Qais al-Khazali, leader of one of the most powerful Shi’ite militias battling the Islamic State in Iraq, has lambasted the American campaign against the terror group which has raged for over a year in both Iraq and Syria.
The head of an Iranian-backed paramilitary group called Asaib Ahl al-haq, Khazali made the comments in an interview with Reuters, saying that the campaign against ISIS was essentially placed on the backburner due to an American agenda to redraw the borders of nations within the Middle East.
“We believe the USA does not want to resolve the crisis but rather wants to manage the crisis,” Khazali told Reuters. “It does not want to end Daesh [another name for ISIS]. It wants to exploit Daesh to achieve its projects in Iraq and in the region. The American project in Iraq is to repartition the region.”
Khazali accused Washington of lacking the will to uproot the Sunni jihadis who blitzed a bloody path across Iraq a year ago, and said the US-led coalition had failed to fulfill its pledges to step up its campaign of airstrikes against the terrorist organization.
Asaib Ahl al-Haq joins other Shi’a organizations such as the Badr Brigades and Kataib Hezbollah in the Popular Mobilization Committee (Hashid Shaabi), an official Iraqi government body which organizes volunteers in the battle against ISIS. Since the effective collapse of the Iraqi Army a year ago when ISIS forces advance within a few dozen miles of Baghdad, the Hashid Shaabi has become the primary fighting force in the nation.
However, Shi’a paramilitary groups have come under fire for alleged abuses in Sunni areas previously under ISIS control. Khazali, 41 has bluntly denied the accusations, which include looting, killings, and the burning of Sunni homes, saying “not one” innocent citizen’s death could be attributed to Shi’a militias. Washington and its Sunni Arab allies have been hesitant to provide much support to Shi’ite paramilitary forces for fear of igniting even more sectarian violence in the area.
Khazali accused Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of caving to U.S. demands to limit the presence of Shi’ite fighters during the campaign to retake the key province of Anbar, a Sunni area. Khazali said that the “magnitude of the pressure” from Washington threatened to “limit the presence of the Hashid Shaabi to the borders of Fallujah and not reach Ramadi.
Qais al-Khazali was initially a member of a splinter group of the Mahdi Army, the Shi’ite paramilitary force headed by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, which did battle with American troops during the U.S. occupation of Iraq, notably during the siege of Fallujah. Khazali was arrested in 2007 for his involvement in an attack on an Iraqi government compound which left five Americans dead in the Shi’ite stronghold city of Karbala.
Khazali traded his cleric’s robes for green camouflage and joined the ranks of thousands of militia who journeyed to Northern Iraq last June to do battle with extremely well-armed and funded ISIS militants after they took large swathes of territory, imposing a severe form of what they call “sharia justice” in those areas where they take control. A seemingly endless array of torture and execution videos by ISIS and its affiliates have flooded the Internet in that time.
Despite being among the most feared militia leaders in Iraq, and arguably Iran’s most important ally in the region, Khazali says the paramilitary fight against ISIS is hampered by mistrust and a lack of coordination between U.S. and Shi’ite forces.
“We do not agree to participate in any area where there are American strikes. We will place full responsibility on the American administration for any strike that happens under the guise of being a mistake,” Khazali declared.
“The Americans do not trust us because we resisted them during the occupation. There is no prospect [for better cooperation]” he continued.