Declassified Interrogations Help Explain Iran’s Strategy in Iraq

Sept. 13 2018

Last week, protestors in the Iraqi city of Basra set fire to the local Iranian consulate, in an apparent expression of frustration with Tehran’s interference in their country. Recently released transcripts of the U.S. military’s interrogation of the Iraqi insurgent Qais Khazali do much to shed light on how the Islamic Republic gained influence in Iraq even as the country was under American occupation. The leader of one of several Iran-backed militias known as the “special groups,” Khazali was captured by British commandos in 2007, released by the U.S. in 2009, and now leads a political party with fifteen seats in the Iraqi parliament. Bill Roggio writes:

The special groups were paramilitary units embedded in [the Shiite religious leader] Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. Sadr has long been a Shiite powerbroker in southern Iraq. The newly released files confirm that Khazali, who worked for Sadr, came to view his superior as a rival. They also confirm that Sadr’s Mahdi Army received funding, weapons, training, and advice from Iran and its chief proxy, Lebanon’s Hizballah. The Shiite militants primarily targeted coalition forces, killing hundreds of American soldiers. Khazali himself led such operations. . . .

The interrogations thus come across as shortsighted. Little effort was made to exploit Khazali’s knowledge of the petty jealousies and rivalries within the Mahdi Army and among various Shiite factions. And virtually nothing was done to target the network of training camps, weapon-supply hubs, and other infrastructure inside Iran that supported the Shiite militias. Iran never paid a price for its meddling in Iraqi affairs and its direct responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of American soldiers, even though Tehran’s culpability was obvious. . . .

Khazali . . . and his militia never laid down their arms. He would later lead a portion of his militia into Syria to fight alongside Bashar al-Assad’s regime, at the behest of [Qasem] Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force. By 2014, the militia was battling the Islamic State, as well as terrorizing Iraqi minorities in areas it liberated from Islamic State. . . .

As with Hizballah, the Iranian-backed Iraqi militias are more than paramilitary formations. They are political actors and scored a major victory in Iraq’s parliamentary election in May. Running as the Fatah Alliance, they finished second behind Muqtada al-Sadr’s Saairun Coalition and will likely ally with Sadr’s party in parliament. While Sadr maintains a degree of autonomy, Qais noted repeatedly in his interrogations that Sadr and his men were supported in various ways by the Iranians. These two Iranian-backed movements will form the next Iraqi government and select the next prime minister.

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More about: Iran, Iraq, Shiites, U.S. Foreign policy

The Reasons for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Staying Power

Nov. 20 2018

This week, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have narrowly avoided the collapse of his governing coalition despite the fact that one party, Yisrael Beiteinu, withdrew and another, the Jewish Home, threatened to follow suit. Moreover, he kept the latter from defecting without conceding its leader’s demand to be appointed minister of defense. Even if the government were to collapse, resulting in early elections, Netanyahu would almost certainly win, writes Elliot Jager:

[Netanyahu’s] detractors think him Machiavellian, duplicitous, and smug—willing to do anything to stay in power. His supporters would not automatically disagree. Over 60 percent of Israelis tell pollsters that they will be voting for a party other than Likud—some supposing their favored party will join a Netanyahu-led coalition while others hoping against the odds that Likud can be ousted.

Opponents would [also] like to think the prime minister’s core voters are by definition illiberal, hawkish, and religiously inclined. However, the 30 percent of voters who plan to vote Likud reflect a broad segment of the population. . . .

Journalists who have observed Netanyahu over the years admire his fitness for office even if they disagree with his actions. A strategic thinker, Netanyahu’s scope of knowledge is both broad and deep. He is a voracious reader and a quick study. . . . Foreign leaders may not like what he says but cannot deny that he speaks with panache and authority. . . .

The prime minister or those around him are under multiple police investigations for possible fraud and moral turpitude. Under Israel’s system, the police investigate and can recommend that the attorney general issue an indictment. . . . Separately, Mrs. Netanyahu is in court for allegedly using public monies to pay for restaurant meals. . . . The veteran Jerusalem Post political reporter Gil Hoffman maintains that Israelis do not mind if Netanyahu appears a tad corrupt because they admire a politician who is nobody’s fool. Better to have a political figure who cannot be taken advantage of than one who is incorruptible but naïve.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics