Are Tehran’s death squads wiping out Maliki’s Shiite rivals in Iraq?

The Iraqi Government has shelled one of their own hospitals for the seventh day in a row.

Why? Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is ostensibly fighting the Sunni-fundamentalist organisation ISIS, and has launched a campaign of terror in across the country, supported by some tribal leaders and Shiite militias, directed by Iranian Qods Force operatives. The campaign has already forced 300,000 from their homes in Anbar province (20% of the total population), and Maliki is conducting his ‘counter-terror’ operation with such heavy-handedness that he could easily be compared to Bashar al-Assad in Homs.

Assad and Maliki have much in common; they’re both audacious, lying, charlatans. In Syria, it has now become apparent that Assad’s administration has supported fundamentalist elements of the rebel forces, so as to make Western support impossible. Meanwhile in Iraq, the campaign which has been branded by Maliki as an effort to rid the country of al-Qaeda linked ISIS is no such thing; the indiscriminate attacks seen against Sunni communities throughout the country is proof of that.

Rather, the events in Iraq are merely the Prime Minister’s warm up for the April parliamentary elections he intends to steal. His plan to intimidate Sunni communities is working; several smaller parties are already considering withdrawing from the election due to the security situation.

Furthermore, while dealing with the Sunni minority in his country, Maliki is using the fog of war to conduct some “house-cleaning.” Not content with eradicating opposition from Sunni quarters, it seems that Maliki – and the Iranian regime which backs him – has launched a campaign of extermination against potential domestic Shiite challengers to the Prime Minister ahead of the April elections.

ISIS has proven to be an excellent scapegoat for such operations.

Hamza al-Shammari was the first parliamentary candidate to be killed on February 7, ‘by gunmen using silenced pistols in the west Baghdad neighbourhood of Ghazaliyah.’ ISIS hasn’t claimed responsibility for the attack but has been blamed by the Iraqi Government. And on Monday, the speaker of the Iraqi Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi, of the secular Iraqi National List, survived an assassination attempt, which was again attributed to ISIS-affiliated Sunni rebels by Iraqi forces.

The line given by the Iraqi Government has been taken on face value by international media outlets, already swamped with news from the region, but seem quite preposterous when one considers the identities of those targeted. Shammari, a prominent supporter of Shiite cleric-turned-warlord Moqtada al-Sadr, is hardly a likely target for ISIS – Sadr, the former leader of the Madhi Army, is currently repositioning himself as a non-sectarian challenger to Maliki – and is just as staunch an opponent of the Prime Minister as ISIS itself. Even more strange is the proposition that ISIS would target Nujaifi, a Sunni who has used his position in the Iraqi parliament to criticize Maliki, who had days before been accused by a member of Maliki’s State of Law Coalition of turning a ‘blind eye to the crimes being committed by ISIS.’

For his part, the speaker of the Iranian Parliament expressed his concern at the attempted assassination of Nujaifi, declaring that Iran was willing to engage in further cooperation with Iraq to ‘counter terrorism.’ He had evidently forgotten that the ‘cooperation’ the regime already undertakes – Iranian generals directing the Iraqi army, Iranian-backed militias targeting political refugees and Iranian Qods Force agents stationed throughout the country – isn’t particularly popular amongst Iraqis.

It is plain to see that ISIS was not behind the attempt on Nujaifi’s life or the assassination of Shammari, and considering the duplicity of Maliki’s administration on so many other matters (think Camp Ashraf) a much more likely contender to these attacks should be considered, namely Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq.

The group, which is believed to have carried out a number of other attacks in the Baghadad neighbourhood Ghazaliyah (most recently in 2013) is at the forefront of Tehran’s wars in Syria and Iraq, and is almost entirely the product of Iranian money and training by its proxy, Lebanese Hezbollah. Receiving up to $5 million per month from Iran, its leader Qais al-Khazali has openly declared his total loyalty to Ayatollah Khamenei – rare even for a Shiite militia group in Iraq.

It is this dogmatic loyalty to which the group owes its success. AAH was the brainchild of Ali Mussa Daqduq, a member of the IRGC – Qods Force tasked with liaising between Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi Sadrists, who considered Khazali to be significantly more reliable as a supporter of Tehran than Sadr and fuelled their split with direct targeted support for Khazali.

AAH has grown as rapidly as the violence in Syria and Iraq; a development hardly surprising considering that in post-US withdrawal Iraq power in the region is largely determined by the utility of a political actor (violent or otherwise) to realising Tehran’s ambitions. Undoubtedly, the Iranian regime’s most pressing political concern in the Middle East, despite the conflicts in Syria and Anbar, is to ensure the re-election of Nouri al-Maliki, who has proven to be the greatest champion of the regime’s aims in the country since 2003. AAH, which is believed to be behind up to 41 killings in Baghdad alone last December, and is known to run death squads in both Iraq and Syria, is one of the few organisations to have the political and military clout to carry out such attacks, unlike ISIS which, battered by the Iraqi Government and its allies, would never stretch itself to such attacks against those who are barely competitors.

We already know that the Iranian regime is calling upon its armed proxies (both inside and outside of the Iraqi Government) to crush Sunni opposition, but the question should now be asked: is Tehran engaging loyal militias in the systematic elimination of internal Shiite challengers to Maliki? If so, that has significant implications for the rest of Maliki’s election campaign; it indicates that Tehran is willing and able to eradicate any and every obstacle to ‘their man’ being re-elected.

About the Author
Curtis Sinclair is a founder and Co-Chairman of the Ashraf Campaign (ASHCAM).