US military and intelligence officials believe an influential and dangerous Iranian-supported militia is responsible for kidnapping three American contractors in Iraq’s capital several days ago. The militia, known as the “League of the Righteous,” has denied any involvement in the kidnapping, but has a history of abducting foreigners in Iraq.
US military and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal that the League of the Righteous is the prime suspect in the kidnapping of the three Americans, who disappeared last week while visiting an apartment in the Dora neighborhood in Baghdad.
“We strongly suspect that AAH [Asaib al Haq, or the League of the Righteous] abducted them,” one official said. “Our information leads me to believe that they [the Americans] are being held by this militia.”
Other US officials contacted by The Long War Journal agreed with the assessment. The US officials were not authorized to publicly comment on the matter, thus were granted anonymity by The Long War Journal.
The US officials would not discuss the nature of the information that leads them to suspect the League of the Righteous. However, according to press reports, the neighborhood where the Americans were seized is patrolled by the League of the Righteous. The Americans are thought to be held in Sadr City, a strong hold of the militia.
The League of the Righteous was almost immediately identified as one of three likely candidates to have kidnapped the American citizens, who are believed to work for General Dynamics. Reuters reported on Jan. 21 that in addition to the League of the Righteous, the Hezbollah Brigades and the Badr Organization – two other militias supported by Iran – were also suspected in the kidnappings.
Iraqi news outlets accused the League of the Righteous of abducting the Americans within a day of the kidnappings. Iraqi security officials told Al Hadath, Al Arabiya’s television station, that the group was responsible.
The League of the Righteous quickly issued a denial.
“The League of the Righteous Islamic Resistance has nothing to do with the kidnapping of Americans in Baghdad,” Jawad al Tlabawi, a military spokesman for the group said in a statement that was published on the Popular Mobilization Force’s website.
The Popular Mobilization Force, or Hashid Shaabi, is the command assigned by the Iraqi government with organizing militias to fight the Islamic State. The most powerful militias in the PMF are backed by Iran, and the group’s operational commander is known to be closely tied to Iran’s Qods Force.
A decade of kidnapping
The League of the Righteous has kidnapped and held Westerners as hostages in the past. Some have been killed while in custody. In 2006, the group kidnapped and murdered US Army Staff Sergeant Ahmed Kousay Altaie. A group called the Ahel al Beit Brigades claimed it kidnapped Altaie. But a US intelligence official who specialized in Iraqi Shia terror groups told The Long War Journal in 2010 that the Ahel al Beit Brigades is part of the League of the Righteous.
The League of the Righteous was directly implicated by General David Petraeus as being behind 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 after US and Iraqi security forces closed in on the assault team.
In May 2007, a group that calls itself the “Islamic Shia Resistance,” which is in fact a front for the League of the Righteous, kidnapped five British citizens from the Finance Ministry in Baghdad. Four of them were executed while in custody, and a fifth, Peter Moore, was exchanged in December 2009 for Qaiz al Qazali, the emir of the League of the Righteous, and other members of the militia who were in US custody.
Threats against US citizens in Iraq
Senior leaders of the League of the Righteous have threatened the US in the past. Qais al Qazali, the group’s emir, threatened the US after the release of the amateur film called “Innocence of Muslims.”
“The offense against the Messenger [Prophet Mohammed] will put all the American interests Iraq in danger. We will not forgive that,” Qazali said in September 2012.
Akram Abbas al Kabi, a senior leader who is also the secretary general of another Iranian-backed Shiite militia, the Harakat Nujaba, called for “vengeance” against the US in June 2015 after an explosion near Abu Ghraib that purportedly killed 10 members of the League of the Righteous. Kabi, who is listed by the US as a global terrorist for activities in Iraq, blamed US aircraft for their deaths.
“All resistance movements will seek revenge [against the US] in a timely manner,” Kabi stated.