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Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Iranian-Backed Terrorist Group in Iraq Emerging as a "Hezbollah-like" Organization
Iranian-backed militant group in Iraq is recasting itself as a political player
Karim Kadim/AP -
Followers of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr prayed recently in
Baghdad. Asaib Ahl al-Haq, a former militant group composed of
disgruntled former Sadrists, is entering politics and is seen as a
counterweight to the cleric’s influence.
BAGHDAD — The Iranian-backed
Shiite group responsible for most of the attacks against U.S. forces in
the final years of the Iraq war is busily reinventing itself as a
political organization in ways that could enhance Iran’s influence in
post-American Iraq — and perhaps beyond.
In recent months, Asaib Ahl al-Haq — the League of the
Righteous — has been rapidly expanding its presence across Iraq,
trumpeting the role the once-shadowy group says it played in forcing the
departure of U.S. troops with its bomb attacks against American
The group’s chief officers have returned from exile in Iran,
and they have set about opening a string of political offices,
establishing a social services program to aid widows and orphans, and
launching a network of religious schools, echoing the methods and
structures of one of its close allies, the Lebanese Shiite movement
At one of the group’s offices in the Baghdad
neighborhood of Kadhimiyah, portraits of Iranian Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and of the Islamic republic’s founder, Ayatollah
Ruhollah Khomeini, hang on the walls, alongside those of Iraqi Shiite
religious figures and of the group’s leader, Qais al-Khazali. He is
among those who have relocated from Iran, where he took refuge in 2010
after nearly three years in U.S. custody because of his alleged role in
directing a raid that killed five Americans.
The immediate goal is to raise Asaib Ahl al-Haq’s
public profile after years of secrecy necessitated by the war against
the Americans, said Sheikh Mithaq al-Humairi, 30, the youthful cleric
who is in charge of the office, located in a small house on a quiet
residential side street.
“Asaib Ahl al-Haq was founded as an
Islamic resistance movement to fight the American occupation, but now
this stage is over,” he said. “Now we have entered a new phase, which is
to make people aware of Asaib Ahl al-Haq.”
The rebranding dates back to the departure of U.S. forces in December 2011, when Asaib Ahl al-Haq first announced that
it would enter the political mainstream. But its activities have been
intensifying ahead of a busy election schedule in the coming year, with
provincial elections set for April and parliamentary ones due in early
2014 that will provide an important indicator of where Iraq is headed
after the American exit.
The group has a powerful ally in Iraqi
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, who has embraced its entry
into politics as a counterweight to the influence of the mercurial
Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a longtime rival who has proved an
unreliable partner in the coalition government.
aides and Asaib Ahl al-Haq officials deny any formal relationship, they
acknowledge friendly relations and don’t discount the possibility that
they could strike an electoral pact.
“There is no public alliance,
but nothing would be wrong if they have one, and I expect them to do
that,” said Ghaith al-Tamimi, a Shiite religious leader who has close
ties to both groups and who heads the Center for Religious Rapprochement
in Baghdad, an organization promoted by the prime minister. “Maliki
needs Shiite figures to split the Sadrists.”