An Iranian-supported Shiite militia that operates under the the Iraqi government-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Committee said that Saudi Arabia is “a legitimate and permissible target” and would it “strike and destroy” the country after the kingdom issued a death sentence for a cleric that has called for partition. The militia, Sayyid al Shuhada, is led by a Specially Designated Global Terrorist who is directly tied to Iran’s Qods Force.
Sayyid al Shuhada threatened the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on Oct. 26, the same day that the Saudi Supreme Court upheld a death sentence for Sheikh Nimr al Nimr, a prominent Shiite cleric. Nimr was sentenced to death “for involvement in anti-government protests that erupted in the Eastern Province in the wake of the Arab uprisings,” in 2011 and 2012, Al Jazeera English reported. Nimr has supported the secession of Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern province, a majority of which is Shiite.
The militia threatened the Saudi government in a statement that was released on its official website. A translation of the statement was obtained by The Long War Journal.
“Saudi Arabia insists, as all tyrants have throughout history, on committing sins and grave errors, which have transgressed beyond the realm of obedience and fear of Allah,” the statement read. “Indeed, they enter into the realm of great historical mistakes, as exemplified by the decision to uphold the ruling to execute the munificent Sheikh al Nimr by one of the Saudi courts.”
Sayyid al Shuhada said it would “strike and destroy” Saudi interested not just in Iraq, but inside the kingdom as well. The militia also directly accused the Saudi government of backing the Islamic State and said it was battling the Saudis in the Iraqi cities of Baiji and Ramadi.
“We in the Sayyid al Shuhada Battalion consider Saudi interests a legitimate and permissible target on all levels, and we will strike and destroy them whenever it pleases us,” it continued. “The rulers of petroleum will learn that the followers of Ahl al Bayt [family of Mohammad] will not be content with defeating [the Saudi government] in Baiji, Ramadi, and other Iraqi areas, but will take the battle to the spider’s own nest.”
Sayyid al Shuhada’s statement was also issued the same day that the Iranian government issued a veiled threat against the Saudi government if it executed Nimr.
“The execution of Sheikh Nimr would have dire consequences for Saudi Arabia,” Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said on Oct. 26, Al Jazeera English reported.
Militia leader a dangerous terrorist
Sayyid al Shuhada is closely linked to Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) – Qods Force, the Iranian government’s special operations branch that foments and supports Islamic revolutions in the Middle East. The militia is led by Abu Mustafa al Sheibani, who was listed by the US government as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in January 2008 for attacking US and British forces, as well as Iraqi political and military leaders. Sheibani was directly linked to the assassination of an Iraqi Interior Ministry colonel, and the attempted killings of Najaf’s police chief and deputy governor.
According to the US designation, Sheibani led “a network of Shia extremists that commit and provide logistical and material support for acts of violence that threaten the peace and stability of Iraq and the Government of Iraq.”
“The network’s first objective is to fight U.S. forces, attacking convoys and killing soldiers. Its second objective is to eliminate Iraqi politicians opposed to Iran’s influence. Elements of the IRGC were also sending funds and weapons to Al-Sheibani’s network,” the Treasury department designation stated. The designation detailed how the Sheibani Network conducted a variety of attacks against US forces in Baghdad to raise money from Iran.
In addition to leading his own network of fighters, Sheibani commanded “several pro-Iranian insurgent groups in southern Iraq that work to destabilize Iraq and sabotage Coalition efforts.”
“Ordered by IRGC headquarters to create disorder, the task of these groups is to attack bases of Coalition Forces in southern Iraq, particularly British forces.”
Despite Sheibani’s history of targeting Iraqi officials links to Iran, he and his militia have been welcomed to fight in the ranks of the Popular Mobilization Committee, the grouping of armed militias, many backed by Iran, that fight against the Islamic State. The Popular Mobilization Committee is led by Abu Mahdi al Muhandis, a former commander in the Badr Organization who was listed by the US government as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in July 2009 and was described as “an advisor to” Qods Force commander Qassem Soleimani. The Committee, which has been praised Brett McGurk, the Obama administration’s Deputy Special Presidential Envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (the outdated acronym for the Islamic State), has numerous militias like Sayyid al Shuhada that operate under its command.
Sayyid al Shuhada’s threat against the Saudi government highlights the power that the Iranian supported militias wield inside Iraq. The militia was never reprimanded by the Iraqi government for threatening a neighboring country. And Sayyid al Shuhada isn’t the first militia to threaten a foreign government without consequence.
In June, Akram Abbas al Kabi, the “secretary general” of the Harakat Nujaba, said that “All resistance movements will seek revenge” against the United States “in a timely manner” for an airstrike that purportedly killed 10 members of his militia who were fighting near Fallujah. Kabi is also a Specially Designated Global Terrorist who has close ties with Iran and who is responsible for killing American soldiers in Iraq.
And in early May, radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr threatened to attack US personnel inside Iraq and beyond if the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would have recognized Kurdistan and the Sunnis in western Iraq as their own independent countries. Sadr leads two militias in Iraq, the Saraya al Salam, or Peace Companies (often called the Peace Brigades), and the Liwa al Yaom al Mawood, or Promised Day Brigade.
Kabi and Sadr’s militias also operate under the aegis of the Popular Mobilization Committee.