U.S. State Department officials speak at same conference as dangerous Iran-backed Iraqi terrorist

Qais al Khazali (center), the leader of the Asaib Ahl al Haq, and Akram al Kaabi (center-right), the commander of Harakat al Nujaba.

Senior U.S. State Department officials spoke at the same conference as Qais al Khazali, a known Shia terrorist who is responsible for arming, training and forming the deadly Iranian-backed militias that are known to have killed hundreds of U.S. troops in Iraq. Khazali is listed by the U.S. State Department as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, and his group, Asiab Ahl al Haq or the League of the Righteous, is listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

Instead of boycotting the event, Alina Romanowski, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, and Barbara Leaf, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, attended and spoke at the Iraq Forum, which Khazali participated as a “keynote speaker,” according to Iraqi Qahwa. Romanowski and Leaf were photographed smiling with three other women as the the logo of the Iraq Forum is in the background.

Khazali: an Iranian proxy

Khazali has a long history of supporting and directing the Iranian-backed Shia militias. Before Khazali and his brother, Laith, along with a senior Hezbollah military commander known as Musa Ali Daqduq, were captured by British forces in March 2007 and transferred into U.S. custody, they played a significant role in forming what U.S. military commanders called the Mahdi Army Special Groups.

Daqduq, who had served as the commander of Hezbollah’s special forces, was tasked by Quds Force to organize, train, and advise the Mahdi Army Special Groups. These Special Groups were established as an analogue to Lebanese Hezbollah, Iran’s premier proxy in the Middle East. Daqduq worked closely with the Khazali brothers.

These groups received training, funds, weapons, intelligence and other key aid from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force (IRGC-QF or Qods Force). During his detention, Khazali admitted to playing a key role in the Special Group’s formation and subsequent attacks on U.S., Coalition, and Iraqi forces. [See LWJ report, Iraqi militant Qayis Khazali warned us about Iran. We ignored him.]

The League of the Righteous is responsible for thousands of attacks on U.S. forces. However, its assault on the Karbala Provincial Joint Communications Center in 2006 was particularly brazen and significant. The operation was plotted with the help of Qods Force. The League of the Righteous fighters who carried out the attack trained in an Iranian mock up facility. The plan was to bring captive American soldiers to Iran. Khazali issued the order to kidnap the American soldiers, but when the operation hit a roadblock, five American soldiers were executed in cold blood.

Despite their involvement in the deadly Shia insurgency in Iraq and their complicity in kiling hundreds of American troops, the U.S. military freed Khazali and his brother, Laith over the course of 2009. More than 100 League of the Righteous commanders and fighters were also freed. Daqduq was handed over to the Iraqi government in 2011, and freed shortly afterward. State listed Daqduq as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in late 2012.

The U.S. military released the Khazalis and their men because it believed then that they the League of the Righteous would lay down their arms and join the political process. They did no such thing. Upon his return, Qais retook control of the League of the Righteous, and serves as its Secretary General to this day. The League of the Righteous remains one of the premier Iranian-backed militias in Iraq and has expanded its activities into Syria under the banner of Harakat al Nujaba.

Designation of Khazali and the League of the Righteous

In March 2020, the U.S. State Department added the League of the Righteous to its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Additionally, the Khazali brothers were added to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists. [See LWJ report, State designates Iran-backed League of the Righteous as Foreign Terrorist Organization.]

The League of the Righteous “and its leaders are violent proxies of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in the press release that announced the designations. “Acting on behalf of their masters in Tehran, they use violence and terror to further the Iranian regime’s efforts to undermine Iraqi sovereignty.”

State’s designation acknowledged the League of the Righteous “is extensively funded and trained by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Qods Force.”

According to State, the League of the Righteous “has claimed responsibility for more than 6,000 attacks against U.S. and Coalitions forces since its creation in 2006. AAH has carried out highly sophisticated operations, including mortar attacks on an American base, the downing of a British helicopter, and an attack on the Karbala Provincial Headquarters that resulted in the capture and murder of five American soldiers.”

Khazali’s designation as well as his position as the leader of a Foreign Terrorist Organization should have at the minimum precluded the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs from attending and speaking at the Iraq Forum.

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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