'Special Groups' Pose Special Problems

Well now, isn't that special?

In the beginning, the enemy in Iraq was Saddam Hussein and his Baath party loyalists. Then the main villain was al-Qaeda. But today, when Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker came to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee, they identified a new Enemy No. 1: "special groups."

It has a benign sound to it, like "special education," or "special guest," but make no mistake: "Unchecked, the special groups pose the greatest long-term threat to the viability of a democratic Iraq," Petraeus testified this morning.

The "special groups," militias supported by Iran, merited only one mention when Petraeus and Crocker came before the committee last September, and that was a passing reference by Petraeus late in the hearing in response to a question. But the hearing this morning has turned into a special session for special-group alarms -- 16 mentions of the special groups so far -- as witnesses and senators worried that Iran's special proxies were creating an especially big problem.

"Iran has fueled the violence," Petraeus said, "in a particularly damaging way through its lethal support to the special groups." The recent "flare-up," Petraeus said, "highlighted the destructive role Iran has played in funding, training, arming and directing the so-called special groups." That's why, he continued, he has "focused on the special groups" and noted that Iranian leaders aren't living up to their promises "to stop their support for the special groups."

Crocker, too, said the "special groups" pose a major threat to the Iraqi government. "A wild card remains the Sadrist trend and whether the Iraqis can continue to drive a wedge between other elements of the trend and Iranian-supported special groups," he said.

The pivot to the worry about "special groups" was bound to cause jealousy among the members of al Qaeda, who were not regarded as "special" by either the committee or the witnesses. But the new focus on the "special groups" also served to highlight the fact that the American presence in Iraq is creating new and special enemies.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and the ranking Republican on the committee, adopted the "special groups" phrase too -- an improvement on his performance during a recent trip to the region when he claimed, falsely, that Iran was supporting al Qaeda. "We must press ahead against Al Qaida, the radical Shiite militias -- Shia militias -- and the Iranian-backed special groups," he said.

The senator asked Petraeus what could be done about attacks on the Green Zone in Baghdad. Petraeus answered that the "Iraqi security forces are going to have to come to grips with . . . the special groups."

The "special" talk caught the attention of Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. "Are the Iranians still training and equipping Iraqi extremists who are going back into Iraq and killing American soldiers?"

"That is correct, senator," the general replied. "The special groups activities have in fact come out in greater relief during the violence of recent weeks. It is they who have the expertise to shoot rockets more accurately, shoot mortars more accurately and to employ some of the more
advanced material, the explosively formed projectiles and the like, that have not just killed our soldiers and Iraqi soldiers but also have been used to assassinate two southern governors in past months and two southern police chiefs."

"Is it fair to say that the Iranian-backed special groups in Iraq are responsible for the murder of hundreds of American soldiers and thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians?" Lieberman asked.

"It certainly is."

By washingtonpost.com |  April 8, 2008; 12:20 PM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Is this the same Iran that's been training all those Al-Qaeda extremesists from 9/11?

Anybody who believes a word anyone of these people says is a fool.

Fool you once, shame on them (didn't fool me, I knew there were no WMDs and there wasn't any connection between Al-Qaeda and Hussein - none of it made sense to the informed and intelligent)

Fool you twice, you're a conservative.

Fool you time and time again, you're a Bushie.

Posted by: Tim from Silver Spring | April 8, 2008 2:08 PM

this is now seriously pathetic.

Posted by: LT | April 8, 2008 2:24 PM

This is a pure distillation, too strong for some, but Dana is right to suggest that the only Mideast beneficiary of our presence is Iran. It's as if China destroyed and occupied Mexico to establish a "dominating presence" in North America and control its resources, only to have the price of those resources triple for them, and us Americans start arming and training Mexicans, thereby increasing OUR regional dominance and profits. China's leaders have two choices. Borrow more money from EU and bomb us or realize their mistake, cut their losses, and go home. Not that the Chinese government would ever do anything so stupid.

Posted by: jhbyer | April 8, 2008 2:33 PM

They're calling them "special groups" so as to not offend Sadr's followers. Used to be they just called any Shia "bad guy" JAM, but since JAM had their cease-fire, they had to come up with a way to differentiate the JAM guys who were adhering and those who weren't - thus special groups. It's all political. Just like how "the awakening" because "concerned local citizens" became "sons of Iraq" on the Sunni side.

Posted by: Kevin | April 8, 2008 2:35 PM

Petraeus doesn't know who the enemy is, which is why he has to keep changing his story. He seems to think the military objective will be achieved when resistance to the occupation ends, but a rudimentary study of military history shows that occupation breeds resistance.

