Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Badr Organization A View Into Iraq’s Violent Past And Present

The Badr Organization is the oldest of Iraq’s militias, and is currently taking the lead in the fighting in the country. It was the creation of the Iranian government during the Iran-Iraq War as the armed wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), and has kept up those ties with Tehran since then. After the overthrow of Saddam, Badr attempted to seize power, carried out assassinations of former regime members, and then started sectarian attacks upon Sunnis in retaliation for the insurgency. Eventually it broke from ISCI, and became a major ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It then went on to fight in Syria, only to return to Iraq to battle the insurgency there. Badr represents the violent politics of Iraq’s recent history.

Badr members undergoing military training in Iran. Tehran was and is Badr’s main benefactor (Global Security)

The Badr Organization emerged out of the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. In 1983 the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) created Badr as the armed wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). (1) The two forces fought alongside each other during the war. Badr was made up of Iraqi exiles and captured soldiers, some of which were forced to join. Its origins with the Iranian government would lead to criticisms when Badr and ISCI returned to Iraq after 2003 as they were labeled Iranian puppets and were attacked for leaving the country during the Saddam period.

Badr was made up of Iraqi POWs and exiles (Iranian Historical Photograph)

In the 1990s, Badr continued its opposition to the Iraqi regime. It moved into Najaf, Karbala and Basra during the 1991 uprising following the Gulf War as the Supreme Council attempted to appropriate the revolt. When the Iraqi army rallied to put down the rebellion Badr retreated back into Iran, which caused much resentment against the group. Tehran too was disappointed in Badr’s performance and tried to change its emphasis from a conventional armed force into a covert one. A special unit was created under the control of the IRGC Quds Force to carry out secret operations within Iraq. From 1999-2001 it was responsible for several attacks, such as a May 2000 rocket barrage upon the presidential palace in Baghdad. Many of the networks created to move men and material back and forth between Iran and Iraq have been maintained until this day, and were used for example to smuggle explosively formed projectiles (EFPs) to militias aligned with Iran during the U.S. occupation.

When the U.S. invaded in 2003 Badr saw another opportunity to return to Iraq. In February it deployed several thousand fighters to Sulaymaniya where it was hosted by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The United States was concerned about this mobilization, and warned that Badr would be attacked if it entered Iraq. That was ignored and in Mach 2003, Badr moved into Diyala and Wasit with some 10,000 men. The U.S. tried to hold them in place with Special Forces and peshmerga, but Badr went on to clash with Baathists, Sunni tribes, and the Iranian dissident group Mujahadeen e-Khalq in Diyala, while a Badr member declared himself mayor of Kut in Wasit. Washington was concerned that Badr was working with Iran to seize Iraqi territory in the post-war chaos. It therefore moved to try to block the group, but that failed.

The Supreme Council attempted to heal this riff as it decided to work with the United States. In May, Badr said that it was giving up its weapons. In September it changed its name to the Badr Organization, and in October ISCI leader Abdul Aziz Hakim announced that the militia was being turned into a civilian organization. Unlike other Shiite religious parties such as the Dawa and the Sadrists, the Supreme Council cooperated with the Americans as a way to ensure its place in post-invasion Iraq. It made these moves with Badr to try to show that it was committed to a peaceful transition in the country, but it was all for show as Badr remained its armed wing.

In the years following the American invasion Badr was used by ISCI to try to seize power when the opportunity presented itself. For example, in February 2005 Badr attacked the headquarters of the Nasiriyah police, and installed their own man as chief. In August, militiamen deposed the mayor of Baghdad and replaced him with a Badr member. Many political parties and their armed wings were taking similar actions after the overthrow of Saddam. Despite the U.S. presence there was still a vacuum in many areas waiting to be filled.

