In May 2012, it was announced that an Iraqi court ordered Lebanese Hezbollah commander Ali Mussa Daqduq to be released from prison. The reason was a lack of evidence against him. This could have been predicted long ago, as his case was based upon an investigation by the American military, not Iraqi judges. In the United States, the decision will be condemned, and people will attempt to lay blame upon the Obama administration, but those comments are really about American domestic politics, rather than a real concern or understanding of the case.
On May 7, 2012, an Iraqi court ruled that Ali Mussa Daqduq of Lebanon’s Hezbollah should be released. A judge said that there was not enough evidence against him to warrant further prosecution. The decision was immediately appealed to keep Daqduq locked up. That is only a delaying action, which can keep him imprisoned for up to six months, but eventually he will be let out. Daqduq’s lawyer, Abdul Mahdi Mutayri, who is a Sadrist, and former Minister of State in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s original cabinet from 2010, had been talking about his client’s imminent freedom since April. The U.S. claimed that Daqduq confessed to being part of Hezbollah, and taking part in a January 2007 attack upon a U.S. base. The problem was that all of that information was collected by the American military, and therefore was unlikely ever to be accepted by an Iraqi court. In Iraq’s justice system, an investigative judge is supposed to look into such matters. The Obama administration was hoping that Baghdad would charge Daqduq with illegally entering Iraq, which could have gotten him up to five years in prison, but it appears that it decided to try him on the American accusation of terrorism. These problems were apparent far before Daqduq’s day in court ever began. The U.S. turned over the Hezbollah commander to the Iraqis hoping that they would follow an American script, but that simply was not going to happen. The court was not going to take evidence collected from a foreign military, and was not going to have the U.S. dictate what to try Daqduq for either. There was simply no chance that he was ever going to be successfully prosecuted.
When the United States was withdrawing from Iraq at the end of 2011, there was a debate about what to do with Daqduq. He was the last prisoner held by the Americans, and was finally turned over to the Iraqis on December 16, 2011. The Obama administration was worried that the Iraqi government would release him. The Bush White House at one time was discussing charging Daqduq in a civilian court, but that never happened. When Obama became president, his administration argued that Daqduq could be tried in a military commission within the United States. Republicans in Congress rejected that proposal, because they did not want suspected terrorists going to court within the U.S., and argued that he should be sent to Guantanamo Bay for a military tribunal there instead. The White House opposed that idea, because it wanted to shut Guantanamo down. The whole discussion was meaingless to begin with, because the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed by President Bush, gave Baghdad final say over all prisoners held by the United States, and the Maliki government refused to allow Daqduq to leave the country. Still, in January 2012, a U.S. military commission charged Daqduq with crimes, which was the first step in a possible extradition request. Again, given Iraq’s refusal to allow the Americans to take Daqduq with them before they withdrew their military, there seemed little chance that it would then allow him to be sent abroad afterward.
Daqduq originally ended up in Iraq as part of a covert military policy by Hezbollah and Iran to undermine the U.S. occupation. Soon after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Daqduq was placed in charge of Hezbollah’s Iraq operations. In 2005, he left for Iran to help assist Tehran arm, train, and assist Iraqi militias. The following year, Daqduq entered Iraq to continue with those operations. In January 2007, he aided the League of the Righteous, a breakaway Sadrist group, and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards conduct an attack upon a U.S. base in Karbala that resulted in the death of five U.S. soldiers. Daqduq was later arrested in Basra two months later, and placed in Camp Cropper in Baghdad. He was part of a combined effort by Hezbollah and Iran to make the Americans pay for their occupation of Iraq by arming Iraqi militants, and carrying out attacks. He also acted as a political liaison with Iraqi groups such as Moqtada al-Sadr’s movement. It was not by chance then, that Daqduq asked for and received its assistance when he was going to go to court in Iraq, and ended up with a senior Sadrist being his lawyer.
The fate of Ali Mussa Daqduq could have been predicted from the beginning. With the Americans having signed the SOFA in 2008, they were obliged to turn over all their prisoners to the Iraqis. When it came to Daqduq, Baghdad was also not willing to send him to the United States. That meant all the talk within America about where he should be tried was simply political rhetoric, because he was never leaving Iraq. He was not going to be found guilty either in an Iraqi court, because the Americans made the case against him rather than the Iraqis. Any handwringing about the matter in the U.S. will be driven by domestic politics there, rather than what actually happened, or any concern about Iraqi sovereignty. If the U.S. really believes in an independent Iraq it will have to live with these types of decisions, because the days when the U.S. can control events in the country are over.
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