US airstrikes in Amerli supported deadly Shia terror group

While helping Iraqi forces to break the Islamic State’s siege of Amerli, the US Air Force supported a deadly Shia militia that is responsible for killing hundreds of US soldiers. The Shia militia, known as Asaib al Haq, or the League of the Righteous, has also captured and executed US soldiers and British citizens in the past.

Iraqi forces, supported by “paramilitary forces” such as the League of the Righteous, advanced on Amerli late last week and reached the town by Aug. 31, The Washington Post reported. By Sept. 1, the siege, which lasted for more than two months, was lifted.

Na’im al Aboudi, the spokesman for the League of the Righteous, confirmed that his group is operating in Amerli and in surrounding villages.

As of Aug. 31, the US military launched four airstrikes against Islamic State forces in Amerli, according to US Central Command, or CENTCOM.

“At the request of the Government of Iraq, the US military conducted airstrikes in support of an operation to deliver humanitarian assistance to address the humanitarian crisis and protect the civilians trapped in Amerli, Iraq at approximately 8:30 p.m. EDT today [Aug. 30],” CENTCOM reported. Three airstrikes and a humanitarian aid drop were conducted on Aug. 30, and another on Aug. 31.

A seasoned Shia terror group

The League of the Righteous is not a newly-formed Shia militia that rose up in the wake of the Islamic State’s takeover of much of Western, central, and northern Iraq this year. The League of the Righteous was formed in 2006 as an offshoot of Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi Army. The militia was the largest and most powerful of what the US military called the Special Groups, or Shia militias backed by Iran. The group was at the forefront in using EFPs, or explosively formed penetrators, the deadly landmines that can penetrate US armored vehicles. Hundreds of US soldiers were killed in EFP attacks.

Asaib al Haq was directly implicated by General David Petraeus in the January 2007 attack on the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala. Five US soldiers were killed during the Karbala attack and subsequent kidnapping attempt. The US soldiers were executed by League of the Righteous fighters after US and Iraqi security forces closed in on the assault team.

The attack on the Karbala Provincial Joint Coordination Center was a complex, sophisticated operation. The assault team, led by tactical commander Azhar al Dulaimi, was trained in a mock-up of the center that was built in Iran. The unit had excellent intelligence and received equipment that made them appear to be US soldiers. Some of the members of the assault team are said to have spoken English.

Two months after the attack in Karbala, Qais Qazali, who leads the League of the Righteous, his brother Laith, and a senior Hezbollah military commander known as Musa Ali Daqduq were all captured during a raid in Basra. Qais and Laith were freed by the US in 2009 along with hundreds of members of the Asaib al Haq, in exchange for Peter Moore, a captured British hostage, and the remains of four Brits who were kidnapped and subsequently executed by the group. The US justified their release by claiming that the League of the Righteous was reconciling with the Iraqi government. After his release, Qais threatened to attack US interests in Iraq.

Trained by Iran, Hezbollah

Daqduq, who previously served as the head of Hezbollah’s special forces as well as the commander of Hassan Nasrallah’s guard, was listed by the US as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in November 2012, less than a year after he was released from US custody. Daqduq was released to Iraqi custody in December 2011 as the US withdrew from Iraq with the promise that he would be tried for his war crimes. But in 2012, he was freed by the Iraqi government. US intelligence officials contacted by The Long War Journal said that Daqduq is involved with supporting Iraqi militias who are fighting in Syria.

In its designation of Daqduq as a global terrorist in November 2012, the US Treasury Department said that sometime in 2005, “Iran asked Hezbollah to form a group to train Iraqis to fight Coalition Forces in Iraq.” The designation stated: “In response, Hassan Nasrallah [Hezbollah’s leader] established a covert Hezbollah unit to train and advise Iraqi militants in Jaish al Mahdi (JAM) [or Mahdi Army] and JAM Special Groups, now known as Asaib Ahl al Haq [the League of the Righteous],” a Mahdi Army faction.

“As of 2006, Daqduq had been ordered by Hezbollah to work with IRGC-QF [Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps-Qods Force] to provide training and equipment to JAM Special Groups to augment their ability to inflict damage against US troops,” Treasury continued.

