Since 2014, the Shiite Badr Organization, led by its Secretary General Hadi al-Amiri, has become one of the main actors in Iraqi politics. This development was largely possible due to the successes of its paramilitary units in the fight against the Islamic State (IS).
The Badr Organization, which relies strongly on support from Tehran, has thus become the most important instrument of Iranian politics in its neighbouring country. Tehran’s aim is to exert as much influence as possible on the central government in Baghdad and, at the same time, build a strong militia that depends on it.
Since The Badr Organization established control over the province of Diyala and the Interior Ministry of Baghdad, the organization has grown appreciably and is now playing a role similar to that of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The Badr Organization is also part of a growing “Shiite International” which supports the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and aggravates religious conflicts between Sunnites and Shiites through its violent acts. The combination of these factors makes the organization an increasingly important obstacle to the future stabilization of Iraq.
The Badr Organization’s role in Iraq
The Badr Organization’s militia is playing an important role in fighting around the Iraqi city of Mosul. As the dominant part of the People’s Mobilization Forces (PMF), it has taken on the task of cutting the lines connecting Islamic State (IS) in Iraq with its bases in Syria. Originally, it had wanted to participate in the attack on Mosul, but the US government made its military support to Iraq dependent on Shiite militias being banned from the city.
Although Baghdad has followed this wish, it is not yet guaranteed that PMF units will remain under their control now that Mosul has been liberated. Until July 2017, however, they limited themselves to operating west of Mosul and fighting IS in the city of Tal Afar.
From The Badr Corps to The Badr Organization
The Badr Organization is the oldest Shiite militia in Iraq and has maintained the closest ties to Iran. The unit was founded as the Badr Corps in 1983/84, the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). It was an organization made up of Iraqi exiles who fled to Iran when the regime of Saddam Hussein intensified its persecution of Shiites in 1979.
The leader of the Corps was the cleric Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim (1939–2003) whose family still dominates the Supreme Council today. From the very start, the Badr Corps was a subunit of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Enqelab-e Eslami or Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution), Iran’s political army. This army, which exists in parallel with conventional forces, is responsible for protecting and spreading the Islamic Revolution.
The Iraqis are assigned to the Quds (= Jerusalem) Brigades of the Revolutionary Guards who are responsible for political, military and intelligence relations with Iran’s Muslim neighbours in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. The Quds Brigades maintain contact with all the pro-Iranian militant groups operating in these countries, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and Badr.
The Badr Corps continued to exist after the Iran-Iraq War and remained part of the Revolutionary Guards. In the wake of the American invasion of 2003, Badr troops also marched into Iraq. The Badr Corps, which from then on called itself the Badr Organization, retained its paramilitary units, but also claimed a place in Baghdad politics and cooperated pragmatically with occupation forces.
At the same time, it retained close ties to Iran. Initially, the Badr Organization stood in the shadow of its (political) parent organization. The Supreme Council was Iran’s most important partner in Baghdad politics for several years and Badr politicians generally represented the Supreme Council.
Although it moved into politics, there are indications that the Badr Organization, at least indirectly, fought against US troops.
In 2007, the (former) Badr commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis founded the Kata’ib Hezbollah (Hezbollah battalions) which opposed the Americans militarily with Iranian support. Muhandis claimed he left Badr in 2003, but there has been no evidence of disagreement or even conflict. Rather, Kata’ib Hezbollah maintains closer ties with Badr than any other militia.
Its strong connection to the Revolutionary Guards and its religious-political allegiance to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei also suggest that a break never occurred. The founding of Kata’ib Hezbollah was instead part of a dual strategy that Iran pursues in Iraq to this day.
Firstly, Tehran supported its Iraqi allies, the Supreme Council and Badr, politically and helped them to obtain and maintain durable positions of power, also by cooperating with the US. Secondly, it promoted the establishment of new militias which fought against US troops in order to force them to withdraw.
A major change took place in May 2007, when the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq was renamed the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) whilst, at the same time, distancing itself from Iran. This development gave the Badr Organization the opportunity to establish itself as Iran’s most important ally in Iraq.