Center for American Progress

Iran’s Special Groups: The Latest “Stay the Course” Excuse

Iran’s Special Groups: The Latest “Stay the Course” Excuse

U.S. forces are threatened by various Iran-backed groups in Iraq, says Gen. Petraeus. Does he include those groups that we also support?

In testimony before Congress this week, U.S. Army General David Petraeus and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker unveiled the latest reason why conservatives insist our country must “stay the course” in Iraq: “special groups” supported by Iran which are trying to undermine political reconciliation in Iraq and targeting U.S. forces in the process.

Gen. Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are referring specifically to Shi’a cleric Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi army and affiliated Sadrist militia, elements of which reportedly receive support from Iran’s radical Quds Force. But so, too, does the Badr Organization, the militia-arm of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim’s Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which joined with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Iraqi Security Forces recently in battle against the Madhi Army in Basra. In fact, the Quds Force explicitly created and trained the Badr Organization to be its militia arm in Iraq.

In Basra last month, Hakim’s Badr Organization fought alongside Maliki’s ISF and U.S. forces against Sadrist militias, with all of the Iraqi groups in the fight either directly or indirectly supported by Iran. The upshot: The use of the term “special groups” by the general and the ambassador is a simple and purposively vague categorization of Iraq’s fractured and well-armed political landscape presented by Petraeus and Crocker which fails to note that both the United States and Iran are supporting many of the same armed Shi’a factions in Iraq.

This table from our most recent Iraq report “How Does this End?” illustrates just how divided Iraq’s competing ethnic and sectarian factions are over national political reconciliation and the continued presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. The table also details which groups are fighting each other every day over these and other conflicts that divide the country into its multiple civil wars.

Members of Congress and the American public should note that Iran supports every one of the Shi’a groups in this table while the United States supports two of them, one directly (Iraqi prime minister Maliki’s Dawa Party) and one indirectly (Hakim’s Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq). The U.S. military also directly supports the Sunni Awakening groups that are largely hostile toward all the Shi’a groups as well as toward the only Sunni groups in Prime Minister Maliki’s coalition government.

Which of these many groups does the Bush administration want to “stay the course” for? And why are we supporting U.S.- and Iranian-backed groups when they fight solely Iranian-backed groups, but not these same groups when they fight our Sunni Awakening allies?

Refereeing Iraq’s multiple civil wars is not the reason we invaded Iraq and no reason to remain. It’s time for a Strategic Reset in Iraq and the Middle East.

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