Curtis SinclairCurtis Sinclair is the Co-Chairman of the Ashraf Campaign (ashcam.org), a British human rights organisation which advocates on behalf of 2,900 Iranian political refugees currently detained in Baghdad.
You might not have heard of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq yet. If the regime in Tehran has its way, you will do soon.
The group, known by its acronym, AAH, is the ugly pinnacle of the Iranian regime’s meddling in Iraq.
Paid by Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, armed by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and trained by Lebanese Hezbollah itself, the group’s growth has been exponential, and inextricably linked to the rise of Iran as a regional superpower.
AAH’s origins lie in the nebulous Sadrist movement that caused so much havoc in the early days of post-Saddam Iraq. Unlike Moqtada al-Sadr’s incohesive and needlessly destructive Mahdi Army, AAH is a honed fighting machine whose members have amassed battle experience in Syria and against Israel itself. Indeed, many are coming straight back from Syria to fight in Iraq, with one Iraqi official noting that AAH is now “deployed alongside Iraqi military units as the main combat force.”
Indeed, AAH even turned on its fellow Sadrists in 2012, plotting against and assassinating other Shiites who rejected the principle of the velayat-e faqih (the religious supremacy of the Supreme Leader over all Shiites worldwide). In this alone, we can see AAH for what it really is – a savage Iranian proxy.
It is because of its unwavering loyalty to the velayat-e faqih and to the Iranian regime that AAH has survived, and prospered, for so long in an Iraq where the distribution of money, arms and influence is solely the preserve of Tehran’s henchmen, chief among whom is Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian Qods Force commander accused of “secretly running Iraq.”
A profile recently published in The Guardian noted that Soleimani’s role involved “stiffening resistance, mobilising militias and greasing palms” with such effectiveness that he has earned a reputation as “one of the most powerful and mysterious men in the Middle East.” The political economy he helped craft in the wake of the US withdrawal from Iraq has served AAH well; indeed, the organisation enjoys his “personal patronage.”
AAH has largely developed on the model set by Lebanese Hezbollah; according to Phillip Smyth of the University of Maryland, AAH has attempted to set roots in the ever-fragile Iraqi landscape as a social, religious and political organisation. It has featured most prominently in Iraq, however, as part of Tehran’s support system for Maliki, with the group playing a significant role in Maliki’s brutal abuse of the Sunni populations of Anbar province in the run-up to the April elections, thereby helping him steal power for another term in office. Furthermore, as I have noted elsewhere, legitimate claims have been raised that AAH has conducted a number of false flag operations, posing as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), against Shiite and secular opponents of Maliki.
While the West focuses on a nuclear deal with the Iranian regime, and countries such as Britain and the US tacitly begin to accept the idea of a stabilising – if not benevolent – Iranian hegemony stretching westward to the shores of the Mediterranean, why should the people of Israel be concerned with one of its proxies many miles away in Iraq?
Because AAH, in short, is an Iraqi Hezbollah in the making – and like Hezbollah, it will target Israel as soon as it possibly can.
The organisation, moreover, is just moments away from obliterating the only hope the Iranian people – and the world – have to develop a real peace between nations.
On Saturday, I was informed by one of my contacts at Camp Liberty that AAH forces were amassing just a few miles away. Camp Liberty is the detention centre where 2,900 members of the Iranian Resistance, namely the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) – political refugees who came to Iraq in 1986 – are currently held in conditions described by one former member of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) as being reminiscent of a “concentration camp.”
These dissidents – who wish to create a new Iran founded on the principles of secular democracy and the rule of law, and without ethnic, religious or gender discrimination – have been mercilessly attacked by the Iraqi Government and Iran’s various militia groups time and time again for the past 5 years. In the most brutal attack on this group, on 1 September 2013, the Iraqi Army ruthlessly slaughtered 52 unarmed refugees, and then attempted to blame the deaths on “an oil drum exploding.”
Yet more worrying are the recent accusations made by Iranian officials that members of the Iranian Resistance (who, it should be noted, are wholly secular, liberal, Shiite and, crucially, confined to a detention camp with little communication with the outside world) are linked to ISIS.
Such accusations are nonsensical, of course, but considering the fate of others in Iraq who have been tarred with the ISIS brush, and how the AAH has in the past used the fog of war to commit atrocities, it seems not unlikely that AHH is gearing up for a massive attack on Camp Liberty.
The Iranian Resistance is considered by the regime in Tehran to be its principal opponent, both at home – where over 300 books demonising it have been published, and where earlier this month Gholamreza Khosravi was executed for supporting it – as well as abroad. With Qassam Soleimani’s forces in the ascendancy in Baghdad, and with Iraq crumbling, the regime now – more so than at any point since the 1980s – has the ability to obliterate the Resistance’s presence in Iraq.
By standing to one side, Israel risks letting another potential ally fall by the wayside. It should not step back and allow AAH to finish off the Iranian Resistance in Iraq; by doing so, Israel would be sacrificing a future friend in favour of a future enemy.