Iran’s strategy for regional supremacy has facilitated the rise of ISIS
This report covers the current conflict in Iraq and asserts that the formation and rapid expansion of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been facilitated by the Iranian regime through its interference in the affairs of Iraq and the region. It will emphasise that the US-led coalition against ISIS should at all cost prevent Iran’s meddling in Iraq, evict all its proxies and avoid forming any type of alliance with Tehran. In addition, it will highlight the crucial role of representatives of Iraqi tribes and the Sunni community, who have been marginalised by former Prime Minister (PM) Nouri al-Maliki, in finding conflict resolution. Furthermore, the report will argue that the Sunni tribes will only become effective in the war against ISIS if Tehran’s influence over Baghdad is reduced and pro-Iranian Shia militias such as the Badr Brigade, Asa’ib Ahl-al-Haq (League of the Righteous) and Kata’ib Hezbollah are dismantled. The report also underscores that Muslims who advocate a tolerant interpretation of Islam in the region should be supported in order to be able to counter extremists, as a cultural and religious alternative is needed in solving the ISIS crisis.
To support the above made assertions, this report will aim to answer two critical questions, namely:
1) What is the regional strategy of the Iranian regime?
2) How did the Iranian regime’s interference in Iraq facilitate the unprecedented rise of ISIS?
This report is the result of research conducted by European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA) in to the conflict in Iraq. EIFA has used various sources for data collection in order to support its claims in this report. These sources include newspaper articles, online news resources, published reports, research, television interviews, radio interviews, letters, reports of individuals, telephone calls, personal accounts of individuals and meetings with various personalities and groups from the Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish communities. Some individual sources cannot be disclosed, as this would jeopardise their safety and security. EIFA used data provided by sources in the English, Arabic and Farsi languages. It has done its utmost to uphold the quality of data when it has translated text and transcripts from Arabic and Farsi to the English language.
- The Iraqi crisis, largely the product of a misguided post-invasion U.S. policy, has transformed into a formidable global threat. Iraq is now the frontier of unhinged Islamic fundamentalism, entailing that its defeat in Iraq will deliver lasting repercussions for fundamentalists across the region.
- Perhaps the greatest blunder committed by the U.S. in Iraq was to relinquish the country's nascent post-war order to Iran's malice and mercenaries. Tehran used this unprecedented opening to expand its influence both in Iraq and in the region. This facilitated the unbridled furtherance of its three-decade-old policy of aggression and exporting of the "Islamic revolution." It enabled Tehran to solidify control at home and expand the range of its threats to western interests.
- Constitutionally, exporting of Islamic fundamentalism underwrites the overall foreign policy of Tehran's ideological rulers. The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its extraterritorial arm, the Quds Force, have a mandate to execute that core objective. Their power transcends factional bickering, which incidentally illustrates that the regime's quarrelling factions have forged a consensus when it comes to the regime's strategic trajectory.
- Over the past decade, the Iranian regime has expanded its control in Iraq through:
- Three major factors that led to Iranian domination of Iraq were:
a) Nouri al-Maliki's rise to power in 2006;
b) The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), and the ensuing withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq;
c) The Obama administration's regional policy and its astonishing failure to effectively check the rising Iranian influence in Iraq.
- The Iranian regime and its primary proxy, Nouri al-Maliki, provoked widespread anger among the Sunni community through violent suppression, exclusion from body politic, physical annihilation, and forcing Sunni leaders into exile. Despite the success of General Petraeus' policy of creating the Awakening Councils, which pushed back al-Qaeda in 2007 - 2008, the situation took a turn for the worse with Maliki's sectarian policies. The crisis deepened following the departure of U.S. forces and the dismantling and elimination of the Awakening Councils by Maliki.
- This disturbing trend facilitated the rise and expansion of extremism, particularly through the Islamic State (ISIS). The unbridled sectarianism and corruption permeating Iraq’s security and military structure triggered their swift meltdown in the face of advancing threats. As a result, three months of Coalition airstrikes have produced only modest gains in the absence of a reliable fighting force on the ground. Washington and Baghdad have failed to organize tribal and Sunni Iraqis who have a history of fighting al-Qaeda. The majority of Sunnis and Iraqi tribes who fought against Maliki until a few months ago have now left the scene, with some being recruited by ISIS.
- On the other hand, Maliki's removal from power has dealt a significant blow to the Iranian regime. Desperately seeking to regain lost territory, Tehran pursues a two-pronged strategy. On the one hand, it uses Shiite militias to regain control on the ground through the occupation of large swathes of Iraqi territory. On the other hand, it continues to empower Maliki and undermine al-Abadi in a bid to maintain its grip on power in Baghdad's central government. In the meantime, Tehran's apparent animosity toward ISIS is tactical at best. U.S. entanglement in the theatre against ISIS gives Iran a chance to restore its dominance in Iraq.
- As a result, militias affiliated with the Iranian regime have gained increasing power in Iraq and have recaptured some areas from ISIS. Compounding the numerous atrocities they have committed over the past decade, they are now engaged in what can only be described as acts of genocide in Sunni communities recaptured from ISIS. The recent massacre of 72 Sunni civilians at the hands of Shia militias affiliated with Iran’s terrorist Quds Force in Barwanah village in Diyala Province clearly indicates the dangerous sectarian strife that lurks. The ethnic cleansing and genocide, forced migration, burning of mosques and homes of Sunnis in various regions of Iraq by these brutal militias undermine the fight against ISIS. As Human Rights Watch accurately echoed EIFA’s previous concerns in its World Report 2015, Shia militias have been mobilised without government oversight or regulation and continue committing atrocities against Sunnis as ostensible ISIS sympathisers. However, to this day, PM Haider al-Abadi continues to rely on these Shia militias that operate outside any legal framework and appears to be reluctant to dismantle them, to the great dismay of many human rights groups.
- A solution to the crisis is hopelessly out of reach without the active and pervasive participation of Sunnis and tribal forces in the reconstitution of the broken political process. These forces are prepared to engage on the ground, and their potency was at its most obvious when they successfully repelled al-Qaeda during the past decade. However, in order to engage these forces effectively, the current policy has to be reconfigured and corrected. The new and pro-active policy should include the rigorous restraining of Iranian influence in Iraq and the expulsion of its destructive proxies, whose main objective has been to aggravate sectarian sensitivities and hostilities. Shiite militias such as the Badr Organization, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Kata'ib Hezbollah must also be evicted from Iraq in order to rekindle a lasting environment of political reconciliation. Furthermore, PM Haider al-Abadi must restore the Iraqi judicial system to one that is independent of political and particularly Iranian interference and establish the rule of law in Iraq.
- Hinting at possible collaboration with Tehran to solve the Iraqi crisis would unquestionably constitute an irreversible mistake. This irrational and mistaken approach has already been tested by two U.S. administrations - Bush and Obama - over the past fourteen years. At a time when Iraq is turning a historic corner, Washington's collaboration with Tehran and turning a blind eye to the regime's vicious meddling, will undermine PM al-Abadi. This counterproductive and dangerous policy will in all likelihood lead to al-Abadi's defeat, if he is indeed serious about making real changes and detaching Iraq from past sectarian policies. He will end up being a victim of America's misguided policy with potentially catastrophic consequences that will reverberate throughout the region.
- The new approach, which would include a serious restraining of Iran's influence in Iraq, promises the only political and lasting solution to the spiralling sectarian strife in Iraq and the region. In the absence of this alternative, the war against ISIS will morph into a sectarian war pitting Shiites against Sunnis, which even if temporarily restrained, will resurface in due course, haunting the region for decades to come.
- The strategy to defeat ISIS should be fundamentally predicated on a cultural and religious alternative and antithesis that can mount a strategic challenge to the violent, fanatic and extremist view of Islam. America's resolute support for a tolerant and democratic Islam that is indigenous to the Middle East will be instrumental in drying up the breeding ground of fundamentalism, whether in its Sunni form of ISIS or its Shiite version of the Iranian regime and its merciless mercenaries.
Iran’s regional strategy
Since the formation of Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime in 1979, Iran’s core objective has been to establish a global Islamic state, which according to Khomeini constitutes an Islamic caliphate. This ambition has been unambiguously specified in the Iranian regime’s Constitution. Article 11 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran states:
“In accordance with the sacred verse of the Qur'an ("This your community is a single community, and I am your Lord, so worship Me" [21:92]), all Muslims form a single nation, and the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has the duty of formulating its general policies with a view to cultivating the friendship and unity of all Muslim peoples, and it must constantly strive to bring about the political, economic, and cultural unity of the Islamic world”.
Khomeini’s aspiration for a global Islamic state is also evidently echoed in his will and testament:
“My advice to all the Muslims and the oppressed of the world is that you must not
sit and wait expecting that the rulers and political leaders of your country or foreign
powers bring you independence and liberty as a gift. You and I have witnessed the
fact that in this century gradually the world-devouring big powers penetrated into
all Islamic countries, as well as into other smaller countries. We saw...that none
of the governments that ruled over these countries were ever concerned with the
freedom, independence and welfare of their own people themselves and whatever
they did was for their own self-interests or for the higher income people who lived
in complete comfort while the poor ghetto dwellers were deprived of all necessities
of life...The ruling classes exploited them for the interests of the comfortable
and pleasure seeking classes... [and they] converted countries into markets for the
East and the West... [and] led countries to backwardness and consumerism...0
oppressed people of the world and you 0 Muslim countries and Muslims of the
world, rise up, and with your teeth, demand your rights. Do not be afraid of the
propaganda noise of the super powers and their mercenary agents.
Kick out your criminal rulers who hand over your hard earned wealth and income to your enemies
and the enemies of Islam and of the world have deprived classes.
Move towards an Islamic government with free and independent republics with whose realization
you will put all the arrogant powers of the world in their places and lead all the oppressed
people to leadership and inheritance of the earth”.
Khomeini’s will is not merely an expression of desires, but rather a specific agenda for expanding Iran’s regional influence. The Constitution defines from the outset the military’s role as “expanding God’s state of law” and further elaborates:
“In establishing and equipping the country’s defence forces, the focus should be on faith and religion as the main pillar and standard. Therefore, the army of the Islamic Republic and the Revolutionary Guards are formed with the above mentioned objective; they will not only defend the borders, but also spread the message of jihad in the path of God and fighting to expand God’s state of law in the world”
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), charged with safeguarding the regime’s interest and providing training support to terrorist groups throughout the region and abroad, is authorised to carry out this mission of spreading Jihad and expanding god’s state of law internationally. The IRGC uses the Quds Force, its overseas arm, to accomplish such an essential strategy of the Iranian theocracy. It relies on various state institutions, such as the ministries of foreign affairs and intelligence, and has established entities involved in political, ideological and cultural activities in order to, as Tehran describes it, effectively “export the revolution”. The following organisations are examples of such entities:
• Ahlul bayt World Assembly (serves to recruit local Shiite forces)
• Taqrib Mazaheb - The World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought (serves to recruit local Sunni forces)
• Islamic Development Organisation
By founding these groups and allocating enormous funds for their activities, the Iranian regime has succeeded in establishing itself over the years as the pivotal point for the creation of an Islamic caliphate, with Tehran heading the axis.
During the last 25 years Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, heir of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, has had the final word on all matters related to exporting the Islamic fundamentalist ideology and the regime’s so-called revolution. It is noteworthy that during Khomeini’s tenure, Khamenei was the highest-ranking official in contact with various terrorist and ideological elements outside of Iran. The Secretary General of the Lebanese Hezbollah (Party of God), Hassan Nasrallah, has specified that he had links with Khamenei from the very start. On 6th June 2014, the IRGC’s associated Fars News Agency published Nasrallah’s speech of 2003 in which he addressed a group of students, elaborating on this connection:
“In 1979, Lebanese Shiites (and Sunnis) were passive. However, there was good attention towards imam Khomeini and he had much influence over the Lebanese nation… in such conditions the imam said the army and IRGC must go to Syria and Lebanon where the Israelis were stationed. The IRGC stationed its forces in readiness. The Islamic Republic of Iran went to the limit in providing support for Lebanon; money, training, spiritual support and … we called on the imam to have a representative in Lebanon so we would not waste his time. At that time the imam said: “Mr Khamenei is my representative who has full authorization”. Khamenei was very kind to us. From the beginning when Hezbollah was established, Khamenei was in charge of our affairs. In issues related to Israel he had much more expertise than all other experts. In short, we continued the work; the imam had ordered us to continue until a complete expulsion [Israeli forces from Lebanon]. Then the imam passed away. We went to see Khamenei who is now your leader, asking him to assign an individual so we would not bother him too much. Khamenei replied: “No, the issue of Israel and Lebanon is my case and I am the one in charge”. Khamenei knows the characteristics of each and every one of us. This deep relation was one of the main elements of victory and amongst the biggest blessings for Hezbollah”.
The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) was also linked to Khamenei early on. Khomeini in Tehran founded the ISCI in November of 1982 with the objective to advance ‘jihad against imperialism’ and to ‘establish an Islamic state’. Khamenei, the Iranian regime’s current supreme leader, was in charge of codifying the statute of ISCI around the leadership of Khomeini. Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, head of ISCI stated that: “The Supreme Council, its laws and statute have all been formed by the supreme leader [Khamenei] himself under the supervision of the imam of nations [Khomeini]”.
Many members of Khamenei’s inner circle are individuals holding dual Iranian-Iraqi nationalities who provide the necessary means for the Iranian regime’s meddling abroad. Mullah Shahroudi, former head of the judiciary, and Mullah Mohammad Ali Taskhiri, are both very close to Khamenei and hold dual Iraqi-Iranian nationalities.
Subsequent to the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq was immediately nominated by the Ayatollahs as the key state to export the ‘revolution’ to, due to numerous geopolitical, historic and demographic reasons. Iraq would serve as a catalyst for Tehran to pursue its strategy of exporting its ideology and revolution. Khomeini, who resided in Iraq for 13 years prior to 1979, rapidly laid the basis for exporting the revolution and began through various methods to interfere in the country’s internal affairs. Kayhan newspaper, one of the main papers in Iran at that time, published an article on 19th April 1980 heading “The Imam invites the Iraqi army to uprising” following Khomeini’s general speech, two days earlier, on 17th April 1980 in which he declared that:
“The Iraqi government is a government in which a number of military officers have come and sat around each other and they do whatever they want. They are old and this Saddam Hussein is crazy and old, and all he talks about is that we are Arab. This means we are Arab and we don’t want Islam… their army is comprised of these Muslims, these Sunnis, and these Shiites. Well, an army of Muslims must rise. The noble Iraqi nation must free itself from their grasps. The Iraqi army must pay attention to this meaning that it must repress these figures and it must destroy them”.