Three top leaders of the League of the Righteous are also on the US’ list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists.

Abu Dura, whose real name is Ismail Hafiz al Lami, is known as the “Shia Zarqawi” for his propensity to torture his captives. He was listed as a global terrorist in January 2008along with Ahmad Foruzandeh, the former commander of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force, for supporting the Iraqi insurgency.

Also designated with Abu Dura and Foruzandeh was Mustafa al Sheibani, who led the so-called Sheibani Network, which is part of the League of the Righteous.

Both Abu Dura and Sheibani are believed to have returned to Iraq in the summer of 2010. [See LWJ reports, Iran sends another dangerous Shia terror commander back to Iraq and ‘Shiite Zarqawi’ returns to Baghdad from Iran: report.]

Akram Abbas al Kabi, the current military commander of the League of the Righteous who served as the group’s leader while Qazali was in US custody, was added to the list of global terrorists in September 2008. Also designated with Kabi was Abdul Reza Shahlai, a deputy commander in Iran’s Qods Force who was involved in the planning and execution of the attack on the Karbala Joint Provincial Coordination Center. [ See LWJ report, US sanctions Iranian general for aiding Iraqi terror groups.]

Kabi directed attacks against US and Iraqi forces during the so-called Mahdi cease-fire imposed by Sadr in the spring of 2008. He provided weapons “for large-scale military operations against Coalition Forces” in early 2008. Kabi likely aided the Mahdi Army and other Shia terror groups in attacking US and Iraqi troops as they built the security barrier around a large segment of Sadr City. More than 1,000 Mahdi Army fighters were killed during the fighting in Baghdad from April until the Mahdi Army quit the fight in June of that year.

The Iraqi government, which targeted the Special Groups, including the League of the Righteous, in military operations from 2007 to 2009, began to soften its stance on the Iranian-backed groups as the US government and military began disengaging from Iraq. Then as the Syrian civil war heated up and the Islamic State of Iraq began regaining its strength, the government began to rely on the Shia militias to provide security in Shia areas. And as the Iraqi military melted away in the Islamic State’s June offensive in Ninewa, Salahaddin, and Diyala provinces, the Shia militias, including League of the Righteous, were critical in propping up Iraq’s security forces.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Michael says:

    The shiite group is the lesser of two evils here. We’re basically on the same side as Assad, the shiite groups, and the Iranian Quds Force in our fight against the islamic state. Once the islamic state has been destroyed, we can address these other problems.

  • Gerry301 says:

    Is this the same group who claim “we defeated the Americans and now we will defeat ISIS” ?

  • Hello,
    About a subdivision of AAH in Iraq, Imam al-Ali Brigade (southern Iraq) :
    Coming soon in french (i’m translating as soon as possible…).
    Best wishes.

  • pre-Boomer Marine brat says:

    It makes one wonder exactly how different Valerie Jarrett’s conception of the Iranian theocracy and its dream of empire is from ours, here.
    Odds are, any decision having to do with Iran must be approved by her.

  • noname says:

    I would know nothing about the attack at Karbala, about the kidnapping and execution of U.S. soldiers, about the capture and release of Moos Daqduq Goose, about the release of Peter Moore and the price he extracted for it, about the league of the so-called righteous, and so on, if I hadn’t been a reader of the Long War Journal for all these years. The Long War Journal’s value is beyond measure for those are disposed to heed the warnings within it.
    The world has gone ragged and it’s getting worse. I am indebted to those who have the courage to face it. They are not forgotten. Not by everyone. I believe they stand above the rest and that in the end it’s the rest of us who will be the forgotten ones.
    In the meantime, I hope the league OTR gets what’s coming to it

  • Excuse-me, i mean “Coming soon in english” (!), not in french, these is already the case with the first text of course… sorry.