Some Republicans seem to think that a pro-US democratic regime can arise in Iraq, when a basic study of Iraqi demographics and history shows a pro-Iranian Shi'ite majority prior to 2001. The US is making the same mistake we made in Vietnam, Cambodia, Argentina, and elsewhere, in thinking that a pro-US government imposed by military or covert action can be passed off as a democratic regime. The people who are the victims of the new dictatorship, and the world community as a whole, have learned this lesson from these past examples of US imperialism and aren't going to be fooled again.

Posted by: Lart from Above | April 8, 2008 2:58 PM

this is a test

Posted by: | April 8, 2008 3:40 PM

The only interesting person to hear, off record, might be Admiral Fallon.

Crocker and Petraeus are wise to blame all the trouble on vague "special groups," which defy definition and do not require them or the Senators to exhibit any knowledge, other than to agitate for action against Iran, a sprawling country we cannot possibly occupy or subdue with bombs. With any luck, Moqtada will survive all the US-sponsored vilification and his "extremist" factions will gain control of the Iraqi Parliament in October.

Posted by: jkoch | April 8, 2008 3:46 PM

These "Special Groups" are akin to "Weapons of mass destruction related program activities." The marketing department at the Pentagon is really digging deep.

Posted by: Eleazer | April 8, 2008 3:47 PM

This is very disturbing that our government is laying the ground for military action against Iran. Not once have we been shown evidence for this supposed Iranian influence or arming of "special groups". It's all circumstantial and speculative. Furthermore, as others have noted, Iran has every interest in preserving a friendly Shiite government in Iraq and in not antagonizing the US.

Posted by: NCBru | April 8, 2008 3:52 PM

They are calling them special groups, because they don't want to point out that Maliki's militia the Badr brigade has direct links to the Iranian Quds force which was declared a terrorist organization by the Bush administration. The Quds leader pulled Maliki's butt out of the fire in Basra leading to a temporary truce.

This is a bizarre situation where our government supports a Shiite government in Iraq supported by the Iranians our government's sworn enemy.

Posted by: TD | April 8, 2008 3:56 PM

Joe Biden creates this complicated "IF" scenario then demands an answer? He mentions within that scenario 90,000 insurgents angry and left out, and going to bring down everything. What part of 27 million people in Iraq is 90,000? Very incidental!!!

The democrats can't select a nominee cleanly, and they want Iraq to resolve itself over night. Maybe they should clean up their own pig pen and let us succeed in Iraq.

Posted by: Jeff C | April 8, 2008 4:02 PM

They are trying to lay the groundwork for a strike against Iran, or an Israeli strike against Iran that they can back. They never change the pattern. Point to some reality (i.e., violence) and then tie whoever is their enemy this week/year to that violence, without a shred of evidence backing up that link. Since it has worked so well in the past (see Iraq, torture, illegal surveillance, etc.), they keep going back to the well.

Posted by: David | April 8, 2008 4:14 PM

We in the 81 percent of America that is sick of wasting our American blood and treasure on this Farce of a War demand that the 19 percent deadender Red Bushies stop sipping the Red Bushie kool-aid and step away from our borrowed Social Security earnings of our kids and grandkids.

Just. Stop.

Bring the troops home and STOP WHINING!

Posted by: Will in Seattle | April 8, 2008 4:38 PM

January 20, 2009 doesn't come soon enough.

Posted by: bigben1986 | April 8, 2008 4:45 PM

We've been at this "war" (illegal occupation) for better than 5 years now and these people cannot do a better job than this of describing the problem. The PROBLEM is that we have destroyed these peoples country, no basic services, hospitals etc and we won't go away that is the problem.

And still this administration is not going to be satisfied until they have also started a war with Iran. Iran is Iraqs neighbor, both countries have large populations of Shia people they have a lot in common, they belong, we, the US have no borders that meet Iraq and our Shia population is .00001% - seems to me that the question is not what are the Iranians doing there, more to the point is what the hell is the US doing there?

Posted by: Kathy5 | April 8, 2008 4:47 PM


If we can't tell who the enemy is, invade and/or bomb them all! Special groups of anything.

And stay there and start up that old oil pipeline to go to Israel. OR oooops is that supposed to be a secret?

Posted by: Been there, done that | April 8, 2008 5:18 PM

I don't want to believe it but this sounds very familiar---find a phrase, preferably one that hasn't been used, then repeat and get others to repeat the same phrase, as in the general, the ambassador, McCain, Liberman and soon to be followed by other pro-war policos,pundits etc. until it sinks into the consciousness of Americans. Could this be, grab the drums and here we go again? I'm not sure if I've just become paranoid or entered the "reality zone."

Posted by: EAH | April 8, 2008 5:46 PM

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