Reuters reported on Tuesday about the significant role Iran has in arming, training, and commanding Shiite militias in Iraq. A secret branch of the Iraqi government known as the Popular Mobilization Committee (“Hashid Shaabi” in Arabic) serves as an umbrella group for Shiite paramilitary organizations. The group is run by Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, who U.S. officials have accused of bombing the American and French embassies in Kuwait in 1983. Al-Mohandis is identified as a deputy of Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force, in Iraq. Suleimani is a United States State Department-designated terrorist and the Quds Force is a designated terrorist organization. Mohandis was designated as an individual posing a threat to the stability of Iraq by the United States Treasury Department for targeting American and coalition forces in Iraq.
A commander of the Badr Corps, a Shiite militia accused of severe human rights violations, was quoted saying that Suleimani “participates in the operation command center from the start of the battle to the end and the last thing (he) does is visit the battle’s wounded in the hospital.” Iran has supplied everything from tactical support to drones, electronic surveillance and radio communications to the Iraqi militias. There are billboards in Baghdad depicting IRGC Gen. Hamid Taghavi, who was killed in northern Iraq last December.
In an essay in The Daily Beast appearing in early February, Michael Weiss and Michael Pregent wrote about Iran’s increasing influence in Iraq, which “has resulted in a wave of sectarian bloodletting and dispossession…usually at the hands of Iranian-backed Shia militia groups…” The Iraqi Minister of the Interior is a member of the aforementioned Badr Corps. Shiite militias were responsible for hundreds of American casualties during the Iraq War. Eli Lake asserted in Bloomberg View that “On the front lines of Iraq’s war against Islamic State, it’s increasingly difficult to tell where the Iraqi army ends and the Iranian-supported Shiite militias begin.”
The long term problem of the tacit cooperation between the United States and the Iran-backed Shiite militias was summed up in a recent essay in Foreign Policy by Ali Khedery, the former adviser to five American ambassadors in Iraq, which highlighted the human rights abuses committed by the militias and Iraq’s military. Khedery expresses concern that the infiltration of the Iranian-backed militias is “eclipsing Iraqi institutions, and sowing the seeds of conflict for decades to come.”
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