The Growing Threat of Special Groups in Baghdad


While al-Qaeda in Iraq remains the primary threat in northern Iraq, violence by Special Groups—Shi’a extremist elements funded, trained, and armed by Iran—remains a key challenge to stability and security in central and southern Iraq. Despite reports in late 2007 that Iranian sponsorship of Special Groups had declined,i<!--[endif]--> the trend in Special Groups activity in January and February 2008 suggests otherwise. In a recent briefing, Admiral Gregory Smith, the Deputy Spokesman for Multi-National Force-Iraq, explicitly stated, “The Special Groups’ activity has not decreased in recent months.  They continue to be probably the most violent of the extremist groups that we’re seeing from Shi’a sects.  [The] intent of Iran in supporting the training and financing we believe continues.”ii<!--[endif]-->  Other officials from both the Departments of State and Defense have also cited an increase in Special Groups activity since the beginning of 2008.iii<!--[endif]--> <!--[endif]-->

 Special Groups activity in Baghdad is particularly troubling, as it threatens to undermine many of the security gains of the past year. In recent interview, Lt. General Ray Odierno stated his belief that Special Groups extremists are attempting to reinfiltrate into Baghdad, seeking to destabilize the Iraqi government and security forces and “create some chaos.”iv<!--[endif]--> Special Groups in southern Baghdad have launched numerous indirect rocket and mortar fire attacks on the government and Coalition buildings in the International Zone and on Coalition bases in the southern part of the capital.<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->v<!--[endif]--> Yet, Special Groups activity in northern Baghdad is especially of note. In the last few weeks, there has been a marked spike in Special Groups activity in Shaab and Ur, in northwest Baghdad. According to Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I), this area “has recently emerged as a safe haven for Special Groups.”<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->viSpecial Groups criminals in these northeast Baghdad neighborhoods have conducted acts of intimidation, kidnapping, and murder of local civilians, as well as attacks against Coalition Forces, Iraqi Police (IP), Iraqi National Police (INP), and Sons of Iraq (SOI).

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<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[i]<!--[endif]--> Andrew Gray, “US sees decline in Iran-linked bombs found in Iraq,” Reuters, November1, 2007; Ann Scott Tyson, “U.S. Sees Decline in Bombs in Iraq; Fewer Projectiles Linked to Iran, but Officials Are Wary,” TheWashington Post, November 2, 2007.


<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[ii]<!--[endif]--> Multi-National Force-Iraq Operational Update with Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, February 17, 2008.


<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[iii]<!--[endif]--> Multi-National Force-Iraq Operational Update with Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, February 17, 2008; “Iranian-backed attacks in Iraq on the up: US official,” Agence France Presse, February 15, 2008.



<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[iv]<!--[endif]--> Alexandra Zavis, “Iran puts off talks with US; The move comes as American military in Baghdad says Tehran is stirring violence there,” Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2008.


<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[v]<!--[endif]--> Multi-National Force-Iraq Operational Update with Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, February 20, 2008.


<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[vi]<!--[endif]--> Multi-National Force-Iraq Press Release No. 20080213-01, “Paratroopers target criminal elements, detain 25,” Multi-National Division-Baghdad PAO, February 13, 2008.