As Interior Minister in 2005 Bayan Jabr (far right) was responsible for recruiting thousands of Badr fighters into the security forces (Time)

When the Jaafari government took office in 2005 the Supreme Council was given the Interior Ministry. That was a coveted office, because the police it controlled gave it a presence throughout the country to be used by whatever party ran the ministry. In April 2005 Bayan Jabr was made Interior Minister after which he immediately began recruiting members of the Badr Brigade into the security forces. Many of those militiamen went into the commandos such as the Wolf, Volcano and Scorpion Brigades. Those units and others under the militia were accused of a number of abuses. In August, the Volcano Brigade took away 36 Sunnis from Baghdad and tortured and killed them before dumping their bodies. In November, a U.S. military unit found a prison in Jadriya, Baghdad with 173 people in it, many with signs of torture. The Secret Investigative Unit ran the facility under the direct command of Minister Jabr. In February 2006, 18 police commandos were caught running a kidnapping ring. The commander of the unit said that he was acting under orders from senior officials in Badr that gave him names of people to abduct. Jabr was eventually pushed out of office in May 2006 under U.S. pressure, and transferred to the Finance Ministry. It would take years to purge and re-train the Badr elements that Jabr brought into the ministry.

Besides its own agenda, Badr continued to work with the Iranians to carry out a number of targeted killings throughout Iraq. In October 2004, the head of Iraq’s national intelligence agency accused the militia of killing ten of his men on orders from Tehran. The agency raided three safe houses and claimed to have found documents linking Iranian agents to Badr members who were carrying out the assassinations. At the time, the intelligence service was staffed by former regime elements, and directed by the CIA, which were both seen as threats by Iran. After the January 2005 elections, there was a wave of murders of former Baathists. There were reports that hit lists were being circulated of party members to kill. Members of Saddam’s intelligence agency and armed forces were also being targeted. For instance, there was a wave of hits against former air force pilots who were veterans of the Iran-Iraq War. Most of these attacks were pinned on the Badr Brigade. In October 2005, the U.S. military reported that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard was directing its militia allies including Badr to assassinate people in Basra. The militias would have their members in the police carry out the shootings. Finally, in March 2007, another U.S. military memo documented how Iranian intelligence was working with Badr to attack members of the Industry Ministry as part of a media campaign orchestrated by Tehran to undermine the Surge. Iran would often work through militia allies to carry out its wishes in Iraq. One of its main targets was Baathists and other members of the former regime, especially those involved in the Iran-Iraq War. Iran had a long memory, and wanted to exact its revenge against these people. Badr was one of their main partners in this assassination campaign given its origins and continued links with Tehran. In return, August 2004 for instance, the Iraqi National Intelligence Service captured Iranian Revolutionary Guard documents showing that it was paying the salaries of up to 11,740 members of the Badr Brigade. In November 2009, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill in a diplomatic memo noted that ISCI and Badr were receiving roughly $70 million a year from Iran. (5)

The militia was not only involved in violence against Saddam’s men, but its main rival as well the Sadrists. In October 2005, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki sent 2,300 soldiers and police commandos to secure Amarah in Maysan after heavy fighting broke out there between Badr and the Mahdi Army. The fighting would spread to several other southern cities with 30 people killed and another 160 wounded in the process. In the summer of 2007 there were renewed clashes between the two groups in Diwaniya. That would come to a head in another major battle in Karbala in August where 50 civilians died and roughly 200 were wounded. Moqtada al-Sadr declared a cease-fire afterward, but the next month Badr and the Mahdi Army were back at it once again this time in Maysan, Dhi Qar, and Muthanna, and then back to Karbala in October. When Maliki launched his Charge of the Knights campaign against the Sadr movement in Basra, the Mahdi Army retaliated against Badr as well who were seen as aligned with the prime minister. That led to fighting in Sadr City, a rocket attack upon Badr’s offices in Amarah in March, (2) and then an attempted assassination of a local Badr Brigade commander and imam in Baghdad’s Abu Dishr in May that escalated into another gunfight. The Sadrists and Supreme Council were deadly competitors for control of the Shiite polity. The Sadrists were one of those groups that accused ISCI of being Iranian stooges and having abandoned the country for the safety of Iran during the Saddam period. After 2003 the two would take their rivalry into the streets and lead to these incidents and many more.