On a different occasion Khomeini addressed the Iraqi army:
“… I am very much disappointed in Iraq’s senior ranks. However, I am not disappointed in the officers and soldiers. I am expecting them to rise bravely and uproot the pillars of cruelty as it happened in Iran or desert the garrisons and barracks and not tolerate the cruelty of the Ba’ath party. I am not disappointed in the labourers and government employees working for the usurper Ba’ath government and I hope they join hand in hand with the Iraqi nation and rid this disgraceful stain of this nation”.
The Jomhouri Islami daily that continuously published Khomeini’s calls to the Iraqi people to overthrow the government reported that his messages have been translated into Arabic and distributed amongst the Iraqi people and military.
From the outset of the Iran-Iraq war, Khomeini defined the conflict as a “divine blessing”. In June 1982, less than two years after the war began, Iraqi soldiers retreated from all Iranian territory and a dignified peace was completely in reach. However, Khomeini continued the war for another 6 years until July 1988 with the slogan of ‘Conquering Jerusalem through Karbala’. He only accepted the ceasefire agreement when he suffered major defeats in all fronts and no longer had any prospect of winning the war.
Following the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 by Saddam Hussein’s forces, Iraq was led into the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the Iraqi government subsequently grew weaker. Iran took advantage of this opportunity to intensify its interference in Iraq, reaching its peak during the 2003 US led-invasion. The regime in Tehran deliberately encouraged the Iraqi government in 1990 not to withdraw from Kuwait and simultaneously stirred the West to launch an intervention, cunningly directing the chain of events to its own interest.
A similar scenario reoccurred in a much larger dimension in 2002 and 2003 during which Tehran was in fact a tacit supporter of the US invasion of Iraq.
Occupying Iraq in 2003 – a new chapter for Tehran
Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Iran expanded its political, intelligence, terrorist and economic interference into Iraq in an unprecedented manner. As the first step after the fall of Saddam, Tehran dispatched thousands of Iraqis who had lived in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war back to their country, all organized into groups linked to the IRGC. After 2003 they gradually entered the military and other institutions, while maintaining their militant identities by receiving their orders from Iran’s Quds Force. In parallel measures, Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence established its comprehensive presence by stationing its agents in various areas of Iraq. At the time Iraqi newspapers wrote that this ministry had over 200 offices throughout the country. The Iranian regime adopted a multi-faceted policy in Iraq. While Tehran was attempting to place the Iraqi government, army, security groups and intelligence services under its control, it was also attempting to form Shiite militias that were directly linked to the Quds Force and pursued the regime’s objectives in Iraq. These groups were both pressure centres on the US and conducted attacks against US forces, while simultaneously expanding the Iranian regime’s influence and interests regarding the Iraqi government.
In January 2007 the Iranian opposition, People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI) also known as Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), revealed the identities of 32,000 Iraqis on Iran’s payroll. The document exposed details including Iranian and Iraqi names, when they entered the IRGC, mission location, bank account numbers and the salaries these Iraqis received from the IRGC, specified in Iranian currency. The Associated Press wrote on 26 January 2006:
“An Iranian opposition group stationed in France said on Friday that Iran has thousands of employees active in Iraq, publishing the names of nearly 32,000 individuals they claim are regime elements… the National Council of Resistance of Iran published the names, the alleged dates they were hired by Iran and the wages of 31,690 Iraqis. The Council claimed that most of the money of these people is paid by Iran’s IRGC Quds Force, part of Iran’s army that the US military says pays the expenses of militants in Iraq and equips them with weapons.”
Subsequently, 400 of these Iraqis were hired in the office of Prime Minister Maliki. One of them was Hadi al-Ameri, the commander of the Badr terrorist militias, who later became the minister of transportation in the second term of Maliki’s premiership. Ameri is currently a militia commander and involved in perpetrating appalling crimes in Iraq.
Maliki’s premiership: gradual expansion of Iran’s influence in Iraq
Due to the presence of US forces in Iraq, Tehran was unable to bring Iraq entirely under its control through merely Iranian backed militias and the Quds Force. When Maliki assumed office in 2006, the Ayatollahs accelerated their gradual domination over Iraq. Maliki, who was installed by the Americans, became a key figure in implementing Tehran’s agenda in Iraq. The Iranian regime’s slyest move was to beguile the Americans into thinking that Maliki was safeguarding the interests of both Iran and the US simultaneously even though Maliki made no secret about his hostile view towards the US. Dia al-Shakarchi, an activist from the Islamic Dawa Party, told journalist Dexter Filkins of The New Yorker that: “Maliki was known as an anti-American… Even after 2003, his stance was very aggressive toward Americans” . Furthermore, Maliki was one of the leaders of Dawa in Iraq that was also in charge of bombing US and French embassies in Kuwait in 1983. Maliki had spent seven years in Iran in the 1980s. Filkins argues that in Iran Maliki “commanded a camp, in a border town called Ahvaz, to train Iraqi fighters for missions against Saddam’s invading Army. The operation was financed and directed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards”. Maliki’s second term as PM had catastrophic consequences for the people of Iraq and the wider region. Ali Khedery, an advisor to various US ambassadors to Iraq from 2003 to 2009, wrote in the Washington Post on 3rd July 2014 regarding Maliki:
“In 2006, I helped introduce him to the U.S. ambassador, recommending him as a promising option for prime minister…. By 2010, however, I was urging the vice president of the United States and the White House senior staff to withdraw their support for Maliki. I had come to realize that if he remained in office, he would create a divisive, despotic and sectarian government that would rip the country apart and devastate American interests. America stuck by Maliki. As a result, we now face strategic defeat in Iraq and perhaps in the broader Middle East…. He began a systematic campaign to destroy the Iraqi state and replace it with his private office and his political party. He sacked professional generals and replaced them with those personally loyal to him. He coerced Iraq’s chief justice to bar some of his rivals from participating in the elections in March 2010. After the results were announced and Maliki lost to a moderate, pro-Western coalition encompassing all of Iraq’s major ethno- sectarian groups, the judge issued a ruling that awarded Maliki the first chance to form a government, ushering in more tensions and violence….Our debates mattered little, however, because the most powerful man in Iraq and the Middle East, Gen. Qassim Soleimani, the head of the Quds Force unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, was about to resolve the crisis for us… After admonishing the feuding Iraqis to work together, Soleimani dictated the outcome on behalf of Iran’s supreme leader: Maliki would remain premier; Jalal Talabani, a legendary Kurdish guerrilla with decades-long ties to Iran, would remain president; and, most importantly, the American military would be made to leave at the end of 2011….Maliki never appointed a permanent, parliament-confirmed interior minister, nor a defense minister, nor an intelligence chief. Instead, he took the positions for himself. He also broke nearly every promise he made to share power with his political rivals after they voted him back into office through parliament in late 2010”.
Withdrawal of US troops, handing Iraq over to Iran
In accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between Iraq and the US, American forces began to withdraw in early 2009, granting Iran a golden opportunity to achieve its objectives in Iraq, which was a great and unprecedented gift from Washington to the Ayatollahs.
Gradually, Maliki’s government distanced itself from Washington and became closer to Tehran. While Washington’s influence was waning, it was Tehran who now had the final say in Baghdad. A clear indication of the new status quo was echoed in Maliki’s approach towards the main Iranian opposition, the PMOI. The Iranian exiles, who lived in Iraq for almost 25 years by then, had set up a modern town called ‘Ashraf ’ in Diyala province, central Iraq, with their own resources. From the onset following Saddam’s fall, Tehran conspired for the massacre of its arch-enemy and annihilation of Ashraf.
As US troops withdrew from Iraq, Ashraf’s protection was transferred to Maliki’s government. Considering that the US government had signed an agreement with each and every resident of Ashraf to guarantee their safety and security in lieu of voluntary disarmament, the transfer of the responsibility to protect by Washington to Maliki’s government meant essentially singing the death warrant of these defenceless residents. From 2009 to 2013 six massacres were carried out against the residents of Ashraf. During a meeting with Iraq’s president on 29th February 2009 Khamenei emphasised that PM Maliki must uphold his commitment to the “bilateral agreement” which dictates the expulsion of PMOI members from Iraq. On 28th and 29th July 2009, Five months after Khamenei’s directives, Maliki perpetrated the first bloodbath in Ashraf. For obvious political reasons, the Obama administration had no interest in leaving even a small unit in Iraq. Thus by the end of 2011, Washington rapidly left Iraq without considering the consequences.
In his interview with Euronews on 28th November 2014, Senator John McCain said: “According to former Secretaries of Defence Panetta and Gates, as well as Ryan Crocker we could have had a residual force left behind. The President wanted out, that was their view”. He further argued: “but the most credible people in America I know – Ryan Crocker, Leon Panetta and Bob Gates – all three of them said we could have left a residual force behind, we could have”.
In late 2011, following the withdrawal of the last US soldiers from Iraq, the country turned into an Iranian colony. Less than 24 hours after the departure of the last convoy of US troops, Maliki’s government issued the arrest warrant for Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, the highest Sunni official. The Public Prosecutor accused Hashemi of leading a death squad for the assassination of police officers and state officials. Ali Khedery wrote in the Washington Post:
“He [Maliki] also abrogated the pledges he made to the United States. Per Iran’s instructions, he did not move forcefully at the end of 2011 to renew the Security Agreement, which would have permitted American combat troops to remain in Iraq. He did not dissolve his Office of the Commander in Chief, the entity he has used to bypass the military chain of command by making all commanders report to him. He did not relinquish control of the U.S.- trained Iraqi counterterrorism and SWAT forces, wielding them as a praetorian guard. He did not dismantle the secret intelligence organizations, prisons and torture facilities with which he has bludgeoned his rivals. He did not abide by a law imposing term limits, again calling upon kangaroo courts to issue a favorable ruling.
And he still has not issued a new and comprehensive amnesty that would have helped quell unrest from previously violent Shiite and Sunni Arab factions that were gradually integrating into politics.
In short, Maliki’s one-man, one-Dawa-party Iraq looks a lot like Hussein’s one-man, one-Baath Party Iraq. But at least Hussein helped contain a strategic American enemy: Iran. And Washington didn’t spend $1 trillion propping him up. There is not much ‘democracy’ left if one man and one party with close links to Iran control the judiciary, police, army, intelligence services, oil revenue, treasury and the central bank. Under these circumstances, renewed ethno-sectarian civil war in Iraq was not a possibility. It was a certainty”.
Imprisonment and torture
The former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, emphasised in July of 2014: “Every day we receive accounts of a terrible litany of human rights violations being committed in Iraq against ordinary Iraqi children, women and men, who have been deprived of their security, their livelihoods, their homes, education, healthcare and other basic services”. Pillay further added: “The deliberate or indiscriminate targeting of civilians, the killing of civilians, the use of civilians as shields, the hindering of access for civilians to humanitarian assistance may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity”. Agence France Presse (AFP) in Baghdad reported on 28th April 2010:
“Iraqi men were raped, electrocuted and beaten in a ‘secret prison’ in Baghdad, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday, in a harrowing report reminiscent of the abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib. The watchdog interviewed 42 men who were recently transferred from a jail where they say the brutality took place, to another detention facility in Baghdad, after details of misconduct were passed to the government. Human Rights Watch, who described the prisoners' accounts of abuse as "credible and consistent," said there must be an independent and impartial investigation, and called for prosecutions at the highest level. "The horror we found suggests torture was the norm in Muthanna," the watchdog's deputy Middle East director Joe Stork said, referring to the west Baghdad prison where the men were held until recently. According to HRW, prison guards hung blindfolded detainees upside down during interrogations, then kicked, whipped and beat them before placing a dirty plastic bag over suspects' heads to cut off their air supply. When prisoners passed out, they were awoken by electric shocks to their genitals or other parts of the body, the report said.
The detainees, who were interviewed at the Al-Rusafa detention facility in Baghdad on April 26, told HRW that interrogators and security officials sodomised some detainees with broomsticks and pistol barrels. Some young men said they had been forced to perform oral sex on interrogators and guards, according to the report, and said they were whipped with heavy cables, burned with acid and cigarettes, and had their teeth smashed. "What happened at Muthanna is an example of the horrendous abuse Iraqi leaders say they want to leave behind," Stork said. "Everyone responsible, from the top down, needs to be held accountable".
Of the 37,000 inmates in Iraq in 2012, nearly 11,000 were women and they were tortured in the most atrocious ways varying from beatings, electric shocks on sensitive parts of the body, sexual harassment, to rape. Amnesty International has also reported cases in which security forces detained daughters, wives and mothers to force another member of the family whom they are after to turn himself in. In Iraq it is widespread that one’s confession is considered as the most important document confirming the accuracy of the charges, even if the confession is obtained under torture and duress. The court cites these confessions even if the defendant denies them at a later stage. According to human rights organizations such conduct by the judiciary has allowed interrogators to portray their measures as legal.
According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, Iraq has one of the highest execution rates in the world. Executions in Iraq are usually carried out in a collective manner; in one incident in 2013, 34 people were hanged in a single day. Al-Hurra television, a US-based Arabic language satellite TV channel, cited on 11th March 2013 Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, who emphasised that executions are used “horrifically” and the death sentences of many inmates were issued following unfair trials, based on confessions that are reported to be obtained forcibly under torture. She further argued that the time has come for Iraqi officials to end this “ring of vicious violations” and halt executions as a first step towards abolishing capital punishment. In January 2013 then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, condemned the execution of 34 individuals in Iraq, including two women. Pillay said: “Even if the most scrupulous fair trial standards were observed, this would be a terrifying number of executions to take place in a single day”.
She continued: “Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings, major concerns about due process and fairness of trials, and the very wide range of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed in Iraq, it is a truly shocking figure…Most disturbingly, we do not have a single report of anyone on death row being pardoned, despite the fact there are well documented cases of confessions being extracted under duress”. On 19 October 2014, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed their concern over the increasing number of executions in Iraq. There was an increase in the number of executions in Iraq between 2005 and 2009. In 2009, 124 people were executed. Even though there was a decrease in the number of executions in 2010 during the elections in Iraq, however the country witnessed a stark rise from 2011 to 2013. In 2013, at least 177 people were sent to the gallows and in the first 9 months of 2014, at least 60 people were executed.
The people of Iraq largely suffered from sectarianism and crimes perpetrated by Maliki and his militia. The Sunnis were particularly targeted by these policies and faced a genocidal threat. Maliki pursued a specific and coordinated plan under supervision and with the support of the Quds Force and its commander, Qasem Soleimani. Maliki used all the resources at his disposal, such as the Iraqi judiciary and illegitimate para-military groups, in order to execute this plan.
