An Iraqi 'Terrorist' Leader on The Future of 'Resistance' To U.S. Forces

Longtime U.S. enemy Qais Khazali gave a speech about the future of the U.S. presence in Iraq. Could it contain a diplomatic message?

An Iraqi 'Terrorist' Leader on The Future of 'Resistance' To U.S. Forces
Qais Khazali at a conference in Tehran, via Tasnim News Agency, CC-BY-SA 4.0

Edited by Sam Thielman

A LONGTIME SOURCE AND FRIEND returned from Baghdad recently. I asked him to read me out on what he saw and heard there. Almost all he wanted to talk about was a speech he watched Qais Khazali give last week at the Rafidain Center for Dialogue. 

If you instantly remember who Qais Khazali is, don't forget to schedule your colonoscopy or mammogram. 

For everyone else, Khazali was one of the most infamous of the 2003-2011 U.S. occupation's Iranian-sponsored enemies. He leads a Shia militia called Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) that split off of Moqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army. In January 2007, Khazali's crew killed five U.S. soldiers in a brazen plot that saw them wear U.S. uniforms and carry U.S. identification to gain access to a U.S.-operated base in Karbala. The British apprehended him not long after that, but a tacit prisoner swap in 2010 transferred Khazali from U.S. to Iraqi custody, guaranteeing his freedom soon afterward. His armed movement continued to amass power in Iraq and fought the so-called Islamic State after it conquered Mosul and other Iraqi cities—a battle that aligned AAH with the U.S., uncomfortably for both sides. 

AAH's political arm became part of the Fatah Alliance in the Iraqi parliament—basically the parliamentary wing of Iraq’s state-sponsored Hashd militias—after the 2018 elections. (That's one way you can tell Iran won the U.S.' Iraq War.) A year and a half later, on the same day that a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian Mideast chief Qassem Soleimani, the Trump administration officially designated AAH, and Khazali himself, as terrorists. It hasn't seemed to harm Khazali's political standing in Iraq. 

Shortly after Oct. 7, his coalition unhesitatingly endorsed attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq as a mechanism to punish Israel's emerging assault on Gaza. But after the "Islamic Resistance in Iraq" killed three U.S. Army reservists at an obscure base in Jordan, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps ordered the "Resistance" to take a knee. Iran's coalition in Iraq and Syria has refrained from attacks on U.S. forces since. At the same time, the earlier U.S. slaying of a Hashd commander who was part of the Iraqi security apparatus has prompted Iraqi PM Mohammed al-Sudani to launch a process that the Iraqis say will expel the U.S. presence and the U.S. says will continue it. 

Now, Khazali, by any measure an influential figure in the coming decisions over whether to return to violence against U.S. forces, has made public remarks about the current moment. My source told me I should check them out. Special thanks to Aiah Abdelghani for providing me with an independent summary of Khazali's speech. Arabic speakers can check that speech out unabridged here: 

But you'll need to be a paying subscriber to read on!