The death of ISCI head Abdul Aziz Hakim and the ascension to power of his son Ammar would eventually lead Badr to split from the Supreme Council in 2012 (PBS)

By 2011 the relationship between ISCI and its militia were wearing thin. After the death of the party’s leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, his young son Ammar Hakim assumed power in August 2009. Hadi Ameri the head of Badr and others of the old guard opposed this move. By November 2011 there were rumors that the two had split ways, and that was made official in March 2012. Badr then became its own political party, and quickly moved into Premier Maliki’s camp.

Badr and Maliki would form not only political, but military ties as well as the militia would act as enforcers for the prime minister. In December 2011 for instance, the premier was attempting to block Diyala’s move to become a federal region. He sent Badr head Ameri, a Diyala native to talk with local officials there, while his militiamen took to the streets in an act of intimidation against the pro-federalists. (3) Ameri then announced that Badr would run as part of Maliki’s State of Law list in the 2013 provincial and 2014 national elections. The party ended up winning 19 seats in parliament, roughly 20% of State of Law’s total. At this time, the organization was trying to move away from just being an armed group to being a political party. Its actions in Diyala however, showed that the group was still willing to use force to make its point, and had not given up the gun. That was quickly shown when the Syrian civil war started.

In 2012, Badr would mobilize its men to go fight in Syria. In January, a party official called for an army made up of the Badr Brigade and Mahdi Army to go defend the Syrian government. (4) He said that they were needed to counter Sunni militants from taking power, which was part of a plot orchestrated by Saudi Arabia to destabilize the Assad regime. By October there were the earliest reports of its militiamen fighting in the country, although it was officially denied at the time. A Shiite politician told Reuters that Iran had appointed Badr to lead the Iraqi militias who were involved there. That included groups such as Kataib Hezbollah who along with Badr formed the Kataib Sayid al-Shuhada militia in early 2013. In May Badr started posting pictures of its fighters supporting the Abu Fadhl al-Abbas Brigade in Syria, and in June a Badr militiaman died in the Damascus area. By July the group was open about its commitment to Syria announcing that it had 1,500 fighters there on Facebook. Later that month, Badr began holding public funerals for its losses suffered in the war, and announced a new militia Quwest Shahid al-Sadr that would be deployed there. Hadi Ameri, who was then Transportation Minister, facilitated the flight of Iranians arms and equipment to Damascus through Iraqi air space. Badr and other like minded parties felt that the Syrian rebels were mostly made up of Islamists who were directly threatening Shiites. That was why it always justified its presence in the country as defending the Sayid Zainab shrine in the Damascus suburbs. At the same time, only those groups close to Iran sent their men there, and that was after Tehran and its Quds Force put out the call to its allies for help propping up the Assad regime. The IRGC-QF would direct these militias, and had Badr coordinate its Iraqi brethren.

Badr head Ameri (foreground) and IRGC-QF Commander Gen Suleimani (background) during recent security operations in Iraq (via Twitter)

When the insurgency began regenerating in Iraq, Badr would return to protect the homeland. In July 2013 for instance, Hadi Ameri offered to have his men take over security after the Islamic State carried out attacks upon the Taji and Abu Ghraib prisons. Two months later, Badr repeated the offer saying that it could help quell sectarian violence in the capital and Diyala. In March 2014, Maliki met with his advisers and called for a new security force made up of three militias including Badr, because he was upset with the performance of the army and police. Then immediately after the fall of Mosul, the premier put Ameri in charge of Diyala. As part of this the militia would receive arms and supplies from the government. Since then, Badr has been deployed to all the major battlefronts in Iraq. In July it was fighting in Anbar, and in August it helped relieve the siege of Amerli, Salahaddin. It would then go on to take part in the clearing of the Tuz Kharmato district in eastern Salahaddin, Jurf al-Sakhr in Babil in October, Jalawla and Sadiya in Diyala in November, and then Dhuluiya in Salahaddin in December. Hadi Ameri led many of these operations in conjunction with IRGC-Quds Force commander General Qasim Suleimani. Along the way, Mohammed Ghaban of Badr was named Interior Minister under the new Haider Abadi government in September. Badr was able to gain such a prominent position in the fighting for a number of reasons. First, its alliance with Maliki made it a natural choice when the premier became upset with the ISF. Second, after Mosul Iran stepped in as the main supporter of Baghdad, and put militias it was friendly with in the lead because it too had no confidence in the army and police. Finally, just as in Syria, Tehran would make Badr the head of the irregular forces as the two had the longest relationship.

