Interrogations by US-led forces in Iraq of a top Shiite military and religious figure a decade ago are bringing to light the scale of Iran’s involvement in Iraqi Shiite militias’ attacks on US troops in the years following the American invasion.
Qais al-Khazali, who now heads the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia that won 15 parliamentary seats in the country’s May elections, detailed the scale of Iranian involvement in the country in the 2007 interrogation, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing recently declassified documents.
Khazali was under arrest at the time on suspicion of organizing an attempted kidnapping of US soldiers in the Iraqi city of Karala that left five Americans dead.
Khazali’s testimony from that period, declassified earlier this year by the US military’s Central Command, is especially damning.
Though he is now a critic of Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs, a decade ago his statements to US interrogators depicted Iranian assistance as key to the ability at the time of Iraqi Shiite militias to carry out their ongoing campaigns of bombings and other attacks against US troops. The report also comes amid rising tensions between Tehran and the Trump administration after the latter’s withdrawal in May from the nuclear deal.
Khazali and his group are also now being considered by the US for designation as terrorist entities.
In one interrogation report cited by the Journal, from June 18, 2007, Khazali said his militia was among those that received training from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah in military bases near Tehran.
“There are Iranians and Lebanese Hezbollah conducting the training at these bases,” the report was quoted as saying, citing Khazali’s comments in the interrogation.
“The Iranians are experts in full scale warfare while the Lebanese are experts in urban or guerrilla warfare,” it added.
Some of the ordinance key to the campaign against US troops, including explosively formed penetrators that killed and injured hundreds of Americans, were delivered by Iran, he claimed.
As the report says, “Detainee said that anyone can receive EFP training and Iran does not care who gets it. This is because of the availability and low cost of EFPs.”
Even the attack at Karbala that led to his capture was planned by Iran, he said.
He also detailed how he traveled personally to Iran to raise funds and support for his militia, and met with Iranian officials including top IRGC general Qassem Suleimani.
The US-led coalition released Khazali to Iraqi officials in 2009 after he promised to lay down his arms. US forces left Iraq in 2011.
Khazali’s group angrily denied the claims in the interrogation reports, with Qassim al-Darraji, a member of its political bureau, telling the Journal, “It seems that the US is leading a campaign against Asaib Ahl al-Haq and its leader Sheikh Qais al-Khazali because he strongly rejected foreign interference in Iraqi affairs.”