The coordinated strategy devised by Iran and Maliki was founded on the following pillars:
- The physical elimination of or exile of political and religious leaders from the Sunni community. These were leaders of various factions, members of parliament (MPs) and imams who led Friday prayers and who could potentially oppose Maliki and Iran’s gradual influence in Iraq. Tehran and its proxies, like the Badr Army and Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, were engaged in such acts immediately after Iraq’s occupation. Under Maliki’s tenure persecution became more coordinated and streamlined.
- To remove patriotic army personnel and specialists and replace them with those loyal to Maliki in order to eliminate the threat of dissent within the security forces.
These actions were carried out under the pretext of “fighting terrorism” based on Iraq’s Article 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Law. Iraq’s judicial system was exploited to this effect. As such, the country’s prisons were filled with members of the Sunni community and nearly all of those who were executed were Sunnis. In December 2011, immediately following his return from a trip to the US, Maliki conspired against Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi, one of the most respected Iraqi Sunni leaders. Al-Hashemi’s bodyguards and associates were all arrested. Maliki had a number of them sentenced to death and others were killed under torture. Al-Hashemi, who fled to Iraqi Kurdistan and subsequently to Turkey, was sentenced to death in absentia.
The trend of eliminating and purging Sunni politicians continued and in December 2012 Finance Minister Rafe al-Essawi was arrested along with his bodyguards and colleagues. All these measures, evidently carried out under the orders of the Iranian regime, happened with America’s blessing. Even though Maliki desperately attempted, as usual, to justify his policies as legal measures focused on fighting terrorism, Rafe al-Essawi underscored in an interview with The New Yorker in 2014 that these measures were essentially not limited to Maliki’s main policy of eliminating Sunni leaders. Rather, it was the result of al-Essawi’s position regarding an immense corruption case involving Maliki’s clique and billions of dollars. Al-Essawi publicly denounced Maliki’s plot against him and described the attack on his office as “deliberate and premeditated” and he believed that Maliki took revenge on him due to his efforts to halt corruption in Iraq. He told The New Yorker that he believed that the raid was ordered in retaliation for his attempt to block the theft. “I am being punished because I refused to work with the other side” he said. Al-Essawi emphasises in the interview that several American and Iraqi officials have told him that Maliki must have ordered the raid and he further elaborates that a former senior C.I.A. official has told him that: “The only troops that can move inside the Green Zone are under Maliki’s control”.
By the end 2012, one year after the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, peaceful anti-government protests in Sunni provinces began in response to the daily crimes of para-military forces and Maliki’s sectarian policies. The protesters demanded their minimum legal rights under the Iraqi constitution and first and foremost respect for the human rights of the Sunni community. Six years of suppression, execution, torture, arbitrary arrests and marginalisation of the Sunnis by Maliki reached its peak when security forces attacked the office and home of then Finance Minister Rafe al-Essawi and arrested a number of his bodyguards on 21st December 2012. The Sunni residents of Anbar Province launched a massive and unprecedented protest in the form of a sit-in, blocking Ramadi’s international highway that links Iraq with Jordan. The protesters explained they would no longer tolerate Maliki’s repressive policies and that their protest would continue until their genuine demands, presented in the form of 13-articles, were met.
In solidarity with Anbar Province, similar protests were staged in other provinces such as Salaheddin, Nineveh, Al-Ta'mim and Baghdad. The major squares of these provinces became the scene of anti-government protests. The protesters used the occasion of Friday prayers every week as a platform to hold their demonstrations and deliver anti-Maliki speeches. The sit-ins continued throughout the year, non-stop, with specific slogans against the Iranian regime’s meddling in Iraq and Maliki’s government. The protestors upheld the peaceful nature of these gatherings. People from all walks of life participated in these demonstrations. From the start, the leaders of this movement formed “Coordination Committees” which were responsible for organising the protests. A unified entity called “Popular Movement” was formed in the provinces to this effect. Members of the Coordination Committee consisted of clerics, MPs, city councillors and youth leaders. They were in charge of planning rallies, ensuring publicity and taking care of the logistics. During this process, the religious and political leaders and the spokespersons of the movement were also elected.
The demands of the protestors were frequently proclaimed during rallies and Friday prayers and were widely broadcast in the media. These demands, presented in the form of 13- articles, were as follows:
- Release of all female detainees who were imprisoned based on the infamous law of combating terrorism. The referral of women who were charged with felony to the criminal courts of their own provinces with the exception of cases from Baghdad, which should be referred to the Diyala Province. Transferring the legal case against Dr Rafe al-Essawi and his bodyguards to the judiciary in Anbar Province. Those who disobey the above ought to be brought to justice.
- A moratorium on executions in response to international calls to stop the implementation of all these verdicts.
- Suspending article 4 of the terrorism law in its entirety and halting all cases related to it until it is revoked by parliament.
- Parliament should swiftly adopt the general amnesty law and remove all exceptions to it and immediately release all prisoners.
- Suspending the infamous law of Accountability and Justice until it is rescinded by parliament.
- Facilitating stability in all governmental institutions, particularly the military, security and judiciary and initiating the necessary executive actions and guaranteeing a dignified life for all Iraqis.
- Termination of all command operations of the unlawful security services and the withdrawal of the army from the cities and residential areas in Baghdad and all other provinces of Iraq; removal of concrete blocks as they are discriminatory. Serious measures need to be taken to ensure the security of all citizens in the new Iraq provided by a local police force.
- New investigations should be launched into issues regarding religious and national symbols both inside and outside of Iraq, by impartial judicial authorities and without imposition of political influence.
- Sectarian phrases and slogans should be prohibited in governmental institutions, particularly in institutions related to security, as well as in all media.
- A comprehensive census should be carried out prior to nationwide elections where details of religion, ethnicity and faith affiliations of all Iraqis should be declared.
- Indiscriminate assaults and attacks at night should be halted; the accused should be arrested through legal means during daytime. The laws relating to secret informants should be overturned as it fuels animosity and sectarianism.
- Accelerating the formation of the Supreme Federal Court comprised of honest and professional judges and staff with no affiliation to a political faction or party with power, in order to guarantee an independent judiciary.
- Returning all usurped mosques and sites of worship, endowments and citizens’ private properties and the abolition of law 19 of 2005.
Despite mass arrests and brutal suppression, Maliki failed to tame the social unrest. The uprising continued in Anbar, Salaheddin, Diyala, Nineveh, Kirkuk and Baghdad. The epicentre of these rallies was Anbar, the largest province in Iraq, which is of strategic importance due to its borders with Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The uprising began in Sunni provinces due to the unjust treatment of the Sunni population by Maliki. However, it was not a religious movement but a tribal and nationalistic uprising that gained also much sympathy amongst Shiite tribes in the south. This was due to common political motives of anti-despotism and patriotic views and historical close tribal relations. Therefore, many sheikh councils and tribal dignitaries from the south issued statements or dispatched delegations to the protests and demonstrations in Sunni provinces to express their support of the movement and its legitimate demands. The Sunni demonstrators welcomed these delegations by raising pictures and placards of sacred Shiite sanctities during their rallies. As such, the protestors manifested their anti-sectarian views and demonstrated that it was Maliki and the Iranian regime that sought to flare the sectarian sedition in Iraq.
Within a year, despite many obstacles created by Maliki, the movement grew and matured gradually. Maliki’s attempts to bribe tribal leaders in order to denounce the movement proved to be futile. Maliki attempted to set up Awakening Councils that were associated to him. He even tried to use Martin Kobler, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, to weaken the uprising and its movement. Despite Maliki’s propaganda and actions against the movement, the leaders insisted on the peaceful nature of the protests and insisted on their 13-article demands. For a year Maliki was unable to respond to the protesters’ rightful demands and peaceful rallies. Under various pretexts, such as the presence of weapons and terrorist elements inside the protesters’ tents and at protest squares, Maliki attempted to pave the grounds for a military attack and to take-over the protest sites. However, the protesters were aware of this and avoided clashes with the military that Maliki was aiming for. They were able to postpone Maliki’s attempts for a military confrontation for a year. The protesters declared repeatedly that there are no weapons in their protest squares and announced their readiness for full inspections of these sites by government forces.
The demands raised in peaceful million-man protests received no positive response from Maliki and on 23rd April 2013 Maliki attacked a protest site in the small town of al-Hawija in Kirkuk Province. According to Al Jazeera TV, “At least 50 people were killed and over 250 others injured.” Mohamed al-Tamim, Iraq’s former Minister of Education, resigned from Maliki’s cabinet following the al-Hawija massacre and emphasised “What took place in al-Hawija was nothing but a massacre in the exact meaning of the word”. Al Sharqiya TV quoted on 26th April Salim al-Jabouri, then Chairman of the Human Rights Commission in the Iraqi parliament: “A committee has been formed by parliament to establish the truth… The claim that the protesters had no weapons has been proven with facts… The assailants were SWAT units who accepted no peaceful solutions. They had nothing but weapons at their disposal to use. About 80% of the victims were targeted from the waist up, meaning the chest, face, head or side”.
Following the al-Hawija massacre, Maliki was not confronted by the US or the international community. They remained silent in the face of such gross violations and even approved and provided tacit support to the tyrant. Maliki was certain of Iran’s all-out support and therefore calculated that he could end the protests and demonstrations in the six protesting provinces through military attacks. As a result, he tried to round up the protest squares and carry out ground attacks. Maliki’s main focus was on the focal point of the uprising, i.e. Anbar Province. He also attempted to pursue a major military operation in various areas of Baghdad and the beltway surrounding it (mainly Sunni communities) under the pretext of fighting terrorism. In addition to mass murder and arrests, tens of thousands of locals were displaced as a result.
During the eighth months of protests in Sunni provinces against Maliki’s government, in July 2013 sporadic demonstrations began in Iraq’s southern Shiite provinces. The protesters condemned the widespread corruption in Maliki’s government and its poor public services. At first the provinces of Ziqar, Basra and Meisan protested against lack of services. However, slogans rapidly turned against Maliki. Some of the chants heard in the demonstrations in Basra province were: “No to dictatorship, no to bloodshed”, “Nouri al-Maliki is a liar”, “The government has failed”, “Maliki is a murderer”, “Maliki, out, out”. Lawyers, intellectuals and civil society organisations joined these protests. This series of demonstrations turned into a much larger nationwide rally on 31st August 2013, held in various parts of Baghdad and 13 other provinces (Diyala, Anbar, Najaf, Karbala, Ziqar, Babel, Diwaniya, al-Emara, al-Mothana, Basra, Nineveh, Salaheddin and Kirkuk). Hence, the demonstrations in the six Sunni provinces were joined by the southern Shiite provinces in rallies against Maliki.
Increasing general dissent to Maliki’s policies and corruption created a new equilibrium among the political movements and led to an increasing tension between almost all of them and Maliki. This crisis inevitably entered the ranks of the National Alliance (a Shiite coalition of mainly pro-Iranian political movements) and set the stage for its disintegration and fragmentation. This led to a new alignment within the coalition, with the Supreme Islamic Council of Iraq of Ammar al-Hakim and the Sadrists aligning against the State of Law Coalition, headed by Maliki.
Despite all the conspiracies, arrests and repression imposed by Maliki, the protests not only continued but gained strength day by day. Furthermore, Maliki was politically isolated more than ever before due to public dissent resulting from the lack of public services, poverty, corruption and most importantly a lack of security. Regionally and among Arab countries he was completely isolated due to his sectarian policies in Iraq and for allying with the Iranian regime and Russia on Syria, by backing Bashar al-Assad. Steadily he relied more on the Iranian regime, the Quds Force and its associated militias. This jeopardised the security of Iraq, which resulted in Maliki declaring a “state of emergency” in order to keep his government intact until the next elections.
On 4th December 2013 Maliki paid a visit to Iran. There were reports that his main goal during the trip was to obtain Tehran’s blessings for a third term premiership. Securing Syria’s eastern border with Iraq was one of the Iranian regime’s pre-conditions on continuing to support Maliki for a third term as prime minister. Anbar Province is located in this border region and with the support of the Free Syrian Army, the Sunni community prevented ground support, provided by Tehran and Maliki, from reaching Assad’s forces in Syria. The requirements included providing security in the eastern border and also rounding up the Anbar protest square. This would enable Maliki to crackdown on the protesters and his security forces to control the province and expand their reach. Therefore, Maliki began his preliminary measures in Anbar Province to reach this objective.
Finally, considering these dilemmas and his very weak status ahead of the general elections, Maliki decided to attack the Anbar protest square with the goal of achieving a simple victory similar to the al-Hawija crackdown. The objective was to uproot the main centre of protests in Anbar and silence the Sunni movement. He sought to use this victory as his electoral springboard in the southern Shiite provinces and present himself as a loyal supporter to the Shiites, having been able to suppress the Sunnis, and thus gain the Shiite votes. As such, on 25th December 2013 Maliki announced that if the protesters didn’t leave the square in Anbar, their tents would be set ablaze. On that very day Sheikh Ali Hatam Suleiman, one of the prominent leaders of the Iraqi tribes, revealed the nature of Maliki’s threats: “Let Maliki hear my words, the tents will not be removed… Maliki wants to attack everywhere under the pretext of terrorism… he wants to create problems… If Maliki starts, I don’t know what will be the ending… all the people of Anbar, young and old, men and women, we will fight against Maliki and those like him… Maliki and the Dawa Party are more dangerous than al-Qaeda for the Iraqi people. Maliki wants to start a war in the protest squares and say to the Shiites he is the man of this era that fights against terrorism, all aimed at gaining votes in the elections”.
At the end of 2013 Maliki ordered his military forces to enter Anbar under the pretext of targeting al-Qaeda and ISIS forces. The operation began in the desert area with helicopter gunships and massive military forces. Maliki instigated clashes on 28th December by raising fabricated charges against Ahmed al-Alwani, a prominent Sunni member of the Iraqi Parliament, which led to his arrest. Maliki was fully aware that the arrest of Ahmed al-Alwani would lead to a reaction from the tribes. Therefore, on 27th December, he first opened fire on the protesters in the Ramadi Square, killing one youth and injuring three others. This set the stage for clashes and the pretext to attack Ahmed al-Alwani’s house. On the morning of 28th December, fifty armoured vehicles and helicopters stormed al-Alwani’s residence, killing at least six of his family members and bodyguards. Al-Alwani’s brother was summarily executed at the scene and al-Alwani arrested despite the fact that he enjoyed immunity as an MP. He was first beaten and injured and then rushed to Baghdad with a helicopter.
