Ironies of Empire: US now Allied with Shiites Trained by Assassinated HIzbullah Leader

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

The revelation by the Washington Post’s Adam Goldman and Ellen Nakashima that the car-bomb assassination of Hizbullah commando Imad Mughniyah in Damascus in 2008 was a joint CIA/ Israeli Mossad operation comes at an awkward time for Washington.

The administration of George W. Bush did not target Mughniyah because of his alleged involvement of past actions against the US, such as the Beirut embassy bombing and the carbombing of the Maine barracks there in 1983. Rather, Bush was angry about the killing of 5 US soldiers in Iraq’s Karbala in 2007 by a Shiite group trained by Hizbullah, training he suspected Mughniyah was directing from Damascus.

That 2007 operation in Karbala that killed the 5 US troops was carried out by the League of the Righteous (LOTR), a guerrilla group that had hived off in 2006 from cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite Mahdi Army militia. The US gained intelligence that the League of the Righteous was being trained in making roadside bombs and guerrilla tactics by Lebanon’s Hizbullah, at the direction of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. In the period 2006-2011, the League of the Righteous claimed to have carried out 6,000 attacks on US forces in Iraq. This seems to me exaggerated; they were probably only 3,000 or so strong. In any case my recollection is that in Al-Anbar Province in 2006 alone, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia and other Sunni groups launched 10,000 attacks a month, so these LOTR Shiite activities (only about 100 attacks a month, including sniping, throughout the country) were minor in comparison.

After the US departure from Iraq in 2011, the League of the Righteous developed a civil political wing and ran for parliament. It supports, more strongly than does Sadr’s group, the Iranian form of theocracy or rule by a leading cleric.

So here’s the kicker. The League of the Righteous is now one of the more effective fighting forces on the Shiite side in Iraq, backing up the lackluster Iraq National Army (also now mostly Shiite) against Daesh/ ISIL or ISIS. The campaign to save the Shiite Turkmen of Amerli from Daesh was spearheaded by LOTR last fall. The effort received close air support from… the United States Air Force. LOTR and other militias took Jurf al-Sakhr in October– a Sunni town formerly under the thumb of Daesh. Likewise, the US is allegedly providing weaponry, or having weaponry provided to, the Shiite militias– even heavy weaponry like a tank (see today’s entry from Niqash below).

These developments signal that the Israeli and US struggle with Hizbullah is not white hats versus black hats where all the lines are clearly drawn. Mughniyah, deemed in 2008 a danger to US troops in Iraq, helped train the very forces with which the United States is now de facto allied against the phony ‘caliphate’ of Daesh’s Ibrahim Samarrai in northern and Western Iraq. And to the extent that LOTR, the Mahdi Army and the Badr Corps, all Shiite militias, were attacking al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia (which morphed into the Islamic State of Iraq and then Daesh over time), there was a sense in which the US had an alliance of convenience with them even in 2008. That the League of the Righteous pointed their guns both at their arch-enemy (the Islamic State of Iraq) and at their sometime ally (the US) just shows how complicated and contradictory that world of violence, guerrilla operations, ethnic cleansing, and illegal military occupation was.

Washington in the past 15 years, with its violation of the UN Charter and numerous treaty obligations and its casual assassinations and torture (all contravening US statutes), helped unleash a vast wave of violence on Iraq– displacing millions to this day, and setting the stage for massive campaigns of ethnic cleansing and the rise of Daesh religious extremism (there was no al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda offshoots in Iraq before Bush invaded).

In that world, it is frankly not easy to see the Bush administration, with its illegal war of aggression on and military occupation of oil-rich Iraq, as the good guy. Mughniyyah inflicted a lot of damage on US interests; but those interests in Iraq, at least, were so murky and dark that he may have sometimes had international law (which allows for resistance to foreign military occupation) on his side at a time that Washington decidedly did not. And now, the force he trained at the cost of his life is an ally of convenience with the very agency that rubbed him out (and personnel of which he had earlier rubbed out).

There must be a more lawful and ethical way for the US to proceed in the world than this.