  • George says:

    So basically Iranian-backed militias and ISIS soldiers kill each other on the ground Iraq, while US forces cherry pick our own strategic targets from the air? Sounds like a nuanced and realistic approach that belies knowledge of the battle zone and its sociopolitical history- one with low risk and a nice upside. If necessary this operation can be quickly expanded. Keeps the enemies all on their toes, and has us playing foes off one another. We win the battles in which we fight, and the optics in each fight frame Uncle Sam well: defending civilians from acts of genocide against a bunch of faceless murderers.
    Seems like a way to defeat an ideology AND steadily bleed out the enemy on the ground. It requires subtlety and patience, which we gringos don’t do well. But if we can sustain it, this plan can pay steady dividends and is flexible enough to adapt to an asymmetric opponent.
    I like it. Let these assassins wonder where WE are going to hit THEM next for once. Force them to try and hold territory and maintain local support. Their welcome is already wearing out among new neighbors, a trend that may accelerate.

  • Mac says:

    Thank you Bill for the facts!

  • Bill S. says:

    George has hit the nail on the head. If you look at intensity, or rather lack of intensity, of the air strikes over the last law, it becomes clear that this is a very nuanced campaign. It appears to be a campaign that is taking care not to inadvertently strengthen our enemies who are mainly by force of circumstance our “allies” at the moment. In many ways it resembles the campaigns in Yemen and Somalia. Many accusations are flying that Mr. Obama is lost when it comes to foreign policy. If a nuanced campaign is, in fact, being run in Iraq, then Mr. Obama deserves more credit than he is getting.

  • Peter B says:

    Though Mark Pyruz is of course correct, in between his maternal uncles’ participation in the war that reduced Japan and Germany to piles of rubble and Japan’s and (first West) Germany’s emergence as crucial US allies was — the reduction of Japan and Germany to heaps of rubble, their utter military defeat, and the remaking of their governments by the victors. We seem to have become so nuanced and subtle that we tend to leave this step out of our thinking.

  • Neil says:

    As always – Great Job Bill! Thanks for the depth. I’m interested to understand how Asaib al Haq is financed.
    Is this all financed by Iran, are these guys paid by the Gov of Iraq, are they extorting money from the people they are “protecting”? What’s up?
    Does anyone happen to know?

  • SomeGuy says:

    George, I respectfully disagree with this statement “optics in each fight frame Uncle Sam well: defending civilians from acts of genocide against a bunch of faceless murderers”
    These LOTR folks are just a bad as ISIS. Just ask the former Sunni population of Sadr City, I’ll give you the 10-digit grid…bring a shovel. The optics in Iraq are quite different from those of our domestic media. The Iraqi government decision to allow these proxy forces to conduct operations should not be rewarded with air cover. Their leadership, much like the Quds force as a whole is still fundamentally “at war” with the US and US interests.
    This type of sectarian based government favoritism and endorsement is exactly what allowed ISIS to do what they did. De-marginalizing the Sunni population is the only proven successful COA for defeating Sunni extremists. Allowing the LOTR to “go campaigning” is only going to strengthen ISIS support.
    I believe we can play both sides as you suggest, and still look good, provided we deny Iraqi requests in area’s they choose to employ sectarian militia’s like LOTR.

  • pre-Boomer Marine brat says:

    Mr. Pyruz,
    You make excellent points, but the context isn’t the same.
    Iran’s conflict with the U.S. is ongoing. IRGC members still chant “Death to America” at rallies. The Qods Force is heavily-involved in Venezuela. Et cetera.

  • RTO Dude says:

    The current Iraqi nation is not our friend or ally. That chicken fled the coop on failure to negotiate an SOF agreement. And a strategy of assisting them isn’t in our national best interests.

  • Rune says:

    The price of disengagement – repeating the same cycle all over again.
    I think we knew the Iraqi’s and Kurds didn’t have enough bodies to retake, hold and take some more.
    Our options are either put the boots on the grounf or wait for someone else to fill the void where they would have been.
    Unfortunately the end result might look a lot like what caused the problem in the first place.
    All of our options pretty much suck, at this point.

  • Alex says:

    4th times the charm for Tikrit?

  • Mueller says:

    When Sunnis and Shiites are engaged in a civil war of sorts, they become weaker and less of a concern to the rest of the world. There is no need for Western intervention in Iraq when Putin is sending Russian troops into Ukraine. Priorities !
    Let Saudis and Iranians bother each other, and let Israel handle Iran on itself. We got no need to get involved in this mess.


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