Maliki’s armed forces began subsequently their all-out assault on the cities of Anbar Province. Following al-Alwani’s arrest, intense clashes erupted in Anbar Province. Maliki who had already dispatched a large number of soldiers to this province, sent even more troops after witnessing resistance from tribal forces. Based on the policy that was improvised by Tehran, Maliki’s propaganda apparatus branded the tribal resistance as ISIS and al-Qaeda. With this spin, Maliki justified his war in Anbar and was successful to a certain extent. As a result, he enjoyed US support and this paved the path for the Iranian regime’s presence in Iraq under the guise of fighting ISIS. Anbar’s armed tribes rose to defend their families and lands against Maliki’s forces. They repeatedly demanded their rights through the course of their peaceful demonstrations. Their demands remained simple and legitimate: the withdrawal of troops from their cities, transferring security operations to local forces, releasing political prisoners and putting an end to pervasive religious discrimination.
Maliki ran into a quagmire during his crackdown as he faced the perseverance of Anbar’s united tribes and their high morale. His troops suffered heavy casualties and were forced to withdraw from major cities. He resorted to intense and indiscriminate shelling of residential areas, including the cities of Ramadi and Fallujah, which resulted in widespread casualties amongst the civilian population. In addition to homes and schools, hospitals were also targeted during these heavy bombardments and long-range missile attacks by army helicopter gunships. According to one account, the Fallujah General Hospital was targeted 17 times by Maliki’s forces during the 8 months of clashes, with the latest attack taking place on 5th August 2014. Al Jazeera TV reported on that day: “Maliki’s aviation forces bombarded the Fallujah hospital with three barrel bombs leaving behind dozens killed and injured”. The International Organization for Immigration underscored on 28th February 2014 that only two months after the start of the war the number of people displaced from Anbar province has been registered at 400,000. However, Maliki’s forces were not able to gain even the slightest military victory due to the extensive resistance by tribal forces. Most of the Anbar Province came under the control of tribal resistance forces and Maliki’s forces witnessed a systematic and remarkable desertion in the very first days of the clashes. This included Maliki’s senior officers who fled the battlefields. The scope of this desertion reached a point where a platoon and even a full battalion surrendered themselves or were completely destroyed with its rank and file fleeing the scene.
According to figures reported by Al- Rafidain, a local Iraqi TV, on 19th February 2014, Maliki’s army had lost 5,900 army soldiers and 9,800 others injured after 50 days of the conflict. Additionally, over 12,300 soldiers deserted their units. Sheikh Ali Hatam said to Al Jazeera TV on 1st April, 2014: “To this day 6,000 soldiers of Maliki’s units have been killed in the battles against the tribes; over 21,000 have deserted and over 400 vehicles have been destroyed”. During his tenure Maliki attempted to reinforce his rule by forming military commands and arming over 1.2 million soldiers. By relying on this force he practically marginalized all other political parties and even his own partners in government. However, he was caught completely off guard in the wake of repeated defeats suffered by his military forces against the tribes.
Quds Force clampdown on Sunni provinces
Immediately following the uprising, signs of mass desertion amongst Maliki’s military apparatus became apparent. The Iranian regime, having experienced a similar trend in Syria, quickly began taking action and entering the scene directly and indirectly to prevent the complete dissolution of the military apparatus. According to numerous reports a large number of Iranian regime’s IRGC forces entered Baghdad airport on 8th January 2014 to provide support for Maliki’s forces in Anbar. Maliki planned to use them in Anbar Province and for defending the Green Zone.
Prior to 8th January 2014, a number of Arab media outlets reported that the Sunni tribes in Fallujah detained a number of IRGC officers and other forces dispatched by Tehran. According to these sources the IDs of some of those who were arrested near Fallujah showed they were Iranians. One of the tribesmen told al-Gharbiya TV on 4th January 2014, “Here we are actually fighting the Iranian regime that is supporting Maliki’s government.” According to al-Arabiya TV, from the onset of military operations in Anbar Province there were continuous reports of Iranian regime’s forces taking part in these battles. A credible Iraqi source told al-Arabiya at the time that more troops from the Iranian regime’s IRGC-linked Quds Force entered Iraq. They brought heat-seeking missiles, which are fired from helicopter gunships and also missiles that Hezbollah forces use in Syria. According to this Iraqi source Tehran was directly and blatantly involved in the conflict of Anbar Province.
As resistance was growing during the Anbar clashes among Iraqi people and tribes opposed to Maliki’s forces, the Quds Force concluded that the Iraqi provinces with large Sunni populations posed a serious threat to Maliki and his government and particularly to the Iranian regime. Therefore, it took measures to prepare and organise its associated militia forces in various provinces to confront such a threat. In this regard various plans and different measures were pursued:
• Widespread training in a series of urban and sectarian warfare scenarios for militia forces such as Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq and Kata'ib Hezbollah in Quds Force garrisons in Iran.
• Establishing a generic Bassij force through the 9th Badr Corps and Hadi al-Ameri, commander of the Badr militia; arming tribes and elements linked to Badr forces in various provinces with the aim of having the ability to enter conflicts similar to Anbar and place cities under control.
• Additionally, Qais Khazali, founder of the Iranian-backed Special Groups in Iraq, and Asa'ib Ahl al- Haq were ordered to pull their forces out of Syria and dispatch them to various Iraqi provinces. They were to be organized and placed on full alert to have the ability to take urgent action if all Sunni provinces experienced conditions similar to Anbar Province.
• Furthermore, elections were close and Maliki sought to launch a wave of assassinations in order to prevent Sunni candidates’ activities in mixed Shiite-Sunni provinces. Through such measures, Maliki pursued his own policy regarding the elections.
On 5th February 2014, the first series of militants linked to Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, including 200 troops from Diyala province, were sent to Iran to undergo a 15-day training course at Quds Force bases. They received the following training:
• Street and urban warfare
• Assassinating dignitaries
• Attacking and seizing checkpoints
• Taking over buildings
Following their training, these militants returned to Iraq and were dispatched to Sunni provinces, especially Anbar where they joined groups with the ‘Dirty Division’, anti-terrorism units and SWAT Forces. The militants would use the uniforms of these forces during their operations. Their activities were focused both on intelligence gathering and operations. The militants are specialised in artillery fire with mortars and (mini) Katyusha rockets and their goal is to target popular forces in close range, which are inaccessible for classic army forces.
On 25th January a number of Quds Force advisors, specialists in guerrilla and urban warfare, went to Iraq to train Iraqi forces in line with experiences gained from similar conditions in Syria. They worked in close contact with Ali Gheidan, then-Ground Forces commander, and Fazel Barwari, then-commander of the Division known as “Dirty Division”, providing their experiences from Iran and Syria during the past few years. The first recommendation made by these advisors was to reinitiate the Awakening forces. The Quds Force advisors argued that they launched the civil defence force in Syria because the army is a classic force trained to fight foreign wars; in non-classic battles where there is literally no law and guerrilla warfare rules the land, they must respond in a similar way and one cannot confront such a force with the army. Guerrilla groups must be formed to respond to this threat, they said. The Quds Force dispatched its senior commanders to Iraq and they were working directly with Maliki’s military forces in the Anbar war. Hence, Iraj Masjedi and Mohammad Foruzandeh, both members of Qasem Suliemani’s inner circle, stationed themselves in the Tareq Base working alongside and in coordination with Dirty Division commanders.
The Iranian regime signed a contract on 6th February for sending weapons to Iraq valued at $80 million. According to reliable reports, the first batch of these weapons included low-range rockets, various types of mortars, mini- Katyushas, middle-range weapons and two drones, which arrived at Najaf airport. Along with the first arms delivery came two Iranian experts who would train the Iraqis. The second arms deal, valued at $30 million, was signed on 26th February at the Defence Ministry building. Based on this contract, Defence Industries Organization, affiliated with Iran’s defence ministry, was supposed to deliver light and medium weapons and war equipment to Iraq within two months. Maliki and his Security Advisor, Faleh Fayyad, promised to buy arms from Iran again as often as possible, given that Iran is in need of cash due to international sanctions.
Maliki’s bid to keep power and Tehran’s leap to complete dominion
The Iranian regime supported Maliki’s premiership for a third term and thus attempted to unify Shiite groups in Iraq to this end. In early March 2014 Tehran invited some of the leaders of Shiite groups, including Ammar Hakim, Ibrahim Ja’afari, Moqtada al-Sadr and Ali al-Adib to Tehran. Tehran told the Shiite leaders that if they do not back Maliki as Prime Minister, the Shiites of Iraq would be the losers in the political arena. Some reports indicate that during the meeting with Shiite leaders, the Iranian regime’s leaders explicitly stated that if it becomes certain that Maliki has no chance to secure a third term, considering the situation in Iraq and the region, it would attempt to extend Maliki’s office for another two years through parliamentary action and thus delay elections for at least two years. Another scenario was to postpone the elections due to the security situation.
In January 2014, despite objections from representatives affiliated with Maliki, the Iraqi parliament adopted legislation, which limited the posts of President, Prime Minister and Speaker of Parliament to two terms. However, Maliki used the Supreme Judicial Council, his marionette, to issue a decree, which claimed that the adopted legislation was in breach of the constitution. The principal scheme of Maliki and the Iranian regime was to postpone the elections. On 28th October 2013, Maliki travelled to the US where he met with President Obama and Vice-President Biden. Washington strongly urged him to hold the election as scheduled on 30th April 2014. After his return from the US, Maliki was consequently forced to announce that he would hold the election on 30th April.
The extensive campaign by the PMOI and NCRI during Maliki’s visit to the United States in exposing the role of the Iraqi government in the massacre in Ashraf on 1st September 2013 and other suppressive measures against the PMOI, as well as the disclosure of the systematic violation of human rights in Iraq, caused many problems for Maliki. As such, the PMOI triggered the process that would lead to Maliki’s downfall. The organisation succeeded in conducting a campaign in the US House and Senate as well as in the media against Maliki. Subsequently, media reports pointed out that in all Maliki’s meetings, including with the US president and vice-president, he was criticized for suppressing the residents of camps Ashraf and Liberty. Concurrently, as Maliki was meeting with Obama, a rally was held by Iranians, Iraqis and prominent American personalities, in front of the White House.
The armed uprising against Maliki rapidly developed from a local crisis to the principal issue throughout Iraq with broad consequences, which tilted the balance of power against Maliki. It overshadowed the political trend and in particular the fate of the Iraqi parliamentary elections and the formation of a new government. As the worn out state of the military apparatus was revealed and his army almost disintegrated, Maliki’s tyranny crumbled and it became evident to all that he was absolutely unable to suppress the uprising prior to the elections. This reality swiftly changed the equilibrium in Iraq's political landscape against Maliki. The new slogan of “No to Maliki’s 3rd term as Prime Minister” changed Iraq's political landscape in a deep and irreversible manner. This motto was embraced by a wide spectrum of Sunni, Shiia and Kurdish movements. Furthermore, Maliki failed to gain any victories in the military campaign against the al-Anbar tribes and his forces were defeated in a series of attacks on Fallujah prior to the elections. Therefore, Maliki and the Iranian regime, his main supporter, learned that they had no chance to secure a third term premiership and invested even more on committing extensive fraud in the elections.
Widespread fraud in elections
Even though one million Iraqis were not able to register for the elections, as they were driven out of their homes in the Sunni provinces due to indiscriminate shelling and bloody attacks by government forces, the parliamentary elections were held on 30th April 2014 in all 18 provinces. Of the 36 million inhabitants of Iraq, 21.5 million could vote and the election commission announced that 62% have participated in the elections, but many political movements questioned the authenticity of the figures. Dr Ayad Allawi said the 62% figure was not correct. He argued “While there are two million undistributed cards and when we have an extraordinary security situation in many areas which prevented people from going to the ballot boxes and some areas are flooded… how could it be that this many people have participated?” he asked. The new political consensus among various movements, which rejected a third term premiership of Maliki and which was formed prior to the elections despite all the obstacles of Maliki and the Iranian regime to prevent the success of the political process, continued in a new phase following the announcement of the results that were rigged in favour of Maliki. In fact, not only was no political faction subdued by the announced results, but the Kurdish coalition, Shiite groups led by Ammar Hakim, Muqtada al-Sadr, Sunni groups like Mottahedoun for Reform and the secular movement of Dr Ayad Allawi all became more determined than ever in exposing widespread fraud by Maliki and provided related documents, and all moved towards the formation of a unified front with the slogan of "No to the third term of Maliki."
Fall of Mosul and the unprecedented rise of ISIS
Instead of responding to the demands of the Anbar uprising and reaching an agreement, Maliki and his repressive forces responded - as recommended by the Iranian regime - with air strikes against innocent civilians in order to crush the Sunni population. The suppression of the Sunni communities started with the indifference of the US, which fully supported Maliki and created an explosive atmosphere in some Sunni provinces. Six months of resistance by the people and the tribes led to widespread defections within the Iraqi army. While Maliki's security forces, including the 'Golden Division', SWAT forces and anti-terrorist units, brutally arrested, tortured and massacred people, Maliki's army was in despair over their battle against the people of Anbar. Six months of military operations (from December 2013 to June 2014) to reconquer Anbar province ended in failure. Nevertheless the army continued bombarding civilians.
By the end of elections Maliki, who was unable to gain any success by intimidating his political opponents, through the announcement of 92 seats won for himself in rigged results, decided to crush the Anbar uprising at all costs or to make it ineffective before the final confirmation of the election results by the federal court. He aimed to generate an achievement, which would serve as a justification for him to form a government of his own and to force some parties to join his coalition. Maliki launched major assaults on Anbar and attacked Fallujah on four fronts, accompanied by unprecedented shelling, but his forces were defeated as revolutionaries launched successive and lightning strikes. It was under such circumstances that on 10th June 2014 the provinces of Nineveh and Salaheddin along with parts of Kirkuk and Diyala provinces were taken from Maliki's forces. Over 60,000 Iraqi armed forces were dismantled and fled the scene against a force that was at least 10 times smaller.
Baghdad’s beltway opened up from the North and the South and the siege of the city was tightened from three axes. Thus, the armed uprising against Maliki rapidly gained popular dimensions and attracted international and regional attention. The sudden fall of the city of Mosul without any resistance shocked the world. This happened while there were 5 combat divisions under the command of General Ali al-Gheidan, chief of the Ground Forces, and General Abud Qanbar, chief of staff of Iraqi armed forces. The army's 2nd and 3rd army divisions in Mosul, the 12th division in Kirkuk, the 4th division in Salaheddin and the 3rd Federal police division in Mosul were destroyed.
