January 20, 2007

The Qods Force - Iran's special operations force

Islamic Revolutionary Guard CorpsExploitation of documents seized in recent arrests by American forces of Iranian nationals in Iraq indicate direct involvement of the regime in Tehran with insurgent groups responsible for attacks on American troops. The individuals are members of the special operations wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) known as the Qods Force.

Although the Qods Force (Arabic al-quds, Jerusalem) was officially created in 1990 through a reorganization of the IRGC (the "Sepah Pasdaran") and the Ministry of Information and Security (Iran's intelligence service, the "Etala'at"), its roots go back to 1982 and the initial deployment of the IRGC outside Iran. That deployment was to Lebanon's Biqa' Valley, where the "IRGC Syria and Lebanon Corps" made contact with their Lebanese Shi'a brethren and created the Party of God, known more commonly by its Arabic name, Hizballah. Hizballah is regarded as probably the most effective irregular military force in the world, a testament to the abilities of the Qods Force.

In Lebanon, the IRGC was directly involved in the planning and execution of numerous attacks on American interests in the region, including the 1983 attack on the Marine barracks at Beirut airport. They were also complicit in the kidnappings of several American citizens, including CIA Beirut station chief Beirut Bill Buckley in 1984 and U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Rich Higgins (serving with the United Nations) in 1989. Both were tortured and murdered at the hands of the IRGC and Hizballah.

The IRGC in Lebanon became the backbone of the newly formed Qods Force. While they took on a new host of responsibilities, they remain in Lebanon to this day. They are intimately involved in the funding, training and supply of Hizballah. Virtually all of the weapons used by Hizballah in the 2006 war in Lebanon were supplied by the IRGC, mostly via Damascus International Airport. (See
Hezbollah and Hamas - the Iranian connection.)

It was members of the Qods Force who were dispatched into southern Iraq in 1991 immediately following the withdrawal of American forces after they had evicted Iraqi forces from Kuwait in Operation Desert Storm. These IRGC personnel made contact with their fellow Shi'a Muslims and fomented the failed uprising against Saddam Husayn.

The Qods Force has been involved in other Iranian special operations in Europe, Asia and Africa. For example, they were involved in providing weapons to fundamentalist Islamic groups in Algeria in the early 1990's. In 1995, the Qods Force was involved in smuggling weapons to Bosnia's mostly Muslim army (with tacit approval of the United States and its allies), as well as providing some operations personnel.

SAHA 747The IRGC and its Qods Force often use the aircraft of SAHA airlines to move weapons and personnel. SAHA is a charter service wholly owned by the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, operating several Boeing 747 aircraft (see photo to right). SAHA is an acronym for the Persian words "military transport service." Its aircraft are often seen at the airport in Damascus.

In the late 1990's and up until just prior to the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the Qods Force was involved in supporting the Afghan Northern Alliance in its operations against the Taliban. The current concern is IRGC/Qods Force involvement in Iraq, primarily in the Kurdish north as well as in Baghdad. Over the last few weeks, American forces have detained several Iranians who are believed to be IRGC officers. (See
Iran - still part of the problem and Hoshyar and I - the Iraqi foreign minister on detention of Iranians.)

The IRGC Qods Force is a capable, committed organization with demonstrated capabilities on three continents. They are involved in supporting, and possibly even directing or conducting, operations against American forces in Iraq. They have had American blood on their hands for over 20 years. If we find them in Iraq, they should be dealt with accordingly. Rather than bringing them to justice, let's bring justice to them.