This would lead to a new round of sectarian attacks by the militia. In June, Badr shot up four cells in the Counterterrorism prison in Ninewa’s Tal Afar killing 51 prisoners before the city fell. That same month Badr and Asaib Ahl Al-Haw fighters shot 43 prisoners in Jumarkhe, Diyala. On October 14, a Badr Commander in Sulaiman Bek, Salahaddin told Rudaw that it had the right to kill any Sunni who fought alongside the Islamic State and take their property. This extended to civilians as the organization was accused of going after them in Jurf al-Sakhr and Sadiya because they were believed to be IS supporters. That included looting and destroying their homes. These were the same kinds of tactics Badr used when it controlled the Interior Ministry in 2005, and continued to use during the 2005-2008 civil war. Then like now the civilian population were considered legitimate targets along with the insurgents because the latter could not operate without the former.

Badr’s history follows much of Iraq’s recent past. From Iraq’s war against Iran to the 1991 uprising to the 2003 invasion and overthrow of Saddam, the militia has been at the forefront of the conflict in the country. It has always wanted power first as part of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and then as its own Badr Organization. It continues to play a prominent role in the State of Law list and the current government. It also maintains its close links with Iran, which has always been its main benefactor since the group’s inception. That’s why Badr leaders such as Hadi Ameri have recently praised Tehran for saving Iraq. At the same time, it has used force more often then not to achieve its goals. In Iraq, those with power are often those with the guns, and Badr is a perfect example of this period of Iraqi history.


1. Abedin, Mahan, “The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI),” Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, October 2003

2. Aswat al-Iraq, “Unknown gunmen attack major Shiite party office in Missan,” 3/28/08

3. Azzaman, “Tribal militia force Maliki and the Badr party to withdraw from the streets of Baquba,” 12/16/11

4. Al-Mada, “Official in Basra calling for the formation of an army of two million to support Assad,” 1/7/12

5. Hill, Christopher, “Iran’s Efforts In Iraqi Electoral Politics,” U.S. Embassy Baghdad, 11/13/09


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Anonymous said...

Incredible piece of information.

- OIF vet

Charlie_Six said...

Joel, when the Badr elements inside the Ministry of Interior were going around killing people over the years, what did the US occupation forces do in response? I feel like I've been reading a lot about US forces opposing Sunni insurgents and Sadrist forces, but I never see anything about the US going after the Badr/Interior Ministry. Were there ever any clashes between the US and the Interior Ministry/Badr?

Also when the US went after Sadr, it kind of sounds like the US was doing the Badr/Interior Ministry's dirty work to an extent, is that an unfair way of looking at it?

I've seen a few interviews with Sunni senior politicians and others (such as from the Association of Muslim Scholars) where they praise Muqtada al-Sadr, so it seems like some Sunni leaders see Muqtada as greatly preferable over the Maliki/Badr types.. so it just makes me wonder if the US was shooting at the wrong people when they went after Muqtada

Joel Wing said...

Charlie Six suggest you read my interview with Jerry Burke who was a U.S. adviser to the Interior Ministry during this time.


The U.S. was fully aware of Badr elements being brought into the Ministry in 06 and considered an "Iraqi matter." There were attempts to arrest some Badr police elements as well but they were stopped by higher ups. The U.S. did raid one or two of its secret facility such as Jadriya, but that appeared to be individual initiative by U.S. commander and not coming from above.

I think there was at least one case where Badr men tried to lead U.S. soldiers into an ambush but can't remember when or where off the top of my head.

As for the Sadr vs Badr issue, ISCI was cooperating with the U.S. and had been since before the 03 invasion, while Sadr was an active opponent and his militia were and its breakaway groups were carrying out lots of attacks upon the Americans, which was why they got all the focus. Plus during the Surge the U.S. was trying to stop the sectarian fighting and the Sadrists were a main player in that. Badr was too, but within the security forces and the U.S. thought it could deal with those elements & reform them rather than have to fight them like the Mahdi Army.