Maliki could not deny this catastrophe and embarrassment, he said: "What took place in Mosul was truly a big shock for all of us". However, Maliki never agreed to appear in front of Parliament as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces in order to explain the scandalous collapse of his Army and consequently the crimes they committed during the past years. There have been conflicting reports on who took these areas from the Iraqi army. What is certain - especially in Salaheddin and Diyala - is that the armed tribes and people from those regions played a major role. ISIS and various tribes took Nineveh Province from Maliki. However, a number of important factors played a significant role in this advance. Firstly, due to the brutal crimes committed by the Iranian regime and Maliki, many Sunnis preferred to be ruled by anyone but Maliki or militants associated with Iran. In fact, the main factor of the uprising of the Sunni population in Iraq was the repression and injustice against their communities, including killings, forced displacement and indiscriminate bombardments by Maliki, the Iranian regime and its militias. Yet, after a year of anti-government protests and sit-ins nobody inside or outside Iraq paid any attention to the demands of the Sunni communities. ISIS gradually took advantage of these conditions and launched an attack on Mosul. Secondly, Maliki's forces did not have the ability to confront this attack. Thirdly, some individuals within the military sympathised and cooperated with the armed tribes. Fourthly, the US relied on the Iraqi army and neglected the people's demands in the region, which deepened the crisis. Ignoring the Sunni tribes - who were willing to fight ISIS if Maliki was set aside - resulted in the rise to power of ISIS, against the interests of the tribes.
One of the biggest mistakes made by the US government was to dissolve the Iraqi army, which was quite professional and field-experienced and had no sectarian elements. The new army that the US helped to form lacked any military value due to the existence of a corrupt and sectarian political establishment under the influence of the Iranian regime. Maliki - instructed by Iran - carried out a widespread purge inside the army and installed his own men in key posts while corruption had spread through the army ranks. On 11th November 2014 Iraq's new Minister of Transportation said that over 150,000 fictitious employees and soldiers were listed as receiving salaries. These are people who were actually not working or did not exist at all, but salaries were received on their behalf. The Washington Post reported on 30th November 2014 regarding this issue:
“The Iraqi army has been paying salaries to at least 50,000 soldiers who don’t exist” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Nov 30, 2014, an indication of the level of corruption that permeates an institution that the United States has spent billions equipping and arming. A preliminary investigation into ‘ghost soldiers’— whose salaries are being drawn but who are not in military service — revealed the tens of thousands of false names on Defence Ministry payrolls, Abadi told parliament Sunday. Follow-up investigations are expected to expose “more and more,” he added. With entry-level soldiers in Iraq drawing salaries of about $600 a month, the practice of “ghost soldiers ”is likely to be costing Iraq at least $380 million a year — though officials say that’s probably only a fraction of the true expense. “It could be more than triple this number”, said Hamid al-Mutlaq, a member of the parliamentary defence and security committee.
Maliki’s refusal to step down
Despite the objection of all political movements to Maliki’s third term premiership and an accord that required the nomination of someone other than Maliki to form a government, Maliki, enjoying unfailing support from Tehran, ignored all international calls and stood against the will of the people. He blocked the political process three and half months after announcing the election results and complicated the situation by dragging it to a deadlock and refusing to step down. In June 2014, the US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Iraq. International news agencies reported two essential realities about this visit:
• John Kerry calls on Maliki for a comprehensive government. We hear from some sources in the US government that to accomplish this Maliki must go.
• Washington has sent a message through diplomatic language to Iraqi leaders regarding abandoning power by Maliki.
However, Maliki did not pay any attention to national and international demands to step down and instead described them as setting the stage for an unconstitutional coup. In such an atmosphere, leaders of the National Unity led by Ibrahim Jafari, held several meetings for a final decision regarding Maliki’s successor. However, stonewalling by Maliki made these efforts unsuccessful as he stood by his firm and rigid position not to quit until the end. Widespread calls for ousting Maliki and forming an inclusive government increased nationally and internationally. The political process in Iraq was certainly in a deadlock with Maliki and about to collapse completely as no political movement was willing to form a coalition with him.
Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the senior Iraqi Shiite cleric, said in response to the Islamic Dawa Party’s nomination of Maliki for a third term that: “Taking the present condition into consideration, our view is that you change your candidate for premiership”. Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s resigned Foreign Minister emphasised that: “The candidate of the National Alliance must be accepted by the others. You cannot choose someone that is not wanted by three quarters of the Iraqi people”.
The fall of Mosul clearly indicated that if Maliki were to remain in power, Iraq would be totally destroyed. Sistani overtly opposed Maliki, who by now was absolutely isolated among the Shiite movements known as the National Alliance. Internal and international pressures affected Maliki’s State of Law Coalition and caused its division. Simultaneously with US air strikes against ISIS, despite Maliki’s impudence, the condition for his deposition and replacement was intensely prepared.
A new candidate for premiership; Maliki set aside
Finally, when the National Alliance reached a dead-end due to Maliki’s abnormal stubbornness, the head of the alliance, Ibrahim Jafari, sent a letter to President Fuad Masum on 11th August 2014 declaring the National Alliance as the largest parliamentary faction with 127 MPs and Mr Haider al-Abadi as the coalition’s candidate for the premiership. Maliki and some of his inner circles continued their opposition and accused President Fuad Masum of violating the constitution.
Al Jazeera reported that: “Washington welcomed the decision made by the Iraqi President in assigning Haider al-Abadi as prime minister to replace Maliki, describing it as a major step. The US State Department called for the Iraqi government to be formed as soon as possible”. Furthermore, al-Hurra reported that: “Joe Biden made a phone call to al-Abadi and reminded him of his duty to form a national unity government”. After having massively supported Maliki’s dictatorial rule for eight years, even following the announcement of the election results up to the final day of the candidacy of a new prime minister, the Iranian regime eventually recognised the new realities. Tehran realised it has reached the point of no return and was forced to change its position and halt its support for Maliki.
Maliki, who was at this point completely isolated and the subject of intense hatred in Iraq, observed the new balance of power and political line-up against him in the region. Nouri al-Maliki was forced to step down on 14th August 2014 after having obstructed the political process for 3½ months. Maliki argued that: “I don’t want any post and my post is your trust, and there is no post higher and nobler than that. Before you and to facilitate the political trend and the formation of the new government in line with the country’s higher interest, I withdraw my candidacy in favour of my brother Dr Haider al-Abadi”. Al-Arabiya reported that: “The United Nations welcomed Maliki stepping down and Washington described it as a step forward for Iraq”.
Iraq’s Sunni tribes, of whom 100,000 were fighting al-Qaida as part of the Awakening Councils, had a very clear position from the start when ISIS emerged two months prior to US air strikes. These tribes expressed their readiness to fight ISIS if Maliki was set aside and the Iranian regime and its associated militias were pushed back. The Grand Mufti of Iraq, Dr Rafe al-Rafaei, sent a televised message on the developments in Iraq: “It is very surprising that they accuse ‘freedom-loving revolutionaries’ of being linked to terrorist groups like ISIS……They are not ISIS. They are freedom-loving men who are fed up with Maliki’s cruelty. However, Maliki’s government and his allies accuse them of being linked to ISIS to create rifts between the people of the liberated cities and the revolutionaries”. The Grand Mufti of Iraq described ISIS as a terrorist group, but also called on the youth in Iraqi cities to support the armed tribes to liberate the country from ‘Maliki’s cruelty’. The Iraqi Grand Mufti expressed his gratitude towards those who surrendered their weapons to the revolutionaries. “These revolutionaries are your brothers and they have no sectarian tendencies, and they will not attack any religious sites, Shiite, Sunni or Christian” he said.
Sheikh Ali Hatam Suleiman, leader of the Doleimi tribe, said in an interview with Al Arabiya on 14th June 2014 that: "We do not have ISIS among ourselves. We are the tribes…. I must say it explicitly that there are connections between ISIS and government institutions. There are many reasons to say that, for example in Ramadi, which has been completely under siege, they would freely come with certain vehicles, some wearing military uniforms… We know whom they are affiliated with. ISIS has been created by Iran. The Government wants to use them as a cover to fight terrorism. The real terrorism in Iraq is Maliki’s terrorism. We declare before God and the people of the world that we denounce ISIS and we can retake whatever they might gain. But our prime goal is to end Maliki’s dictatorship and then we shall fight the ISIS as we have done before. Iran has been meddling in Iran for a long time. We are concerned about Iran’s new plots. Attacking the two holy shrines in Samara is an Iranian scheme that Maliki wants to implement. Their objective was to blow up the two shrines as soon as revolutionaries entered the city. We are not frightened by Iran and will not give any credit to it. I advise Iran, if they want their interest in Iraq, they must adjust with the current reality in Iraq. We shall not allow Iran any longer to dictate its will in Iraq. Such decisions will be made by those who control the territory and not by Iran”.
On 12th June 2014 a message distributed by the Association of Muslim Scholars to Iraq’s revolutionaries in the form of 12 points stated:
- “The revolutionaries must be open to the people and understand their problems wholeheartedly and try to resolve them.
- Treatment of minorities must be decent according to our religious values. The revolutionaries must present a very decent image of themselves to the world. Any restriction against minorities must be removed. This is very important for the protection of minorities and their beliefs.
- The revolutionaries’ slogan is very clear and it is the same slogan used by Prophet Mohammad when he conquered Mecca, which was forgiveness and compassion. This is what our revolutionary children did… forgiveness is the key to conquer people’s hearts. But tyrants will be handed over to a just judiciary system to be tried at the right time in criminal courts. A judiciary system that will not resemble in any way the sectarian and politicized judiciary set up by Maliki.…"
This approach continued after Maliki was set aside.
Composition of the new government
On 8th September 2014 PM Haider al-Abadi’s government was presented to the Iraqi parliament for a vote of confidence. The ministers of defence and interior were not yet nominated as various political parties could not reach an agreement on whom to select. They were introduced at a later stage. The main reason for the delay was Tehran’s insistence upon the nomination of Hadi al-Ameri, commander of the Badr militias, for these positions. Due to Ameri’s criminal background, which had gained notoriety in recent years, almost all political parties opposed his nomination.
The composition of the Abadi government was as follows:
1. Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Ibrahim Jaafari (Shiite - National Alliance, head of National Alliance from reform faction)
2. Ministry of Oil: Adel Abdul Mahdi (Shiite - National Alliance, associated with Supreme Council)
3. Ministry of Finance: Hoshyar Zebari (Kurd - Alliance of Kurdistan, Kurdistan Democratic Party)
4. Ministry of Defense: Khalid Al-Obeidi (from the Sunni Forces alliance)
5. Ministry of Interior: Mohammad Al-Ghabban (Shiite - the Badr Organization)
6. Ministry of Higher Education: Hussein Shahristani (Shiite - National Alliance, Mostaghelloun, associated with State of the Law)
7. Ministry of Health: Mrs Adliah Hammoud (Shiite - National Alliance, the Dawa Party, associated with State of the Law)
8. Ministry of Transport: Baqir Jabr Zobaidi (Shiite - National Alliance, the Supreme Council)
9. Ministry of Labor: Mohammad Shya Sudani (Shiite - National Alliance, Fazilat; was the Minister of Human Rights in the Maliki government)
10. Ministry of Youth and Sports: Abdolhussein Abtan (Shiite - National Alliance, the Supreme Council)
11. Ministry of Industry: Nasir al-Issawi (Shiite - National Alliance, Sadr faction)
12. Ministry of Municipal Affairs: Abdolkarim Younes (Shiite - National Alliance, Badr)
13. Ministry of Human Rights: Mohammed al-Bayati (Shiite - Torkamani - National Alliance, the Supreme Council)
14. Ministry of Justice: Haider Zamoli (Shiite - National Alliance, Fazilat, associated with State of the Law)
15. Ministry of Reconstruction and Housing: Tariq Alkhikani (Shiite - National Alliance, Sadr faction)
16. Ministry of Communications: Hassan Rashid (Shiite - National Alliance, Sadr faction)
17. Ministry of Education: Muhammad Iqbal (Sunni - Sunni Forces alliance)
18. Ministry of Planning: Salman Al-Jamili (Sunni - Sunni Forces alliance)
19. Ministry of Power: Qasim al-Fahdawi (Sunni - Sunni Forces alliance)
20. Ministry of the Environment: Qutaybeh Jubouri (Sunni - Sunni Forces alliance)
21. Ministry of Agriculture: Falah Hassan Zidan (Sunni - of tribal Sheikhs)
22. Ministry of State in Provincial Affairs and the House of Representatives: Ahmed al-Jubouri (Sunni - Sunni Forces alliance)
23. Ministry of Culture: Faryad Rawandozi (Alliance of Kurdistan, associated with PUK)
24. Ministry of Commerce: Abdulkarim Kasnazani (Kurdistan Alliance)
25. Ministry of Science and Technology: Fares Jeju (Assyrian - Chaldean minority)
26. Ministry of Water Resources: Mohsen Asfour Ministry of tourism and heritage: (No minister has been introduced)
27. Ministry of migration and immigration: (No minister has been introduced)
Key positions remain under Tehran’s control
Hadi Al-Ameri’s unpopularity, forced the Iranian regime to settle for Mohammad al-Ghabban, another Badr commander, as the minister of interior. CNN reported on 20th October 2014 that the interior ministry is also responsible for the intelligence services and that al-Ghabban was now in control of these services. Many Sunnis would rightly complain about al-Ghabban being in charge of the intelligence services as he represents the Badr organisation, which has been responsible for some of the worst massacres against the Sunni population in Iraq. These complaints are further justified when one considers that the Badr organisation is strongly controlled by Iran, the world’s only Shiite theocracy. The selection of a member of the Badr organisation to the Iraqi cabinet is thus a victory for Iran and a defeat for local Sunnis. A quick glance at the Abadi cabinet clearly indicates that many of the key positions of power still remain under the thumb of Tehran. The most alarming one is obviously the interior ministry, as al-Ghabban commands and controls hundreds of thousands police and Iraqi security forces. In addition to the interior minister, four other ministers of the Abadi government, i.e. the Minister of Human Rights, Mohammad Mahdi al-Bayati, Minister of Communications, Hassan Kazem Alrashid, Minister of Municipalities, Abdolkarin Aylan, and the Minister of Youth and Sports, Abdolhussein Abtan, belong to the Badr organisation and each of the five has been on the payroll of the IRGC from either the 1980’s or 90’s. The Iranian opposition exposed their names and details in 2007. Furthermore, Faleh Fayyad, Maliki's national security adviser, has remained on in al-Abadi’s cabinet. Fayyad is even closer to the Iranian regime than Maliki. He was appointed in early 2011 to the post of national security adviser and took over the dossier of Camp Ashraf and subsequently Camp Liberty and of the PMOI in Iraq.
