Friday, July 29, 2011

U.S. Decides To Hold Onto Hezbollah Commander Captured In Iraq In 2007

In July 2011, Iraq announced that it would not be taking control of a Hezbollah commander, Ali Mussa Daqduq, being held by the Americans. That was because several U.S. Senators complained about turning him over. Daqduq was captured by U.S. forces in 2007 along with leaders of an Iranian-backed Special Group. Daqduq was the highest ranking Hezbollah operative captured within the country. The Lebanese organization began operating in Iraq just months after the U.S. invasion in coordination with Iran to spy on the Coalition, and work with Shiite militants. Daqduq is a symbol of how Hezbollah and Tehran tried to influence post-Saddam Iraq.
U.S. soldier posts picture of Daqduq after his capture in 2007 (Agence Presse France/Getty)
On July 22, 2011, Baghdad said that the United States was not going to be transferring Ali Mussa Daqduq to their control. This came a day after Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta received a letter from 20 Senators, which included Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, Senator John McCain, and Senator Joe Lieberman. The lawmakers said that they were afraid that Daqduq would be released by Iraq or escape if he was handed over. Daqduq was going to be turned over to Iraq as part of the U.S. withdrawal process. Even though the Americans are still going to detain him, he will eventually have to be given to the Iraqis. That’s because the Obama administration and Congress have ruled out the alternatives. The Congress vetoed a White House plan to have terror suspects tried in the United States, while the Supreme Court has ruled that Guantanamo Bay can only be used to hold Al Qaeda members, and those involved in 9/11. Daqduq is neither. The U.S. has to release all the prisoners it holds by the end of the year as part of the Status of Forces Agreement signed in 2008 between Washington and Baghdad.

Daqduq was at the head of Hezbollah’s operations in Iraq. Immediately after the U.S. invasion in March 2003, Lebanese operatives began moving into Iraq from Iran to collect intelligence on the Coalition forces. This information was passed onto Tehran. As early as July, there were reports that Hezbollah was trying to reach out to Moqtada al-Sadr, who was quickly making himself an early opponent of the occupation. By the end of the month, it was alleged that 30-40 Hezbollah advisers were operating in Najaf to help with his Mahdi Army militia. By the end of 2003, that had increased to a 90-man team. There were also unconfirmed reports that Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, had begun providing financial aid to Sadr as well. By Late 2004, it was said that up to 800 Hezbollah agents were in Iraq.

Hezbollah’s operations quickly began branching out. Some of the Hezbollah agents were organized into assassination squads to eliminate enemies of Tehran. The Lebanese introduced one of their deadliest weapons, the explosively formed projectile (EFP) anti-armor device, which they had perfected in their fight with Israel. Hezbollah also began training Shiite militiamen. This was a great relief to Iran, because Hezbollah were fellow Arabs, while many Iraqis complained about the haughtiness of their Persian trainers. The training took place several different ways. The most common was for a small group of Iraqis to travel to Iran, and be trained by the Lebanese and Iranians. Afterward, some were sent to Lebanon, via Syria for more advanced lessons. Iran also created two training camps within Iraq, east of Basra city in southern Iraq by 2006 that included up to 10 Hezbollah operatives. In late-2006, it was said that 1,000-2,000 militiamen had been trained by Hezbollah. All of this showed that Hezbollah was working hand in hand with Iran to spread its influence in Iraq. Both took advantage of the ascendancy of the country’s Shiites to power after Saddam Hussein was deposed. They found many friends amongst the more militant elements of that community that came to oppose the U.S. and foreign presence, and wanted to fight them.

By 2007, Moqtada al-Sadr openly praised his group’s connections with Hezbollah. He told England’s Independent that, “It is natural that we would want to improve ourself by learning from each other. We copy Hezbollah in the way they fight and their tactics, we teach each other, and we are getting better through this.” Elements of the Mahdi Army also admitted to being trained by Hezbollah

Ali Mussa Daqduq was at the head of Hezbollah’s operations in Iraq. Daqduq was originally in charge of Hezbollah leader Nasrallah’s bodyguards, and a top commander within the movement. He then joined Department 2800 to assist the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Qods Force efforts in Iraq. In 2005, he went to Iran to help train Iraqis, and in 2006 he began traveling through Iraq to observe their activities. He also worked with Abu Yaser Mustafa Sheibani, a former commander in the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council’s Badr Brigade, who became one of the earliest conduits of Iranian arms to Iraq, and with Qais Khazali, a former leader in the Sadrist movement who eventually broke away, and formed his own organization, the League of the Righteous. Daqduq’s activities mirrored the escalation of Hezbollah and Iran’s work in Iraq. They went from collecting intelligence and training, to providing arms, organizing militant groups, and then finally, carrying out attacks.
Daqduq's fake papers he was captured with (Long War Journal)
It was just one such lethal operation that led to Daqduq’s arrest in 2007. In January, the League of the Righteous carried out a bold attack upon a U.S. base in Karbala. A large contingent of fighters drove into the compound in SUVs, dressed in American uniforms, and carrying U.S. weapons. They went on to kill one U.S. soldier, and kidnapped four others, who were later found dead. This eventually led to the arrest of Daqduq and Qais Khazali in Basra in March. They were found with documents that showed Daqduq was distributing up to $3 million a month of Iranian money to Special Groups Tehran supported, and they all eventually admitted to their involvement in the Karbala attack. As a result of their capture, the League of the Righteous and Hezbollah masterminded another raid, this time on the Finance Ministry in Baghdad in May 2007, which led to the kidnapping of five British nationals who were going to be held hostage until the U.S. agreed to release Daqduq and Khazali. Khazali was eventually released in a prisoner swap in 2010, but Daqduq remains in U.S. custody.

