Sep 20, 2011
U.S. troops preparing to pull out of Iraq face a growing threat from a Shiite militia known as Asaib Ahl al-Haq, founded and led by veteran insurgent Qais al-Khazali.
U.S. commanders say AAH is one of the most dangerous groups in Iraq and, along with other Shiite militant groups like the Promised Day Brigades and the Hezbollah Brigades, is backed and armed by Iran.
The group claims it is funded by sympathetic Iraqis but these are believed to include backers of the Mehdi Movement led by Iranian-backed cleric Moqtada Sadr who fought the Americans in 2004-07.
Khazali was once spokesman for al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army militia. That organization has officially been disbanded but most of its hard-liners have re-emerged with other militant groups such as AAH.
Asaid Ahl al-Haqm, whose name means “League of the Righteous,” maintains an office in Beirut, where it liaises with Hezbollah, Iran’s longtime proxy in the Levant and the Tehran regime’s strike arm against Israel.
AAH is also understood to have financial assets in the Lebanese capital, a major Middle Eastern banking hub that maintains tight secrecy about foreign assets held there.
U.S. intelligence sources say that Hezbollah, which was formed by Iran after the Israelis invaded Lebanon in June 1982, was instrumental in organizing and training AAH, and other “special groups” of Iraqi Shiite militants set up by Iran following the U.S. invasion of March 2003.
One of the key Hezbollah operatives who worked with the elite al-Quds Force, the covert action arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, to establish these groups was Ali Mussa Daqduq. He was captured by coalition forces March 20, 2007, along with Qais al-Khazali, and his brother Laith.
These three headed a Shiite group that kidnapped and killed five U.S. soldiers outside Karbala, a Shiite holy city south of Baghdad, Jan. 20, 2007.
The Khazalis were released in a 2009 prisoner exchange with Iran. Daqduq, who was sent to Iraq in 2005 to build a local version of Hezbollah, was a lieutenant of the Lebanese group’s iconic operations chief, Imad Mughniyeh, assassinated in Damascus Feb. 12, 2008.
Daqduq remains in U.S. custody in Iraq and this poses a dilemma for the Americans: If they hand him over to the Shiite-dominated Baghdad government when the U.S. military withdrawal is scheduled to be completed Dec. 31, Daqduq would almost certainly be delivered to the Iranians and freed or “allowed to escape” as other high-value prisoners have done in recent months.
But if the Americans hold onto him, they would either have to send him to Guantanamo Bay or put him on trial, neither of which is considered a viable option.
There was a plan to quietly hand him over to Iraqi authorities in July. But word leaked out and senior members of the U.S. Congress were outraged that “the highest ranking Hezbollah operative currently in our custody” should be released “to kill more American servicemen and women.”
The plan was dropped. But if the Americans take him with them when they depart that will leave them with the thorny legal question of how to prosecute him.
Asaib Ahl al-Haq is believed to have several thousand operatives, highly trained by al-Quds Force and its Hezbollah allies, and primed to go on the attack to speed the Americans on their way or to mount a full-scale offensive against them if Baghdad extends a U.S. military presence in Iraq, as the U.S. administration and Republicans in Congress want.
There are indications the “special groups” are flexing their muscles. AAH sent a warning July 4 by rocketing Baghdad’s heavily protected Green Zone.
“Like its predecessor, Jaish al-Mahdi (al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army), AAH is becoming a catch-all for a wide range of militants who seek to engage in violence for a host of ideological, sectarian or purely commercial motives,” observed Michael Knights, an expert on Iraq currently with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Iran, determined to stamp its authority over its oil-rich neighbor and traditional foe once the Americans go, can unleash these “special groups” any time it wants to.
One ominous sign is the recent return to Iraq from Iran of two other notorious group commanders, Sadrist breakaway Abu Mustapha al-Sheibani and Ismail al-Lami, aka Abu Deraa, one of the most bloodthirsty of the Shiite warlords.
Source: Space War.