Each act of repression against PMOI was carried out under his order and supervision and he was entirely involved in the massacre and psychological torture of Ashraf and Liberty residents in recent years. For these reasons, he is now wanted by the Spanish court.
Moreover, Maliki himself is now vice-president in the new administration and a number of his people from the State of Law and Dawa party have been placed at the heads of other ministries. Al-Abadi has adopted some positive measures since he assumed office, but these are insufficient. These include the expulsion of some elements of the Iranian regime, the dissolution of the institutions created by Maliki to further the policies of the Iranian regime in Iraq, including the Prime Minister's Military Office, and retirement of military commanders loyal to Maliki in the Ministries of Defence and Interior. However, more radical measures are required to address the involvement of the Iranian regime in Iraq and its influence on civil and military bodies. In the absence of these measures large parts of Iraqi society and the Sunnis in particular will not have any motivation to support or participate in the political process.
Although it may too early to judge, Abadi’s government has still not taken action to secure the confidence and cooperation of the Sunni population. Meanwhile, the Iranian regime is looking to rebuild what it has lost with the ouster of Maliki. Therefore, Prime Minister al-Abadi will not have much time. He needs to take rapid and decisive actions. By not purging Iranian agents from Iraq, the Iraqi government has left Maliki and the Iranian regime with the ability to try to sabotage Abadi’s efforts. There are strong indications that the Iranian theocracy has not stopped supporting Maliki and it appears that Tehran still invests in him. For example, Maliki’s trip to Iran in November 2014, during which he was warmly welcomed by Khamenei and other senior Iranian officials, testifies to this fact. In addition, Maliki travelled recently to Lebanon and met with Hassan Nasrallah, the Secretary General of the Lebanese Hezbollah. Maliki’s foreign activities show that Iran attempts to involve him more actively than ever in pursuing its regional strategy. By keeping Maliki on as vice-president, Tehran wants to vigorously advance its agenda in Iraq and have an official presence in the country’s political arena.
Given that one of the most striking aspects of Maliki’s dependence on the Iranian regime had been his murderous acts in connection with the Iranian regime’s opposition in Ashraf and Liberty, which was met with worldwide outrage and condemnation, it was expected that the new prime minister would take serious measures to distance his administration from previous policies. However, to date PM al-Abadi has not taken any positive measures to end the criminal siege and medical blockade on Camp Liberty and has not guaranteed the security of the residents nor their property rights. Instead, the restrictions on the Camp Liberty residents have intensified in recent months. Meanwhile no measures have been taken to prosecute and punish the perpetrators of 6 massacres in Ashraf and Liberty. To rub salt into the wound, the commanders and perpetrators of these massacres retain control and management of Camp Liberty. Respecting the rights of these refugees is a clear indicator of adherence to the rule of law and respect for international treaties and laws. Violating those rights raises serious questions about the intentions of the new government. On 9th January 2015, the International Committee In Search of Justice (ISJ) issued a warning which stressed: “The defenceless 2500 Iranian refugees in Camp Liberty near Baghdad airport from the PMOI-MEK face a grave and imperative threat.
The Iranian regime’s interventions in Iraq grow by the day and its terrorist affiliated militias have escalated their threats against the Iranian dissidents in Camp Liberty. The record of the past three years shows no prospect for a swift resettlement of these residents. Therefore the ISJ calls on the United States and the United Nations to assume special protective provisions on Camp Liberty.
If the U.S. government is not going to transfer all Camp Liberty residents to the United States immediately, then, considering its direct responsibility for the protection of each and every resident, it should hand over part of their personal protection weapons, which it consolidated in 2003, so that the residents could protect themselves against possible assaults by the terrorist Qods Force and its militias that have an extensive presence in large parts of Iraq, including Baghdad. This is crucial to prevent further tragedies.
These weapons would offer them at least means of self defence against attacks that the Government of Iraq claims are perpetrated by unknown entities. This is the residents’ basic right to be able to preserve their lives in the current turmoil in Iraq”.
Haider al-Abadi’s visit to Iran
Al-Abadi’s trip to Iran sheds light on some aspects of his policy. On 21st October 2014, at the invitation of the Iranian vice -president, al-Abadi entered Tehran along with Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Minister of Oil, Adel Abdul Mahdi, Minister of Water Resources, Mohsen Asfour, Minister of Commerce, Muhammad Karim Kasnazani and a Member of Parliament. During the 48 hour trip, Abadi met, according to media reports, with the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani, his deputy Jahangiry, Hashemi Rafsanjani, chairman of the Expediency Council, Ali Larijani, Parliament speaker, Sadegh Larijani, Head of Judiciary, Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, First Vice-President of the Assembly of Experts, Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the Supreme Council of National Security and some of the Qom clerics. According to the sources of the Iranian opposition and media reports, the most important issues discussed with al-Abadi by the Iranian regime during his trip were distancing Iraq from the US and reduced reliance on the US Army in favour of relying on the IRGC and the Quds Force. According to the Iranian opposition, Khamenei told al-Abadi that the US was not reliable and that the relationship with Iran was a strategic one for both countries and that in order to get rid of ISIS, the Iraqi government’s sole option is to rely on the Iranians.
Khamenei said: "We believe, as we have already said, in order to overcome security problems, the people and government of Iraq don’t need outsiders and other countries. The complicated situation in the region is so that the security of the countries in the region cannot be separated. As a brotherly and neighbouring country with strong connection, the Islamic Republic of Iran considers Iraq’s security as its own. We believe the issue of ISIS and terrorism must be cured by the countries in the region". According to the same sources, Khamenei also emphasized that he viewed the current situation as the result of the irresponsible behaviour of external powers and some regional powers with regard to Syria and that Iran must stand firm against them. According to the Iranian opposition, Khamenei told al-Abadi unambiguously: "We will not forget the great services of Mr Nouri al-Maliki for Iraq and the region". This sentiment was repeated in the meeting with Shahroudi, First Vice President of the Assembly of Experts and a co-founder of the Iraqi Supreme Council.
On 21st October 2014 al-Abadi met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani said in this meeting: "Iran believes that the primary responsibility for combating terrorist groups should be the responsibility of the government troops and the Iraqi people, and the more that Iraqi people from different religious and ethnic groups are united in this field, the greater the rate of success will be. Those claiming to combat terrorism and those who have formed a coalition to fight terrorism first must try to cut off financial support to terrorist groups... terrorists use victimization and by highlighting the big power’s airstrikes, attract more immature youth and survive”. According to Iranian opposition sources, in addition to the public meetings in Tehran, al-Abadi met in Qom with Mohammad Ali Jaafari, Commander in Chief of the IRGC, and a number of other IRGC commanders. In these meetings, the involvement of the IRGC’s Quds Force in Iraq and the coordination in Syria and Lebanon were discussed and evaluated.
During the meetings of PM al-Abadi in Iran, the PMOI was also discussed. This was brought up by Rouhani and the regime’s head of Judiciary and they both demanded the group’s expulsion and extradition of some of its members. The Iranian media wrote: “The Prime Minister of Iraq also said that Iraq knows the members of the terrorist Monafeqin (PMOI) grouplet were involved in crimes against the people of both countries but said it is the responsibility of international organisations to prepare the ground for their exit from Iraq, and the Iraqi government will take the necessary steps and will not allow these people to do anything against the Islamic Republic of Iran from Iraqi territory”. On 24th October 2014 a number of Iraqi media quoted prominent sources in the Iraqi government as saying: “Prime Minister al-Abadi rejected the first direct demand of Iran to expel the remaining members of the opposition, People’s Mojahedin, who are currently in Baghdad and said this is not in line with Iraq’s interests and the plan to improve Iraq’s image in the public opinion of Arab countries and the West. Moreover, the Khalq (MEK) is under the legal monitoring of UN Assistance Mission in Baghdad, UNAMI; but at the same time al-Abadi is committed to assuring that they will not form any threat to Iran’s security and authority”. In an internal assessment of al-Abadi’s visit to Tehran obtained by the NCRI, Iranian officials told him: “When a security threat appears for Iran, Iran wants to have a free hand to intervene in areas that it wants and to send forces to Iraq. Iran will not allow its national security to be undermined”. This assessment adds that Iran does not expect al-Abadi to have a problem with this arrangement on the basis of past deference to the IRGC and to its leader Qasem Suleimani. The assessment adds: "Given the current situation, the first trip of al-Abadi was very good .... Today Iraq is very, very important to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Who governs Iraq and what is prevailing in Iraq is among Iran’s priorities. Especially given the situation that the coalition has created, Iran must help Iraq with all it can in order to maintain its influence in the country and to increase this. We should not let the coalition do whatever it wants in Iraq, as it did in 2003. That situation should not be repeated, this is a red line for Iran and authorities explained that to Dr. al-Abadi and he fully understood. This is important because the Sunnis and the Kurds of Iraq do not want Iran to play a key role in Iraq. So we have to enter strong and have hegemony in Iraq".
The ISIS crisis
Role of Iran and Quds Force
The crisis in the region and particularly in Iraq upset the balance of regional power, which Tehran relished for ten years, compelling the mullahs to face a completely new and rapidly changing environment. In addition to the regional developments, the formation of an international coalition against ISIS made things even more imperative and intricate for Tehran. On one hand the Iranian regime perceives the international coalition against ISIS as a threat and on the other hand it views the current war as an opportunity, much like the wars of liberation of Kuwait (1991), toppling of the Taliban (2001) and the second Gulf war (2003), from all of which the regime practically emerged as the main winner.
Tehran works on a multilateral strategy comprised of the following elements:
- Attempt to cultivate the state of war in the region to strengthen its militia forces in Iraq in order to fill, to whatever extent possible, the vacuum created by the ouster of Maliki, and prevent losing years of its investment in Iraq.
- Attempt to mitigate the consequences of the war against ISIS on its ally Bashar al-Assad and if possible even tilt the balance of power in Assad’s favour. Tehran is also following a dual policy with respect to the coalition, a strategy that is evident in its propaganda as well.
- In communicating with the West and particularly the US, Tehran uses its propaganda and its lobbying institutions to portray itself as an enemy of ISIS that shares common interests with the coalition.
- However, the regime’s true policy, as far as its commanders and forces on the ground are concerned, is based on the perception of the coalition and particularly the US as its enemy.
For example, according to credible information obtained by the Iranian opposition through its sources in Iran, IRGC Major General Qasem Soleimani, the Commander of the terrorist Quds Force, frequently reminds the terrorist militias in Iraq that are under Tehran’s control, such as the Badr Organisation, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and Kata’ib Hezbollah that: “America is our principal enemy. America wants to drag us into the war with ISIS; we don’t want to be dragged into this war. ISIS is not our enemy. America is our enemy”. Tabatabaei, the Deputy Commander of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, stated: “We shall target any American, other than the embassy staff, in Iraq. I am explicitly saying that we shall not accept the presence of any US forces – other than the US Embassy staff – on Iraqi soil. Our weapons won’t just target ISIS and al-Qaeda forces, but we shall also shoot the occupying Americans”. In a speech on 7th June 2014, Khamenei himself declared that the principal enemy is the United States and that the Takfirists (ISIS and al-Qaeda movements) are only seditions. Sedition, he said, should not distract Iran from its principal enemy.
US policy and approach
The Obama administration, with specific political goals, was trying to turn Iraq into an issue of the past. The consequence of this approach was to get out of Iraq at any price without any consideration for the ominous consequences of such a departure for Iraq and the region. The corollaries of this policy were a series of political, security and military blunders with just one end result: handing Iraq over to Iran and strengthening the mullahs’ dominance over that country. As a direct consequence of this policy by the Obama administration, the US has turned a blind eye to the critical situation in Iraq, such as the unbridled terrorism, gross violation of human rights and the large-scale state corruption facilitated by Nouri al-Maliki. The fall of Mosul, the unprecedented rise of ISIS and a crisis no longer limited to Iraq that overran the whole region were so serious, urgent and grave that the Obama administration was left with no option but to reassess the situation and rush to find a solution, albeit a temporary one. However, no simple solution was imaginable. What Obama was facing was the outcome of his administration’s feeble policy of the past years. The sharpest indicator of this weak policy was to accept the Iranian regime’s intervention in Iraq and Syria, to ignore the hidden (or even clear) occupation of these two countries by Tehran and turning a blind eye to the atrocities committed by Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
The feeble policy of Obama with no strategy in place was the best incentive to the Iranian regime to adopt and to follow on this multi-faceted strategy. On 6th November 2014 The Wall Street Journal disclosed Obama’s personal letter to Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei where he points to the mutual interests of the two countries in the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. According to sources familiar with the content of the letter, it encouraged the campaign against ISIS and a nuclear deal. This is the fourth letter by Obama to Khamenei during his presidency that has been exposed and it is an example of a short-sighted and extremely destructive policy. Remarks made by Obama to CBS TV’s Face the Nation on 9th November 2014 regarding the presence of Iran in Iraq and Syria exposes this frail and destructive policy. Obama said: “Iran has influence both in Syria and in Iraq and we do have a shared enemy in ISIL… We’re not coordinating with Iran on ISIL. There’s some de-conflicting in the sense that since they have some troops or militias they control in and around Baghdad, we let them know, don’t mess with us, we’re not here to mess with you, we’re focused on our common enemy”. Speaking on Assad, President Obama stated: “Obviously, our priority is to go after ISIL and so what we have said is that we are not engaging in a military action against the Syrian regime, we are going after ISIS facilities and personnel who are using Syria as a safe haven in service of our strategy in Iraq. We do want to see a political settlement inside of Syria. That’s a long-term proposition. We can’t solve that militarily nor are we trying to”.
These statements demonstrate that a considerable share in Iraq and Syria has been granted to the Iranian regime and this was nothing but a very dangerous green light to them and to Bashar al-Assad to carry on with their atrocities. The Iranian regime’s Secretary of Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, travelled to Damascus a few days after the initiation of bombings of ISIS in Syria on 30th September 2014 to speak with Assad. The NCRI has obtained a report from inside the Iranian regime about this trip. Part of this report made public by the Iranian Resistance reads: “There is this concern that if the Americans rein in ISIS and beef up the Free Syrian Army, conditions will turn against ISIS, thus, in this trip to Syria Shamkhani talked in detail with Bashar al-Assad and other Syrian officials on what the approach of Bashar al-Assad should be regarding the airstrikes in order to use them to his benefit”. According to this report, following the airstrikes on ISIS in Syria, Bashar al-Assad and his commanders had very poor morale and Shamkhani’s trip was necessary to rebuild it. With Shamkhani’s trip, the Iranian regime wanted to “pass on this message to the US and other enemies of Syria that Iran supports Assad with all its might”. The report further indicates that the US government passes on information about the bombings to the Syrian government, which in turn directly passes that information to the Iranian regime. In other words, the Iranian regime is directly aware of US actions in Syria.