Related video:

“In Iraq’s War Against Extremists, a Quiet Sectarian Purge ”

9 Responses

  1. “Washington in the past 15 years, with its violation of the UN Charter and numerous treaty obligations and its casual assassinations and torture (all contravening US statutes), helped unleash a vast wave of violence on Iraq– displacing millions to this day, and setting the stage for massive campaigns of ethnic cleansing and the rise of Daesh religious extremism (there was no al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda offshoots in Iraq before Bush invaded).”

    Sad but true. And at home, which the empire’s cheerleaders now call “the homeland” to distinguish it from its overseas interests, during this time we have seen the growth of a security-spy agency state unlike any in human history, with serious implications for our society.

    PS: if we must use The State’s euphemisms for murder, killing, and assassination–terms like ‘rub out” and “take out,” I prefer to see quotation marks. To me it seems that such terms are intended to diminish the gravity of what is done, the dignity and even the humanity of the people killed. They are terms used by criminals, albeit organized criminals.

  2. “There must be a more lawful and ethical way for the US to proceed in the world than this”. There is, and you mentioned it earlier in your article, the proper use of the UNSC to resolve disputes, of course when one member of the veto wielding five decides to act unilaterally, in theory breaking International law, any resolution put forward by the other four accusing the offender is immediately vetoed and consigned to the memory hole. You see, that system carefully put together by the victors after WW2, puts all 5 veto wielding members above the law for all time. Cute ain’t it?

    • Why are you replying to an ‘andrewfeinstein’ that’s not in this comments section? am I seeing things?

      To reply to the topic, I’m not sure why is professor cole so offended at the CIA doing their job. Enemies sometimes have other enemies in common, that doesn’t change anything.

  3. I’m reminded of advice by a golf coach many years ago. He said that there is a perfect swing. If you deviate from it you have two choices. Either get back to the perfect swing or make some adjustment to offset the problem caused by the deviation. The problem with the latter, as he explained, you will probably need to make another adjustment that will need another adjustment and before you know you’ll be tied up in knots. Kind of like US foreign policy. The fix du jour is an adjustment.

  4. You’d think the Iraqi government would have learned from Libya. Western governments like the US and France routinely arm non-governmental militias. And just as routinely, at some future time those militias will turn on each other and the government. Of course, US and French officials should be brought to trial for arming these groups – that goes without saying. But it’s no excuse for the Iraqi government to allow this arming to occur in the first place. What a mess the US and France created in Libya, and what a mess the US invasion and occupation of Iraq has created.

  5. Why is this surprising?

    (1) The Reagan administration had arms shipped to Iran in 1985 so that hostages held by Shi’ite extremists in Lebanon could be released;

    (2) the U.S. Department of Defense wished to ally themselves previously with various Iraqi Shi’ite private militias – even though the Shi’ite-controlled Al-Maliki government did not trust these militias;

    (3) after the Israeli Defense Forces sustained a rare defeat by Hezbollah militiamen at Bint Jubayl, Lebanon in the Second Lebanon War, Central Intelligence Agency director Leon Panetta came to Dearborn, MI in 2009 to the Bint Jubayl Club to address 150 invitation-only invitees to give his “We need you” speech;

    (4) the U.S. has a de facto ally in Syria in Hezbollah to the extent they (and the Baathists) are fighting ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra – both of whom are designated by the U.S. State Department as terror organizations;

    (5) Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah had denounced the 9/11 attacks, joined the electoral political processes in Lebanon, and has generally shied away (with limited exceptions) in targeting Western interests with terror attacks.

    The bottom line is that these Shi’ite militias are perceived by the U.S. to be an effective fighting force against ISIS. If the can roll back ISIS with U.S. Air Force assistance and Pentagon-supplied armaments, then U.S. interests are perceived to be advanced by the Powers That Be at Foggy Bottom.

  6. I think US security or intelligence circles, whether right or left, still hold to past beliefs and consider Shiites as radicals and not allies, like Sunni govt counterparts. The alliance based on aligned interests in Iraq or global terrorism due to the situation of the extremists is temporary. There’s still conflict of interests such as on Syria.

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