Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Iraq’s Badr Organization Maintains Its Longtime Ties With Iran

The Badr Organization portrays itself as just one of many political parties, but it wasn’t always like that. The Badr Organization started off as the Badr Brigade, an arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force, and the militia of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI). It fought on the Iranian side in the Iran-Iraq War, and after the 2003 invasion continued to work closely with Tehran carrying out covert operations for it. Even to today it is committed to Iran and its Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but it doesn’t like to talk publicly about that.

Hadi al-Ameri is the head of the Badr Organization and Minister of Transportation after backing Maliki in the 2010 elections

Today the Badr Organizations stands alone as an independent political organization. It used to be part of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), but starting in 2009 the two began to part ways. That began when Ammar Hakim assumed the head of ISCI after his father’s death in August 2009. Many of the old guard in the party questioning his leadership abilities, and his attempt to remake the Supreme Council’s image. After the 2010 parliamentary elections the differences between the two came out in the public when the head of the Badr Organization Hadi al-Ameri supported a second term for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, while Hakim backed Iyad Allawi. As a result Ameri was made Transportation Minister and ISCI was initially shut out of the new cabinet. In March 2012, the two officially announced that they were going their own separate ways. Badr now calls itself a political party, and ran as part of Maliki’s State of Law in the 2013 provincial elections. That marked the end of a thirty-year relationship with the Hakim family that started off in Iran, and the trail still leads there.

Badr members being reviewed by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran (Near East Policy Research)

The Supreme Council and the Badr Organization had their origins in Tehran. It was to Iran that Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and his family fled after their spiritual leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr was murdered by Saddam Hussein in 1980. There, the Iranian regime tried to create several organizations with Hakim as their head to rally Iraqi Shiite. Those all failed until November 1982 when the Supreme Council was announced. ISCI was supposed to be an umbrella organization for Shiite Islamist groups in Iraq. It was also a way for Iran to exert leadership over those groups, and use them in its struggle with Iraq, which it was now at war with. In return for Iran’s support Hakim pledged allegiance to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In turn, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force created the Badr Brigade to be the armed wing of Hakim’s new party, made up mostly of captured Iraqi prisoners of war. Badr was armed, funded, and took direct orders from Iran, and fought on its side in the Iran-Iraq War. After the 2003 overthrow of Saddam, Badr flooded into Iraq along with Iranian agents, and tried to take over cities like Baquba in Diyala and Kut in Wasit province. That didn’t work out, and shortly afterward, Badr claimed it gave up its heavy weapons, and ISCI said that Badr was becoming a civilian organization. Neither of those statements was true, but at the time, the Supreme Council was trying to portray itself as not being a threat to the Coalition. That helped it be integrated into the new Iraqi security forces. Behind the scenes, the Badr Brigade continued to work with Iran, and carry out operations for it. In 2005, the U.S. captured some documents from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that showed that it was paying over 11,000 Badr members. In October of that year, an American military report claimed that the Qods Force was directing Badr members and other militias to carry out assassinations in Basra. Then in December 2006, a Qods Force agent was arrested in the home of a Badr commander. Three months later, there was another report claiming that Iranian intelligence was directing Badr members to carry out attacks against government officials in Baghdad. The next year, Iraqi forces raided the headquarters of the Badr Brigade in Hillah, and found rockets and explosives. During this period, Iran was breaking away members of Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, and forming them into Special Groups, which they could exert more direct control over. A number of Special Group leaders used to belong to the Badr Brigade, and continued to have ties with its commander Hadi al-Ameri. Allegedly, Badr even assisted with some Special Group operations. Today, the Badr Organization tries to play down its militant past and connection to Iran. There are still signs that the two remain close however. On the Facebook page of Badr’s military wing for example, Phillip Smyth of the University of Maryland’s Institute for Advanced Computer Studies’ Labor for Computational Cultural Dynamics found the following images. The first shows Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with Lebanon’s Hezbollah in the background with the logo of the Badr’s militia superimposed over them. The second shows Ayatollah Khamenei again, this time looking over Badr fighters. Badr started off as an arm of the Iranian government in the 1980s. It has never lost this connection. On the surface, it claimed it was no longer a militia, and became part of the security forces to show that it was supportive of the new Iraq. Throughout the American occupation however, the group never stopped working with the Qods Force and Iranian intelligence. It continued to carry out covert attacks, sometimes at the behest of Tehran. It also never reneged on its allegiance to Iran’s Supreme Leader whether it was Ayatollah Khomeini or his successor Ayatollah Khamenei.

Images from Badr’s militia’s Facebook page showing Ayatollah Khamenei looking over Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Badr fighters (Jihadology)

Badr is now an independent organization with a prominent position within the Maliki administration. It participated in elections, and is trying to build up its own independent base after splitting with its parent organization the Supreme Council of Iraq. At the same time, it is still one of the parties closest to Iran. When it was formed in the 1980s it pledged allegiance to Tehran’s Islamic form of government, vilayat al-fiqh, the rule of the supreme jurist. It still holds onto that belief as shown on one of its Facebook pages. That is a dirty little secret in Iraq politics. If it was more open about its relationship with Iran it could cost it votes with Iraqis many of which resent Tehran’s influence. Instead it has become a mainstream political party, but its history is just below the surface.


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- “Threat Warning: IRGC Directing Iranian Sponsored Assassination In Basrah,” 10/31/05

Visser, Reidar, “More Tension between the Iraqi Security Forces and the Badr Brigades, This Time in Hillah,” Historiae, 9/29/08

Ware, Michael, “Inside Iran’s Secret War For Iraq,” Time, 8/22/05

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