In a recent interview with Reuters, Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani warned that even though victories in the war against Islamic State have been achieved, the global coalition against the group was inadequate. Barzani argued that ISIS will not be defeated as long as the war in Syria rages, the Iraq army continues to exist more on paper than on the ground and Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq remain under-armed. He told Reuters that: “The reality is until the Syrian issue is properly resolved, destroying IS won’t be an easy task”. Barzani further emphasised that in solving the current conflict in Iraq: “The biggest problem for Abadi is Nuri al-Maliki”.
US and Iran confronting ISIS: alliance or something else?
From the onset of the US-led coalition’s campaign against ISIS, important questions have been raised regarding the role of the Iranian regime, the extent of its meddling, as well as the U.S. policy and approach. There have been heated discussions on whether there is cooperation, coordination or joint action between the US and Iran; or whether there are any mutual interests imaginable between the two. Beside any political position and public statements, a glimpse at the situation and the forces on the ground could be quite helpful and revealing. Iran and its militias have an active presence in areas close to Baghdad, in Diyala Province, which borders Iran, and in some areas in Salaheddin province, especially in the city of Samara, under the pretext of protecting the graves of two Shia Imams. Wherever the airstrikes by the US-led coalition weakened ISIS in these areas, pro-Iranian militias and the IRGC’s Quds Force replaced ISIS.
The militias supported by Iran have committed innumerable crimes in past years. General David Petraeus, former commander of the coalition forces in Iraq and former commander of CENTCOM, warned in a conference in London on 18th June 2014 that: “This cannot be the United States being the air force for Shia militias or a Shia on Sunni Arab fight”. However, what has happened is exactly that; in these areas, the US is practically acting as the air force for the terrorist Quds Force. The Jarf al-Sakhar operation in southern Baghdad is a good example, which clearly demonstrates how the Iranian regime uses the US air force to spread its dominion. The Washington Post of 25th October 2014 wrote on the operation of state security forces in Jarf al-Sakhar in southern Baghdad. It quoted a security official involved in the operation as stating: “Those reinforcements were largely from Shiite militias backed by Iran, including the Badr Brigade and Asaib Ahl al-Haq”. On his television channel, Badr Brigade commander Hadi al-Ameri claimed to have led the operation with the country’s new Minister of Interior, who is a member of his party. A security official and a militia fighter claimed that Qasem Soleimani, Commander of the Quds Force was present on the battlefield. A fighter of Kata’ib Hezbollah emphasised that: “All the weapons we are using are Iranian, and we are proud of that”. Iran’s ISNA News Agency reported on 26th October 2014 that: “This operation began at dusk on Friday, 24th October 2014, dubbed as ‘Ashura’ in which the strategically important Jarf al-Sakhar region north of Babel Province was liberated. General Qasem Soleimani, Commander of IRGC-Quds Force who is at the front lines these days has also been seen in the town of Jarf al-Sakhar”.
“The Iranian regime, reassured that the inaction and indifference of the US and Western countries concerning its growing meddling in Iraq has now resorted only to muscle-flexing, openly and thoroughly boasts on the extensive presence of its Quds Force in Iraq. The propaganda campaign regarding the presence and role of Qasem Soleimani in Iraq is a new policy adopted by Tehran in the past few weeks. In a statement issued on 26th December 2014 the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revealed that the number of Quds Force terrorists in Iraq is at least 7000, which is a blatant breach of UN Security Council resolutions. The recent deaths of Hamid Taqavi, IRGC commander, and Mehdi Nowrouzi, Quds Force unit commander, in the Iraqi city of Samarra among others, are distressing signs of Tehran's interference in Iraq. A source close to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme leader of Iran, recently quoted by The Washington Post, confirmed that since last June "Iran has sent more than 1,000 military advisers as well as elite units to Iraq and has conducted airstrikes and spent more than $1 billion on military aid". It would be naive to assume that Tehran’s aim in despatching forces to Iraq is simply to confront the Islamic State (ISIS). On the contrary, the Ayatollahs’ scheme, now more than ever, is to expand their dominion and influence in Iraq, a policy which the Iranian regime has been pursuing since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. According to the NCRI, a large number of Quds Force operatives have been stationed in Baghdad, Diyala and Salaheddin provinces and the cities of Samarra, Karbala, Najaf, Khaneqain, Sa’adiyah and Jaloula.
The Iranian regime has three objectives here:
- Domination of Iraq has always been a strategic objective of Iran. Therefore, in taking advantage of the US’ weak policy, Iran is hoping to regain its strategic loss in Iraq.
- To boost the morale of its forces, particularly the Shiia militias in Iraq, and to convey some kind of reassurance to them about the trend of recent developments and the future, as well as to lessen the blow to the Ayatollahs and their allies in Iraq.
- Conveying the message to the coalition, in particular the US, that it needs to accept the role of the regime, in particular the Quds Force and the militias in Iraq.
Fars News Agency reported on 28th October 2014 that: “The long arm of the Islamic Republic of Iran or the IRGC-Quds Force, through its advisory and weapons assistance, managed to prevent the disintegration of Iraq's sovereignty and in the later stages to break the siege and liberate the cities and areas occupied by terrorists with the assistance of Iraqis. Qasem Soleimani remained present from north to central Iraq or anywhere else that there was a conflict and victorious fighting. The Iraqi forces considered his presence and his forces instrumental to their victories”. This news agency added that the objective of Tehran in its meddling is to: “build up its national security outside of its borders”. It cited that General John Allen in his interview with CNN had “recognized Iran’s role in the fight against ISIS and said Iran can have a constructive role”. It further elaborated that General Allen: “did not imagine with the weapons and air force of regional and international countries he would actually be in the shadow of Qasem Suleimani, who is leading the front against ISIS and the victory over this Takfirist terrorist group”.
The Tabnak Website, affiliated with Mohsen Rezaii, who is a former commander of the IRGC and the Secretary of the Expediency Council, wrote on 8th November: “The U.S. bombings occurred at the end of August, but the victory in Amerli was credited to whom? And who did victoriously emerge from that fight? It was Qasem Soleimani”. ISNA News Agency reported on 6th November 2014 that: “Following the liberation of the Shia town of Amerli and the strategic area of Jarf al-Sakhar from the hands of ISIS and al-Qaeda terrorist groups, photographs of the presence of General Soleimani were quickly disseminated in that area so that Islamic Iran would once again drive the US and its Arab-Zionist supporters back to their homes and that the pulse of the region would never come under their bloody hands”. ISNA also reported on 26th November 2014 that: “Jaloula is the fourth area in Iraq, after Amerli, Jarf al-Sakhar and Touz Khormato, in which pictures of Haj Qasem [Qasem Soleimani] were posted on social network websites following Jaloula’s liberation and it received extensive coverage”.
Among the conspicuous features of Shia militia interference has been their widespread atrocities and savagery under the command of the Quds Force, particularly Qasem Soleimani. These horrendous crimes, that as a matter of policy essentially target the Sunni population and aim at spreading horror and terror, have been ignored to a great extent by the West. They have not been brought to public attention and were ignored by Western politicians. This phenomenon allows Tehran to continue these atrocities. The trend of development in Amerli is noticeable, which occurred prior to Jarf al-Sakhar. The fight in Amerli was carried out by US fighters in the air and the militias affiliated with Tehran on the ground. The dimension and types of atrocities by these militias in this area are mind-boggling. On 8th September 2014 Al Arabiya TV broadcasted a video regarding the atrocities of the Shiia militias affiliated with the Quds Force. In this video, after overrunning Amerli, the Shiia militias commanded by the Quds Force resorted to a massacre of Sunni civilians under the pretext that they are ISIS. The militias were holding at least three severed heads. In a report released by Amnesty International on 14th October 2014, the human rights group stated that the Shiia militias that are supported and armed by the government of Iraq have abducted and killed a great number of Sunni citizens. This report entitled “Absolute Impunity” covers the reign of militias and offers shocking details of attacks by Shiia militias whose influence is on the rise in Baghdad, Samara and Kirkuk; apparently in reprisal to the ISIS attacks. This report points to a large number of unknown bodies throughout Iraq whose hands were tied behind their backs and who have been killed execution style by a bullet through the head.
However, these atrocities are in no way restricted to the battle in Amerli. In recent months, thousands of Sunni prisoners have been slaughtered by these militias in various prisons and a huge number of Sunnis have been forced to migrate from mostly-Shiite areas. On 24th August 2014, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq militias attacked the Masab bin Omair Mosque in Diyala province and slaughtered 70 Sunni worshippers. According to news reports, there were children among the dead. On 2nd November 2014 Human Rights Watch reported that the pro-government militias and the security forces had been responsible for this attack. Eyewitnesses say that the attackers were Shiia and some of them wore police uniforms. In a detailed investigative report, released on 12th November, regarding the Shiia militias and their conduct Reuters news agency wrote: “Tehran has built up its influence in the past decade by giving political backing to the Iraqi government, and weapons and advisers to the militias and the remnants of the Iraqi military, say current and former Iraqi officials. That was clear this summer, when fighters from all three militias took on IS. During IS’s siege of one town, Amerli, Kataeb Hezbollah helicoptered in 50 of its best fighters, according to Abu Abdullah, a local Kataeb Hezbollah commander. The fighters set up an operations room to coordinate with the Iraqi army, the other militia groups, and advisers from the Quds Force. Over days of fierce fighting in August, and with the help of U.S. bombing raids – a rare example of Iran and the United States fighting a common enemy – those forces successfully expelled IS….Iraq’s Shi’ite militias have certainly fuelled sectarian violence. In the past few months they have taken revenge on Sunnis thought to be sympathetic to IS, burned homes and threatened to stop Sunnis returning to their towns. Shi’ite fighters have kidnapped or killed civilians, say Sunni family members…Alongside Asaib Ahl al-Haq, there are the Badr Brigades, formed in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War, and the younger and more secretive Kataeb Hezbollah. The three militias have been instrumental in battling Islamic State (IS), the extremist movement from Islam’s rival Sunni sect. Coordinating the three is Quds Force commander Qasem Suleimani”.
Talking to Reuters, a former associate of Maliki clearly stated the goals of the Iranian regime in Iraq: “The American approach is to leave Iraq to the Iraqis. The Iranians don’t say leave Iraq to the Iraqis. They say leave Iraq to us…The danger, Iraqi officials say, is that Iran's deep influence will perpetuate sectarian conflict in Iraq. Many Iraqi Sunnis complain that Maliki, who was Iraq's leader until he was forced out in August, was beholden to Tehran and prevented Sunnis from getting greater political power….The way Iran and Soleimani work is "completely the opposite of Saudi intelligence that just gives money but are not on the ground," said the current senior Iraqi official. "Soleimani sees a target and he has the powers to go after it".
The Badr organization is the main organization affiliated with the IRGC Quds Force in Iraq. The Iranian regime carries out many of its terrorist plots in Iraq through this organization, which is also being used to give military and logistical support to Bashar al-Assad. The central office of the Badr organization is in the Jaderia area in Baghdad. During Maliki’s’ second term, Hadi al-Ameri, commander of the Badr force and Minister of Transportation, played the leading role in sending weapons and equipment from Iran to Syria through Iraq. Ameri receives his orders from Suleimani.
In a statement issued on 17th September 2014, the Badr Organization announced: “Since day one, our path has been towards the battle fronts under the Sharia obligations of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, leader of the Islamic Revolution. Prior to the issuance of a fatwa by senior clergyman Ali Sistani, we fought in the two fronts of Syria and al-Anbar in Iraq. After this fatwa the military wing began implementing this fatwa by mobilizing the people. This was consistent with the law and an organized management in taking it within the security forces under the name of people’s mobilization. We were successful in organizing and entering the people’s force in the battlefronts under a strong military command. We liberated cities one after the other with government weapons and equipment. …As we stated, today we are under the orders of the Velayat-e faqih (supreme leader) and we will definitely not take part in a coalition with the US”.
In 1984 the IRGC deployed Iraqis to Iran to form a battalion to participate in the Iran-Iraq War in the so-called Kheibar Operation. Following this operation, Ismael Daghayeghi, an IRGC commander in Khuzestan Province of Iran, organized these forces as a brigade and named it the Badr Brigade, with Daghayeghi himself serving as the first commander. He was killed later in the Iran-Iraq War. In 1985 the 9th Badr Brigade was linked to the Ramadan Base, which at that time was the IRGC headquarters of non-conventional warfare. On all three fronts of the war – west, southwest and central – they were placed under the command of IRGC Ground Forces and actively took part in the war against Iraq. In 1987 the 9th Badr Brigade was turned into the 9th Badr Division, acting as one of the Iraqi opposition groups, it fought in non-conventional warfare inside Iraq under the command of the Ramadan Base. In 1988 the mullahs dispatched the 9th Badr Division, along with other IRGC divisions and their army to fight the PMOI. As confirmed by the Badr Division command, 109 of their personnel were killed during these clashes.
In September 1991, the 9th Badr Division was turned into the Badr Corps and was directly attached to the IRGC Ground Forces. Up until the downfall of the previous Iraqi regime in 2003 the Badr Corps was used by Iran as an extra territorial force of the Quds Force against Iraq. From 1991 to 2001 the Badr force carried out 134 terrorist operations against PMOI members in Iraq. The Badr force entered Iraq following the US invasion in 2003 and took over government buildings in various cities and began setting up offices to recruit new forces. In each province, Badr began rounding up weapons and hiding them in various warehouses. On 17th October 2003, the Badr Corps was transformed into the “Badr Organization for Development and Prosperity”. The goal was to decrease the US’ sensitivity over the Badr Corps as a military force and portray them as if they were no longer involved in military activities. However, in practice all operational elements of the Badr Organization were organized under newly formed Iraqi Ministries of Defence and Interior, where they provided domestic security forces with military training and arms from the very start. As soon as this re-organization took place, the 9th Badr Brigade began forming an operational unit with the objective of terrorizing and purging dissidents and conducting special attacks on coalition forces. The unit’s mission, organisation and elements were clandestine.
During the past decade this terrorist entity has wielded its influence in government in order to repeatedly collect intelligence on dissidents unhappy about the Iranian regime’s meddling in Iraq, subsequently providing this information to the Quds Force on the understanding that it would be used in the planning of assassinations. Hadi al-Ameri is the head of the Badr Organization and was Minister of Transportation in Maliki’s cabinet. He currently serves as a member of parliament. He is also the commander of the Diyala front. His other names are Hadi Farhan Abdullah al-Ameri, aka Abu Hassan Ameri. He has an Iranian ID card and his Iranian name is Hassan Ameri. His wife is from Iran as well. Ameri joined the Badr Organization in 1986 and finished his training in the Military Command College of the Revolutionary Guards’ Imam Hossein University.
