Iran increases hold in Iraq as Shia militia enters politics

 

An anti-American Shia militia in Iraq backed by Iran that once killed US soldiers has agreed to give up its weapons and join the political process in a move likely to fuel US paranoia about growing Iranian influence in the country.

The group, the Asaib Ahl al-Haq, which split from the Mehdi Army militia of the nationalist Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, carried out some well-organised attacks on US troops at the height of the tit-for-tat covert conflict between Iran and the US in Iraq in 2007. They were also responsible for kidnapping the British IT consultant, Peter Moore, from the Justice Ministry in Baghdad. They later killed four of his bodyguards whom they now say tried to escape.

The group says it wishes to run in local and parliamentary elections and is willing to hand over its weapons. “They want to join the political process,” said Amer al-Khuzaie, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's adviser for reconciliation. “The government will not buy up the group's weapons, but we are ready to take them if they want us to.”

The group carried out lethal attacks on the remaining US bases in Iraq last June. Mr Sadr, who has denounced the sectarian killings carried out by Shia militiamen acting in his name, says that Asaib Ahl al-Haq still has Iraqi blood on their hands. Mr Maliki may wish to split the Shia militia movement that only grudgingly gave him the support he needed to remain prime minister in 2010.

Pledges to disarm are never worth very much in Iraq since a majority of the male population has weapons and knows how to use them. Mr Sadr was heavily supported by Iran when he fought US forces in Najaf twice in 2004 and he later sought refuge there when the US and Mr Maliki were seeking to crush his militia. But his relations with the Iranians have always been equivocal and he has sought to avoid becoming their pawn while at the same time demanding the withdrawal of all US troops.

The solidarity of Iraq's Shia population, 60 per cent of the population, will increase as al-Qa'ida in Mesopotamia continues to launch devastating bomb attacks against Shia pilgrims and other civilian targets. At least 78 people were killed on Thursday. These bombings create an atmosphere of insecurity though they do not really destabilise the government. They do succeed, however, in endangering the Sunni community, to which the bombers almost always belong, which needs to form alliances with anti-government Shia politicians.

The US has always been highly sensitive to signs of the Sadrists' influence, such as their insistence that no US troops remain after the end of last year. But the Sadrists have traditionally been Iraqi nationalists and Shia Islamists rather than creatures of Iran.

The shift of allegiance of a small Iraqi militia group like Asaib Ahl al-Haq receives attention in the US because of the growing confrontation with Iran over its nuclear programme. The White House is eager to avoid accusations from Republicans during an election year that US military withdrawal from Iraq somehow handed the country over to Iran. Sanctions against Iran's central bank and an EU embargo on Iranian oil exports are sharpening the conflict to a point where it is playing an increasing role in the US presidential election campaign this year.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones