A photograph of a commander in the Iranian-backed Imam Ali Brigade being honored by representatives of Grand Ayatollah Sistani demonstrates that even the ‘moderate’ segment of Iraq’s political class are supporting Shiite militias that are directed by Qods Force.
Abu Azrael (or Abu Ezra), a commander in the Imam Ali Brigade, was awarded the “Martyrdom Medal of Honour” by representatives of Grand Ayatollah Sistani sometime in May. Shia Jihadica, a Twitter feed that is supportive of the Shiite militias and Iran’s influence in Iraq, published the photograph of Abu Azrael receiving his medal on May 23:
Keta'ib Imam Ali commander Abu Ezra receives Martyrdom Medal of Honour by Ayat. Sistani representatives in Kerbala pic.twitter.com/ACCPBiTeBS
— Shi'a Jihadica (@JihadicaS) May 23, 2015
One week later, Abu Azrael was spotted in Baiji next to a Russian-supplied TOS-1A Multiple Rocket Launch System (a number of TOS-1A systems were sent to Iraq beginning in July, according to Jane’s ). Shiite militias, including the Imam Ali Brigade, are leading the fight against the Islamic State outside of Baiji in central Iraq.
— Haidar Sumeri (@IraqiSecurity) June 1, 2015
One common defense of the Shiite militias and the Popular Mobilization Committee (or Popular Mobilization Force), the overarching command for the militias, is that it is made up of groups that were called by Sistani to fight the Islamic State. And if Sistani, who has been a moderating influence in Iraq’s politics (unlike the clerical leadership in Iran, which supports religious rule, Sistani has supported democratic elections) supports the Popular Mobilization Committee, the argument goes, then it must be a legitimate and moderate force.
But as we have noted here numerous times at The Long War Journal, the Popular Mobilization Committee is led by a Specially Designated Global Terrorist who is an agent of Iran. And the most potent militias in the Committee are the ones that are backed by Iran (the leaders of many of these militias are either listed as Specially Designated Global Terrorists or are close to Iran and Major General Qassem Soleimani, the leader of Qods Force).
The Iman Ali Brigade is no exception. its leader, Shebl al Zaydi, is a former commander in the Mahdi Army who is close to Soleimani. In fact, Zaydi was photographed in Baghdad with Soleimani and Popular Mobilization Committee chief Abu Mahdi al Muhandis just last week. [See image below & LWJ report, Qods Force commander Soleimani reportedly spotted in Anbar province.]
So, just because Sistani and his representatives are endorsing the Popular Mobilization Committee or Iranian-supported militias such as the Iman Ali Brigade doesn’t make them any less radical.
Qods Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad with Popular Mobilization Committee chief Abu Mahdi al Muhandis (right) and Imam Ali Brigade leader Shebl al Zaydi (left):