In November of 2012 Reuters wrote about the Badr Organization: “Iran's oldest proxy in Iraq is the Badr Brigades, which is headed by Hadi al-Ameri, a veteran of both combat and politics. The group renamed itself the Badr Organisation once it entered politics. Ameri fought alongside Iran's Revolutionary Guard against Saddam's army during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, he won a seat in parliament and served as Minister of Transportation during Maliki's second term. Ameri, who could not be reached for comment, is feared and loathed by many Sunnis for his alleged role in running death squads in recent years. In July, Human Rights Watch accused Badr forces of killing Sunni prisoners. In recent battles with ISIS, Ameri replaced his suit with a military uniform and transformed into a battlefield commander overnight, giving television interviews from the frontlines. ‘Look at Ameri's uniform and then compare it to any Iraqi uniform ... It's completely different,’ said a senior former security official. ‘Look for the uniform of the IRGC’ – Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – ‘it's exactly one of them”.
Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous)
In 2006, IRGC’s Quds Force sought to elevate the level of the Mahdi Army forces conducting operations against Coalition forces in Iraq. They handpicked a portion of the rank-and-file and organised them into “Special Groups”. These elements were individuals with special skills compared to other Mahdi Army forces and directly trained by the Quds Force and given access to more exclusive types of weapons, equipment and vehicles. They were later dubbed the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq.
The first founders of this organization were Sheikh Azhar al-Doleimi and Sheikh Ahmed Sheibani. Later on Sheikh Qais al-Khazali, Mohamed Tabatabaie, Sheikh Akram al-Ka’bi, Sheikh Leith, Sheikh Moayed al-Khazreji, Sheikh Ammar al-Lami and Sheikh Abdul-Hadi al-Dareji joined their ranks. After the killing of Azhar al-Duleimi, Sheikh Ahmed Sheibani and Abdul-Hadi al-Dareji separated from this organisation and Qais al-Khazali and Seyed Muhammad al-Tabatabai – under the direct control of the Quds Force – took the helm. Military affairs and operations were run by Leith Khazali.
Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq receives its orders and programme directly from the Quds Force and pursues this entity’s objectives. In addition to operations conducted against US forces, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq also focuses on specific targets in Iraq’s security organisations and specialises in assassinating dissidents. In 2008 it received major blows from US forces, which led to a part of the remaining Asa’ib forces being transferred to Iran by the Quds Force at the end of 2009, to safeguard their protection. During this period over 1,000 Asa’ib members went to Iran and were stationed in the cities of Qom, Mashhad, Tehran and Ahvaz. To transfer Asa’ib elements from Iraq to Iran, the necessary coordination was carried out through Qasem Soleimani’s office. Following a decrease in US forces’ operations at the end of 2009, the British hostage Peter Moore was released by Asa’ib. Furthermore, the Iraqi government released senior Asa’ib official, Qais al-Khazali, from prison.
Asa’ib forces are organized into battalion units including:
• Kataeb al-Imam Ali (Imam Ali Battalion)
• Kataeb al-Imam al-Kadhem
• Kataeb al-Imam al-Mahdi
• Kataeb al-Imam al-Askari
In Asa’ib there is a group named “Central Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq” which is in direct contact with Sheikh Qeis. “Central Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq” is part of the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq organisation that is not related to the regions or provinces and is in direct contact with Sheikh Qais al-Khazali. This group includes the main individuals of Asa’ib who carry out special operations. They are kept in extra secret conditions than other members of the group. Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq training is carried out in Iraq and Iran. Considering the fact that this group is essentially under the orders of the IRGC Quds Force, training is also conducted under the Quds Force. Training courses held in Iraq are controlled and conducted by Quds Force instructors. Asa’ib training bases inside Iraq are located in Basra and Sadr City. Asa’ib forces dispatched to Iran are trained in the city of Mashhad. The training course for Asa’ib forces in Iran lasts between 4 and 8 months depending on the exact field, such as Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), indirect fire and assassinations etc. Prior to the departure of US forces from Iraq, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq mainly focused on IED attacks, firing mortars and Katyusha rockets, all targeting US forces. Assassinations focused on cleansing dissidents were also placed on the Asa’ib agenda. Sheikh Mohamed Tabatabaie, deputy Secretary-General of Asa’ib, recently said in an interview “Asa’ib has carried out a total of 5,000 operations against US forces in Iraq and 73% of the targets were US commanders”.
Significant operations carried out by Asa’ib to this day are as follows:
• Assassination of Dutch ambassador to Iraq - 2007
• Attack on Falcon Base in southern Baghdad – 2008
• Abducting 5 English members of a security company
• Abducting Americans from the Karbala governorate building; this operation lead to the arrest of Qais al-Khazali
With unrest flaring in Syria and the threat of Bashar al-Assad being toppled, the Iranian regime expanded its interference in support of Assad by dispatching the Quds Force and its associated forces from regional countries to Syria. This included Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iraqi groups such as Asa’ib, whose men were sent in groups of 100 to 200 for two or three month periods. With clashes igniting in Anbar and other unstable Iraqi provinces, Asa’ib forces were active in these battles alongside other Quds Force-linked groups and carried out numerous missions, mainly providing support artillery fire, recon and control in checkpoints. During this period a Quds Force member by the name of Haj Abbas came to Iraq and reorganized all of Asa’ib’s previous forces and new recruits. This shakeup was carried out with the objective of taking part in Anbar clashes, and from then on Asa’ib was routinely active in the Anbar clashes. The massacre at the Mas’ab bin Omeir mosque, located in the town of Imam Veis, and the Bahrez massacre (both in Iraq’s Diyala province near the border with Iran), and the massacre of Sunni inmates in Baquba Prison are among the crimes of this group. With the ISIS crisis shaping in Iraq, Asa’ib forces were participating on most fronts alongside Iraqi militant groups linked to the Quds Force, such as the Kata’ib Hezbollah, Badr and Peace Companies linked to the Sadr movement.
Crimes perpetrated by Shiia militias
On Friday 2nd January 2015, criminal militias affiliated with Iran assassinated four Sunni clerics in Basra Province as part of a policy of ethnic cleansing aimed at annihilating Sunnis in eastern, central and southern Iraq. The terrorist Quds Force and the militias associated with it staged an unprecedented genocidal campaign against Sunnis in Diyala, Baghdad, Babil and Salaheddin provinces in an attempt to obliterate the Sunnis and force others to migrate, with the end objective of absolute domination of the Iranian regime in these areas of Iraq. In an investigative report on 31st December 2014 entitled “Shiite militias expand influence, redraw map in central Iraq” Reuters wrote: “More than 130,000 people, mostly Sunnis, fled central Iraq in 2014, counting just Baghdad's agricultural belt and northeastern Diyala province, the International Rescue Committee told Reuters. The exodus has left villages empty as Shiite paramilitaries, tribes and security forces fill the void".
According to Reuters, a national commander from Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq has stated: “Our orders come from the government: whoever is with Islamic State, we will confiscate their land. Those who aren’t Islamic State will be allowed back”. Reuters nevertheless went on to state that those who have lost their homes say the militias make little distinction between jihadists and civilians when they storm areas. Reuters also reported that: “A Shiite paramilitary organization is constructing a road to strengthen its positions across the mixed areas of Diyala and neighbouring Salaheddin province… The Badr Organization, a leading political party and militia with ties to Iran, is supervising the new road, which leads to Samarra”.
In another recently published investigative report by Reuters, an appalling alleged massacre of Sunnis by Shia militias in the village of Barwaneh in Diyala Province on 26th January 2015 comes to light. According to accounts by five witnesses who were separately interviewed by Reuters, 72 unarmed Sunni Iraqis were executed by Shia militias and security forces. Reuters reported: “Abu Omar, a businessman displaced from Sinsil, was at home in Barwanah on Monday around 3:30pm when about 10 Humvees arrived carrying a few dozen men. Black and brown uniforms suggested some were affiliated with Shi'ite militias and government security forces; others appeared to be civilians. They dragged residents up to age 70 from their homes, beating and cursing them with sectarian slurs, Abu Omar told Reuters by phone. He said the fighters took the men's mobiles and ID cards, then bound their hands, tying Abu Omar to his 12-year-old mentally ill son with rope. They did the same with his two older sons and three brothers. The men were led a few hundred yards to a field where Abu Omar said more than a hundred others had been gathered. For about two hours, they were forced to kneel and stare at the ground as the fighters selected their targets and led them to a spot behind a mud wall. ‘They took them behind the wall. Less than a minute, then a gunshot,’ said Abu Omar. ‘All we could hear was the gunshots. We couldn't see’. Survivors say victims were taken also to alleyways, houses, behind a mosque, or an area used to collect garbage, and then shot.
Abu Maz'el, 25, a farmer from Sinsil who was displaced to Barwanah five months ago, gave Reuters nearly identical testimony. He said some of the fighters wore green headbands emblazoned with the name Hussein, a defining figure in Shi'ite history. They took him and his cousin from their home to the field, walking single file, heads down, with their hands on the other men's shoulders. Kneeling beside his 35-year-old cousin, Abu Maz'el heard others beg for their lives as the gunmen dragged them off and shot them. ‘My cousin raised his head, so someone slapped him,’ he said. ‘Five minutes later, they came and took him away and executed him.’…..Jubouri told Reuters he fled when he saw Humvees entering Barwanah and hid in a pile of garbage. He watched as a group of soldiers and militiamen near the school fired at a line of 13 men, some with their hands bound’. I saw them falling like domino pieces,’ he said. Jubouri said he heard shots and screams until about 7 p.m., when the vehicles left. He discovered a neighbour and his two sons among the bodies by the school. Women and children emerged to cover the men's bodies. Some spent the night in the streets mourning the dead. Jubouri said he found the body of another neighbour outside his house with bullet wounds to his head and chest. He saw bodies with similar wounds in the field and in five separate streets throughout the village. Abu Omar, the businessman, returned home after the fighters withdrew, and was reunited with his sons. He later found six brothers also from Sinsil had been killed, one at his home and the others behind the mud wall in the field. A cosmetics salesman and four teachers were killed in the field, along with three other brothers and their cousin, Abu Omar said. Haqqi al-Jobouri, a Sunni member of the Diyala provincial council, told Reuters at least 72 men were killed in Barwanah on Monday. He said 35 others were missing and suspected detained by the militias….remaining residents of Barwanah fear further violence. They told Reuters the same militias and security forces encircled the village late on Monday, preventing anyone from leaving. ‘We have been surrounded for days,’ said Abu Ahmed, 27, another survivor from Sinsil. ‘We have no food. We have nothing’.
Numerous reports on the humanitarian crisis in Iraq issued by international organisations, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch etc., clearly show that the destructive role of Iran has to be dealt with immediately. The foremost and key step in resolving this is to evict the Iranian regime, the Qods Force and its so-called Shiite militias from Iraq. Human Rights Watch in its latest report, “Tyranny’s False Comfort”, states: “In Iraq, ISIS owes much of its emergence to the abusive sectarian rule of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and the resulting radicalization of the Sunni community. With Iranian backing, Maliki took personal control of Iraqi security forces and supported the formation of Shiia militia, many of which brutally persecuted the minority Sunni population. Sunnis were excluded from select government jobs, rounded up and arbitrarily detained under new overbroad laws, summarily executed, and indiscriminately bombed.
"Many of the (Sunni) tribes that nearly single-handedly defeated Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) became so fearful of slaughter and persecution by pro-government security forces that when conflict broke out in 2014, they felt safer fighting those forces than ISIS…. Human rights groups persistently called attention to Maliki’s abusive rule, but the US, the United Kingdom, and other countries, eager to put their own military involvement in Iraq behind them, largely shut their eyes to this sectarian reign—and even plied it with arms. Maliki continues to serve as one of Iraq’s three vice presidents, and the weak government has vastly increased its reliance on Shiia militia, allowing the mobilization of almost one million Shiia fighters without government oversight or regulation. Indeed, because of the Iraqi army’s disarray, the militias are the lead ground forces fighting ISIS, despite their ongoing killing and cleansing of Sunnis as ostensible ISIS sympathizers. Until these atrocities end, the Shiia militias are likely to do more to aid ISIS recruitment than to defeat ISIS on the battlefield”.
 Ayatollah Khomeini (1900-1989); was the former supreme leader of Iran who made Iran the world’s first Islamic republic.
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 Following an agreement between Ambassador Martin Kobler of UNAMI and the Government of Iraq, and at the behest of the Iranian regime, Ashraf residents were subject to a forced eviction and involuntary relocation to Camp Liberty, a former U.S.-base in Baghdad.
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 (Al Arabiya – 15 August 2014
 Al- Arabiya website – 13 June 2014
 http://isjcommittee.com/2015/01/press-release-9-january-2015-camp-liberty-iraq-following-serious-terrorist-threats-qods-force-extremely-slow-resettlement-residents-personal-protection-weapons-re/ (13-02-2015)
 Iranian regime state run TV, 20 October 2014
 Iranian regime state run TV, 21 October 2014
 Iranian regime state run media, 21-23 October 2014
 Fars News Agency, 2 November 2014
 CBS TV - Face the Nation, 9November 2014
 http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/30/iraq-kurdistan-idUSKBN0L315S20150130 (13-02-2015)
 http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/jun/18/petraeus-issues-warning-iraq-us-can-not-be-air-for/ (19-01-2015)
 http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/iraqi-forces-press-to-secure-shiite-south-ahead-of-religious-festival/2014/10/25/0b6ac5f0-6e1e-47f4-ab8d-a942c3606506_story.html (19-01-2015)
 http://ncr-iran.org/en/ncri-statements/terrorism-fundamentalism/17726-over-7-000-iranian-revolutionary-guards-in-iraq-to-compensate-for-maliki-s-ouster-not-to-fight-isis (16-01-2015)
 http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/the-us-and-iran-are-aligned-in-iraq-against-the-islamic-state--for-now/2014/12/27/353a748c-8d0d-11e4-a085-34e9b9f09a58_story.html (13-02-2015)
 http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/12/us-mideast-crisis-militias-specialreport-idUSKCN0IW0ZA20141112 (19-01-2015)
 http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/12/us-mideast-crisis-militias-specialreport-idUSKCN0IW0ZA20141112 (19-01-2015)
 http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/31/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-idUSKBN0K909K20141231 (13-02-2015)
 http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/29/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-killings-idUSKBN0L20FD20150129 (13-02-2015)
 http://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/wr2015_web.pdf (13-02-2015)