Iran saw the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein as both a great threat and opportunity. On the one hand, it removed Tehran’s existential enemy, and placed friendly parties in power in Baghdad. On the other, it placed a large number of American troops right on its border. Daqduq’s history in Iraq recounts how Iran tried to deal with the latter. Iran decided to militarily confront the United States in Iraq, wanting to make them pay for their occupation. This included supporting, training, and arming Shiite militias like Sadr’s Mahdi Army and the League of the Righteous. Hezbollah was brought in to facilitate these operations, since it had a long history of guerrilla warfare against the Israelis, and was a close ally and funded by Iran as well. The fact that they were Arabs also helped them work better with Iraqis rather than the Iranians who are Persian. Daqduq was at the middle of this military cooperation between Iran, Hezbollah, and Shiite militants. That eventually led to his capture by the Americans in 2007. He is now due to be released to Iraqi control. That will happen eventually since the U.S. can’t hold him past December 31 when U.S. forces are supposed to withdraw. If he ends up in Iraqi hands he could very well be released unless he’s charged with attacking Iraqis. Given Baghdad’s desire to have friendly relations with Tehran, that’s unlikely to happen, so he’ll probably be released by them, unless Washington comes up with some kind of exception that will allow it to keep him locked up. If released, and there are still U.S. troops in Iraq he can be expected to go right back to his lethal work. If the Americans do withdraw, Daqduq could end up back in Lebanon, waiting to be assigned his next job by Hezbollah since he is one of their top foreign operatives.


Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Report: Deal close to free Britons seized in Iraq,” Associated Press, 3/29/09

Cochrane, Marisa, “Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the Khazali Special Groups network,” Institute for the Study of War, 1/13/09
- “The Fragmentation of the Sadrist Movement,” Institute for the Study of War, January 2009

Colvin, Marie, “Families told release of UK hostages not a done deal,” Times of London, 3/29/09

Gordon, Michael, “Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says,” New York Times, 2/10/07
- “Hezbollah Trains Iraqis in Iran, Officials Say,” New York Times, 5/5/08

Gordon, Michael, Filkins, Dexter, “Hezbollah may be helping militias,” San Francisco Chronicle, 11/28/06

Harari, Michal, “Status Update: Shi’a Militias in Iraq,” Institute for the Study of War, 8/16/10

Hendawi, Hamza and Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Hezbollah said to train Shiite militiamen in Iraq,” Associated Press, 7/1/08

Jakes, Lara, “Iraq delays taking militant custody amid US fear,” Associated Press, 7/22/11

Kagan, Kimberly, “Iran’s Proxy War against the United States and the Iraqi Government,” Institute for the Study of War, 8/20/07

Latif, Nizar and Sands, Phil, “Mehdi fighters ‘trained by Hizbollah in Lebanon,’” Independent, 8/20/07

Pound, Edward, “The Iran Connection,” U.S. News & World Report, 11/22/04

Risen, James, “A Region Inflamed: The Hand Of Tehran: Hezbollah, in Iraq, Refrains From Attacks on Americans,” New York Times, 11/24/03

Roggio, Bill, “Mahdi Army trains with Hezbollah,” Long War Journal, 8/20/07

Tanter, Raymond, “Iran’s Threat to Coalition Forces in Iraq,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1/15/04

UPI, “Iraq: Return of Sheibani’s killer squads,” 9/30/10


philo2bistro said...

Interresting post

+ 1 follower

isman said...

Nice blog with very interesting article ...I like it.

Anonymous said...

I'm a veteran of OIF and a writer. I am working on a story of my experience during my time overseas. Something I was closely involved with during my time as an intelligence analyst was the precarious relationship between Adil Mashhdani and US forces. Your blog posting is the closest realistic description of this mans involvement with our forces that I've found. I was wondering if you'd be interested in answering a few questions about your research. Thanks and look forward to hearing from you,

Daniel Dowd

new bern photography said...

Interesting article, we spent so much time and money trying to catch these guys, and now we have to decide what to do with them.

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