On December 1, 2009 it was announced that the Iranian-backed, breakaway Sadrist group, the League of the Righteous, had ended its talks with Baghdad and would not run in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The cited reason was that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to release the League’s leader Qais Khazali who is being held by the Americans at Camp Cropper outside of Baghdad. At the beginning of August 2009 Maliki met with members of the League and said that they had renounced violence, and that they wanted to run in the 2010 balloting. The two sides also agreed to release League members held by the U.S. as long as they hadn’t killed Iraqis. By the end of September over 100 had been set free.
Around the same time, the League’s spokesman, former Transport Minister Salam al-Maliki, unveiled the group’s list, the Covenant, which would run in the 2010 elections. This seemed to worry Moqtada al-Sadr, who was afraid that the new party would cut into his supporters, some of which were upset that he had decided to turn away from the Iraqi street and militancy to try to participate in the government again. It probably worried him even more when rumors spread that Maliki was thinking of having the Covenant join his State of Law list, and Sadr’s overtures to the League to get them to rejoin his movement were rejected. Those all seems over now that they are withdrawing from the voting.
The talks between the government and the League began months earlier when Baghdad was acting as a mediator between the British government that wanted the release of five of their nationals that were kidnapped by the League back in May 2007 during a raid on the Finance Ministry. In March 2009 the group said that it would exchange the British hostages in return for ten of their leaders being freed by the Americans. On June 20, the bodies of two of the Britons were released, Jason Swindlehurst and Jason Creswell who were security guards. On September 4, a third guard, Alec MacLachlan, was turned over, but he too was dead. Another guard is also believed to be deceased, but Peter Moore, an internet technician is thought to still be alive. His fate is now up in the air as the talks between the League and Baghdad have fallen apart.
Qais Khazali, a former leader in the Sadrist movement when it was led by Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq al-Sadr, Moqtada’s father, formed the League of the Righteous in 2006. Khazali was chosen by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Qods Force to lure members of the Mahdi Army away from Sadr, and bring them closer under Tehran’s wing. The League quickly made a name for itself when it attacked the Karbala Joint Coordination Center in January 2007, killing five U.S. soldiers. That led to the March arrest of Qais, and his brother Laith, as well as a Lebanese Hezbollah commander Ali Musa Daqduq that was coordinating Iran’s financing and training of the League and other Special Groups. The group retaliated with its raid on the Finance Ministry in Baghdad in May 2007, which resulted in the five Britons being kidnapped. Some think they were pawns to be traded for the release of the Khazali brothers. That took far longer than they thought, as Laith was only just released in June 2009 as part of the deal worked out with the Prime Minister, two years and one month after the Baghdad attack. Qais is still in custody, which is why the talks with the government broke down. This leaves the group in limbo, as it does not have its leader, has renounced both violence and participation in the upcoming elections, and is probably not receiving much attention from Iran either as it is more focused upon the major Shiite parties that it wants to win the vote. It’s not even clear what constituency the League has, so this could be a sign of its demise.
Agence France Presse, “2nd UPDATE: Iraqi PM Met Group Behind Kidnap Of Britons,” 8/3/09
- “Iraqi kidnappers abandon govt talks,” 12/1/09
- “Over 100 from Iraqi group who killed Britons freed,” 9/27/09
August, Oliver, “End the torment, says Brown as death of British hostage is confirmed,” Times of London, 9/4/09
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Cochrane, Marisa, “Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the Khazali Special Groups network,” Institute for the Study of War,” 1/13/09
Felter, Joseph and Fishman, Brian, “Iranian Strategy in Iraq, Politics and ‘Other Means,’” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, 10/13/08
Mohammed, Abeer, “Maliki’s Chess Game,” Institute of War & Peace Reporting, 9/10/09
Roads To Iraq, “Iraqi pre-election political map – The Shiites scene,” 9/21/09
Rubin, Alissa, and Gordon, Michael, “U.S. Frees Suspect in Killing of 5 G.I.’s,” New York Times, 6/9/09