay past the deadline. Tehran wants to prevent that from happening, so it is increasing its aid to Special Groups to force the U.S. out. That’s exactly when Shiite militants began ramping up their attacks. There were 93 operations against U.S. forces in February, then 128 in March, and 162 by April, 72 of which were mortar and rocket attacks upon the Green Zone for that last month. That’s also when casualties took off going from none in January and February caused by Shiites, to one in March, to four in April, and now to fourteen in June. Two soldiers were also killed in Baghdad in May, but it’s impossible to tell who was behind that act. Besides Hezbollah Brigades, Sadr’s Promised Day Brigades and the League of the Righteous have also been linked to attacks upon Americans. More U.S. deaths can be expected into the future until their fate is finally decided by Iraq’s politicians. Ironically, once that decision is made, Tehran is likely to scale back its military support and return to using political, economic, and social means to achieve its goals in Iraq as it has done in the past.


Allam, Hannah, “Rarely used flying bomb strikes new targets in Iraq,” McClatchy Newspapers, 1/15/10

Arango, Tim, “U.S. Monthly Combat Deaths in Iraq at 3-Year High,” New York Times, 6/30/11

Associated Press, “Iraq rocket attack kills three American soldiers,” Guardian, 6/30/11
- “US troops face increasing dangers from Shiite militias in southern Iraq,” 5/17/11

Craig, Tim and O’Keefe, Ed, “U.S. military sees Iran behind rising trop deaths in Iraq,” Washington Post, 6/29/11

Felter, Joseph and Fishman, Brian, “Iranian Strategy in Iraq, Politics and ‘Other Means,’” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, 10/13/08

Gienger, Viola and Capaccio, Tony, “Iran Again Arming Iraqi Groups Attacking U.S. Troops, Gates Says,” Bloomberg, 6/29/11

Harari, Michal, “Status Update: Shi’a Militias in Iraq,” Institute for the Study of War, 8/16/10

Icasualties, “Iraq Coalition Casualties: Fatalities by Year and Month”
- “Iraq Coalition Casualties: Military Fatalities”

Jakes, Lara, “Shiite militias step up Iraq attacks on US troops,” Associated Press, 6/30/11

Knights, Michael, “The Evolution of Iran’s Special Groups in Iraq,” CTC Sentinel, November 2010

Lando, Ben, “Iraq Militants Ratchet Up Attacks on U.S.,” Wall Street Journal, 5/24/11

Roggio, Bill, “Mahdi Army uses “flying IEDs” in Baghdad,” Long War Journal, 6/5/08

Strouse, Thomas, "Kata'ib Hezbollah and the Intricate Web of Iranian Military Involvement in Iraq," Jamestown Foundation, 3/4/10


Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi said...

Joel, I presume you've heard that the government in Baghdad has decided to use the army and security forces to launch an offensive against these Iranian-backed militia groups in parts of the south?

I think such a development just goes to show, as you pointed out, that the foremost concerns of Iraq's politicians are their own power struggles and personal standings (or what might be called 'time' in Homeric Greek), rather than being subservient to Iranian interests (or for that matter American interests, vis-à-vis U.S. withdrawal etc.) like satraps, something Robert Fisk has repeatedly claimed.

Joel Wing said...

Yes I read that article about it in the NYTimes. It's happenin in Maysan which is a traditional smuggling route for Iran since the 80s. Oddly enough I didn't see anything about it in the Iraqi press.

Joel Wing said...

The Pentagon has released the following statement:

It notes that the base was in Badra, Wasit province along with the names of the three fallen soldiers.

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