Weekly Iraq Update #47
Freed Daqduq travels to Beirut
On November 16, Ali Mussa Daqduq was freed from Iraqi custody after days of speculation surrounding rumors of his impending release. According to his lawyer, Daqduq quickly left Baghdad for Beirut, the headquarters of Lebanese Hezbollah. Victoria Nuland, the spokesperson for the United States, strongly denounced Daqduq’s release and promised that the U.S. would “pursue all legal means to see that Daqduq sees justice for the crimes of which he is accused.” On November 19, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned Daqduq for “acting on behalf of Hizballah” and for his role in planning the January 20, 2007 Karbala attack that killed five American soldiers. The sanctions designate Daqduq as a foreign terrorist pursuant to Executive Order 13224. EO 13224 authorizes the U.S. Government to freeze the financial assets of foreign terrorists and terrorist organizations and prohibits U.S. citizens from doing business with them.
From 2005 to 2007, Daqduq played crucial role in the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force’s (IRGC-QF) external operations network in Iraq. In May 2006, Daqduq travelled to Tehran to meet with Abdul Reza Shahlai (also known as Hajji Youssef), the head of the Qods Force’s Department of External Special Operations, where he received authorization from the IRGC-QF to oversee the training of Iranian-backed Shi’a militant groups in Iraq. According a September 2008 US Department of the Treasury designation, Abdul Reza Shahlai played a direct role in planning the 2007 Karbala attack with Daqduq. Prior to his arrest, Daqduq acted as the liaison between IRGC-QF officials and Qais al-Khazali’s Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, the group responsible for carrying out the Karbala attack. Abdul Reza Shahlai remains committed to attacking U.S. interests abroad and within the United States, as demonstrated by last year’s foiled plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S in Washington D.C.
The release of Ali Mussa Daqduq has returned to the fold one of Iran’s most experienced and well-connected operators. Now that American forces have left Iraq, it is likely that Daqduq will be employed in Iran’s efforts to support the Assad regime in Syria or tasked with forming new proxy groups in the case of Assad’s fall.
For more information, please see ISW’s Timeline: Ali Mussa Daqduq and From the Middle East to the U.S. Homeland: The Iranian Qods Force’s Growing Ambitions
Tigris tensions spark violence
Clashes broke out on November 16between Iraqi federal police, under the command of the Tigris Operations Command, and Kurdish security forces in Tuz Khurmatu, resulting in two deaths. While initial reports conflicted, the confrontation appears to have started after Iraqi federal police stormed the house of Goran Najam, a Patriotic Union of Kurdistan official accused of murder and kidnapping. As Iraqi security forces attempted to enter the house, Najam’s security team opened fire and threw a hand grenade, killing at least one member of the Iraqi Security Forces. While Najam’s security detail may have been drawn from the Kurdish Peshmerga security forces, the Ministry of the Peshmerga denied reports of their involvement in the clashes, stating it was a personal matter and not political.
The incident prompted Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani to put Peshmerga forces on high alert and Jalal Talabani, Iraq’s President and leader of the PUK, to send Kurdish reinforcements to Tuz Khurmatu. In response, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki warned Kurdish forces against deploying to positions near federal government forces. It has been reported that additional Iraqi army tanks and armored vehicles have been deployed near the city of Kirkuk. On November 20, Talabani claimed that forces from the Tigris Operations Command had closed the road from Kirkuk to Baghdad somewhere between al-Khalis and Tuz Khurmatu. In a worrying sign of spreading tensions, moreover, Kurdish commander Mahmoud Sangawi said on November 21 that he had sent forces from Kifri to the disputed area of Khanaqin in Diyala province, the scene of a 2008 confrontation between ISF and Peshmerga forces.
Members of Maliki’s State of Law coalition and others who have thrown their support behind Maliki in recent months have blamed the Kurds for the crisis and voicedsupport for the establishment of the Tigris Operations Command. The Sadrists and Kurdish politicians, on the other hand, have accused Maliki of exacerbating tensions in order to divert attention from controversial issues such as the Russian arms deal and the aborted attempt to cancel the ration card. Parliamentary Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi announced on November 21 an initiative involving high-level meetings with political leaders in Baghdad and Erbil intended to reach “radical solutions” to the crisis. Al-Nujaifi rose to political prominence in part through his opposition to the Kurdish presence in the disputed territories. He is also one of Maliki’s most vocal opponents. The initiative likely demonstrates Nujaifi’s desire to establish himself further as a national figurehead in the run-up to the 2013 and 2014 elections.