Thursday, August 19, 2010

Notorious Special Groups Commander Returns To Iraq

Asharq al-Awsat reported on August 18, 2010 that Abu Dura, aka Ismail Hafiz al-Lami, a wanted Special Groups commander recently returned to Iraq from Iran. Abu Dura is a Sadr City native, who joined the Iraqi Army during the Saddam era, and became a non-commissioned officer. He deserted in 2000, and when the U.S. invaded in 2003 he took part in the looting of the capital. He quickly turned to hunting down and killing former Baathists and army officers, and became a brigade commander in Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. He fought against the Americans in the 2004 Sadrist uprising in Najaf. That same year he went to Iran for the first time, where he received training and assistance from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Sometime afterward he broke with the Mahdi Army, along with other commanders, who were mad that Sadr agreed to a cease-fire and decided to participate in politics.

During the sectarian civil war of 2005-2007 Abu Dura said that he would cleanse Baghdad of Sunnis, and was notorious for doing away with his victims with an electric drill. His group allegedly killed thousands of Sunnis, assassinated Saddam Hussein’s lawyer, kidnapped a member of parliament, and snatched up workers from the Ministry of Higher Education. Although Abu Dura was publicly condemned by the mainstream Sadrist movement, U.S. forces believed he was still loosely tied to it. During the 2008 crackdown on the Sadr trend, Abu Dura fled to Iran.

Today Abu Dura is said to be a commander in the League of the Righteous, another breakaway Sadrist militia. From late-2009 to early-2010 the U.S. encouraged Baghdad to hold talks with the League to end their outlaw status, but the talks were inconclusive. The negotiations did lead to the release of the movement’s leader, Qais Khazali in early 2010 in return for a British contractor the group had kidnapped. The league had a brief cease-fire, but is now believed to have gone back to attacking U.S. and Iraqi forces, and Abu Dura is allegedly involved in those operations.

The return of Abu Dura is a bad sign for Iraq. Shiite groups like the League of the Righteous as well as Iran are trying to take credit for the U.S. withdrawal by conducting operations against American forces, while Sunni militants are continuing with their high profile mass-casualty attacks to undermine the state. There have also been reports that the various Shiite militias have been fighting each other in Baghdad as well. Such a notorious Special Groups commander as Abu Dura can only be coming to Iraq to sow mayhem at a time of uncertainty over the future of the government and competence of the security forces. What may constrain him are the capabilities of the League of the Righteous. So far, the Special Groups have only been firing rockets and setting off roadside bombs at a very low level. People like Abu Dura may have plans to do more, but he may not have the supplies and manpower to do so. Still his presence in Baghdad can only raise tensions within Iraq. 


Cochrane, Marisa, “The Fragmentation of the Sadrist Movement,” Institute for the Study of War, January 2009

Fayad, Ma’ad, “Iraq: Notorious Shiite Warlord Returns to Baghdad,” Asharq Al-Awsat, 8/18/10

Knickmeyer, Ellen and Anderson, John Ward, “Iraq Tells U.S. to Quit Checkpoints,” Washington Post, 11/1/06

Londono, Ernesto and Fadel, Leila, “U.S. failure to neutralize Shiite militia in Iraq threatens to snarl pullout,” Washington Post, 3/4/10

Olive Group, “Weekly Security Update,” Iraq Business News, 8/4/10

Swain, Jon, “Is this Iraq’s most prolific mass killer?” Sunday Times of London, 1/21/07

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