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.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Read more at Weekly Standard

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

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war