The commander of coalition forces in two volatile Baghdad neighborhoods says Shiite splinter groups backed by Iran are continuing their attacks, in spite of a reduction of violence in the area by mainstream Shiite groups and mostly-Sunni al-Qaida.
VOA’s Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon. Speaking via satellite from Baghdad, Colonel Don Farris said the Iran-backed Shiites, which he called the Special Groups, are countering the trend toward less violence by most Shiite and Sunni groups in Baghdad’s Adamiyah and Sadr City neighborhoods.
“While the violence is down, I remain very concerned in our sector about these Special Groups,” he said. “They are very lethal. They are organized. They are sophisticated. And I have not seen that their operations have declined or diminished in any way, shape or form here in the last several months.”
Colonel Farris says the Special Groups planted nine Iranian-designed and supplied high-powered bombs last month, resulting in the deaths of several of his soldiers. That was the highest monthly number ever in his area of what are called explosively formed projectiles. He says the number is down in November, but he attributes that to steps his forces have taken to keep the Special Group fighters out of key areas, rather than to any reduction in the groups’ efforts.
In addition, the colonel reports one of his small neighborhood outposts was hit with bombs thrown over its fence a week ago, which contained explosive charges that likely came from Iran. He says he has seen no indication of a reduction in Iranian support for the militant Shiite groups, although senior officials have indicated Iran may have slowed the flow of bomb-making material after a top-level Iran-Iraq meeting.
“In the last six weeks we have captured two Iraqis,” he said. “One was significant because he admitted to receiving training in Iran in building and employing these explosively formed projectiles. And another admitted to working as an agent for somebody or some group in Iran.”
Colonel Farris reports local community leaders in his part of Baghdad are not happy about the Special Group activities, and are trying to resume normal political activity, including meetings with Iraqi government and military officials. He says he is using some of the money in his own budget to promote local wholesale markets and provide jobs for military-aged men, who might otherwise join the insurgency.
The colonel’s brigade was the first of five additional units President Bush ordered to Iraq earlier this year. He says coalition penetration into the Sadr City neighborhood is still limited to about 20 percent of the area. He says he is waiting for more progress on building relationships with local leaders before he tries to send in more troops because he does not want to do anything that might stall the fledgling progress he says is being made.