Fugitive from international justice now militia leader in Iraq

Fugitive from international justice now militia leader in Iraq
5 min read
04 January, 2015
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, wanted for his involvement in bombings and attempted assassinations in Kuwait in the 1980s, is currently vice-president of Iraq's popular mobilisation committees.
Muhandis held his first ever press conference on 1 January [al-Araby]

Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis is wanted by Kuwaiti and US authorities, as well as by Interpol. He lives 200 metres from the Kuwaiti embassy in Baghdad, slightly further away from the United States embassy at the heart of the Green Zone.

Muhandis is accused of the staging attacks on the US and French embassies in Kuwait on 12 December 1983, which killed six people and injured another 80, including citizens of western countries.

An investigation conducted jointly by the Kuwaiti and US authorities at the time reportedly uncovered evidence of Muhandis' involvement, along with 17 others from the Dawa Party, in these attacks.

Muhandis and his comrades were sentenced to death but he managed to flee Kuwait to Iran using a fake Pakistani passport. He was blacklisted in the Gulf countries, Egypt and the Arab Maghreb, in Europe and the US. He has spent the past ten years in Iran, Syria and Iraq.

Hiding out

Today, Muhandis holds a high-ranking position in Baghdad, with extensive prerogatives not even enjoyed by the three deputies of the president or the speaker of parliament.

Muhandis is the vice-president of the Popular Mobilisation militia (al-Hashd al-Shaabi) affiliated with the Iraqi Council of Ministers, a group composed of some 42 local militias and some 70,000 fighters.

In a press conference held in the Green Zone on Thursday, 1 January 2015, Muhandis' first ever press conference, he described himself as a military commander and a defector from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards corps.

Muhandis' appearance in a press conference at the heart of the Green Zone came as a surprise to many, as his name has always been linked to brutal sectarian crimes.

He purportedly appeared in several video clips appearing to execute Iraqi soldiers taken captive by the Iranian Army in 1985, during the Iran-Iraq war.

After the Gulf countries backed Iraq in its war with Tehran, Muhandis is understood to have [attacked] various targets in Kuwait.

So who is Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the most controversial militia leader in Iraq today?

And what is his role in the military operations now underway in Iraq?

According to Iraqi security reports and documents, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was born in 1954 as Jamal Jaafar Ibrahim, son to an Iraqi father and an Iranian mother in Basra. He pursued his studies at the Faculty of Engineering in 1977 and joined the Dawa Party the same year. He left Iraq for Kuwait in 1979, after former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein assumed power and banned all religious parties in the country.

Muhandis settled in Kuwait for several years. According to the reports, in Kuwait he was involved in anti-Saddam activity before he was banned from this work by the Kuwaiti government.

After the Gulf countries backed Iraq in its war on Tehran, Muhandis is understood to have retaliated by attacking various targets in Kuwait, including the US and French embassies.

Sentenced to death

The Kuwaiti judiciary convicted Muhandis and sentenced him to death. But Muhandis had already left the country. He fled to Iran by sea a few hours after the attacks. He is understood to have settled in Iran and married an Iranian woman a few years older than him, becoming an Iranian citizen - and subsequently being appointed as a military adviser to al-Quds Corps, tasked with attacking Iraqi forces deployed in Basra, his hometown.

In 1985, the Kuwaiti general prosecutor officially charged him of involvement in an assassination attempt on the late Emir Jabir al-Ahmad. Ever since that time, he has been Kuwait's most wanted fugitive, and on the US blacklist. His name even appeared on the "most wanted" list before that of Osama Bin Laden, al-Qaeda's former leader, for a time.

In 1987, Muhandis was officially appointed leader of the Badr organisation, a Shia militia group in Iran. A few years later, he was active in al-Tajjamou al-Islami, a group affiliated with al-Quds Corps. He joined Iranian forces in attacks on Iraqi towns in early 1988, attacks that left hundreds of Iraqi soldiers and civilians dead.

Return to Iraq

In March 2003, after US troops entered Iraq, Muhandis appeared under the name Jamal al-Ibrahimi and ran in the 2005 parliamentary elections. He joined the Dawa Party's electoral list, headed by former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and won a seat in Babel governorate.

A force of US marines stormed his residence in east Baghdad after his true identity was revealed, but he managed to flee again to Iran after spending several months hiding and being pursued by the US.

He only re-entered Iraq when the US forces pulled out in 2010, on short visits.

Muhandis announced Salaheddine governorate would be cleansed of the IS group within two weeks.

That Muhandis is reported to have carried out military operations against the Iraqi army after its invasion of Kuwait did not change Kuwait's attitude towards him, and all efforts over the past few years to have Kuwait annul the death sentence against him have failed.

Interpol has also refused to remove his name from the list of the most dangerous fugitives worldwide.

In his press conference on Thursday, he presented himself as the president of the Popular Mobilisation militia (al-Hashd al-Shaabi). Muhandis attacked Saudi Arabia and the US, which he described as the sponsor and supporter of the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS).

"Yesterday, we killed Saudi nationals in al-Moutasim village," he said. "These Saudis are acting as financiers, fighters, and suicide bombers for the IS. We do not know if the Saudi authorities took note of their presence and actions.

"There are few foreign fighters within the IS, the group recruits youths from regions under its control."

He also announced that Salaheddine governorate would be "cleansed" of the Islamic State group "within two weeks".

Today, Muhandis is publicising phone numbers in press releases, flyers and posters in Baghdad calling on Shia believers to volunteer.

Muhandis' return to Baghdad and his surprise appearance in the Green Zone in his capacity as vice-president of the Popular Mobilisation militia complicates relations between Kuwait and Iraq, and could make the US and the West reconsider their support for Abadi and his reform programme.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.