Testimony of M: A former fighter with Iraq’s pro-Iran Shia militias reveals details of war crimes
Updated: Jul 7
By KAREEM BOTANE
Joining Asaib Ahl al-Haq. Witnessing a massacre in the al-Dour area in central Iraq
I can't give my name, you may put any name. I am 41 years old.
In 2008, I was a member of Sadr’s organization, and there were American operations against the organization, arrests and so on. This was because of operations by Sadr against the Americans. Sheikh Mustafa Al-freeji was executive operator in all operations against the Americans. I wasn't in the military section at that time. Rather, I was involved in the social services sections.
My section was responsible for social issues between families and groups and individuals – for example, someone’s son had a drug problem, and we were going to treat him and bring him back to the right direction - that was my duty. I was in the brigade of Arkan al-Hasnawi. He was the commander. Later, there was news that he had been killed by the Americans but he was not killed, it was a lie. He was hidden in Iran, and then returned to Iraq.
The Americans arrested my brothers, one is a soldier, one an engineer at the ministry of oil and the third one was serving in a special unit force. After they arrested my brothers I was angry, filled with hatred. If a policeman entered my area, I wanted to kill him. And the militias brainwashed me, saying that the Americans had arrested and tortured and killed my brothers and were doing the same to other Iraqi people.
At that time, I met a man called Allaa Al-Aourabi. He works for Iranian intelligence (Ministry of Intelligence and Security) They are still present here in Iraq. I was called to a house in the Al-Qahira neighborhood. There I met Allaa, he is Iraqi but working for the Iranians. I sat there, and they gave me food and drinks. Haji Al-Mahdi al Kinani was there too, at the house. They told me they belonged to a special group aligned with the Sadr bloc – called Asaib Ahl-Al-Haq. I knew them, but I did not join Asaib until ISIS invaded Iraq. I was then involved with Asaib for more than one year.
Later, they withdrew from Sadr’s bloc to join the Iranian bloc. I became friends with the leaders Qais al-Khazali and Said Mahamad Al-Tabatabai and saw them regularly. I was also in direct contact with Laith, Qais Khazali's brother.
I joined Asaib through a friend when IS occupied Iraq (2014). My friend was a former Iraqi soldier, he told me whoever was with us in the past we’re calling them all to come back to fight and defend our country. I was invited to Baladiyat neighborhood, I submitted my documents and information. They sent us by bus to Balad on the road to Samara. Mahamad Al-Tabatabai, Sheikh Baqer Al-Saadi and Haj Al-Mahdi were there one kilometer behind us. Between Al-Dour and Abo Ajeel, Qasim Suleimani was present. He supervised and was controlling everything in that operation. They were paying us between $400-$500 from Iran. Whatever he wanted he was doing it, and it became very clear he wanted destruction in that area
Laith al-Khazali was chief of staff of operations for Asaib. We would go out together from the city to the military areas where we were based, during the ISIS war. I was with Laith in the Baiji refinery, and I was injured.
Laith at that time led the carrying out of a massacre in the area between Al-Dour and Abu Aajeel [Sunni Arab areas of Iraq]. In that area Abu Mahdi Al-Kinani had been killed. I would consider him as martyr. He was a patriot and his loyalty was for Iraq only. Everyone knows this about him. It happened in 2015 after a year of IS occupation to Iraq.
Laith al-Khazali then supervised a massacre operation against women, children, and old men. There was no young men in the area. This operation took place in mid May, 2015. In an urban area, targeting random houses and people, for the deaths of Al-Kinani, Noor Al-Hirishawi, and Abo Sadeeq. They died when the gas station at Baiji was hit, I got injured there too.
I was in the administrative section of the organization, distributing money, and recording who was present, and absent. I had 20 mujahidin under me. I have a military background since the Saddam era.
I witnessed the massacre on May 4, 2015. They brought shovels, and then brought people, and buried them, some still alive, women, children, old men, and men between Al-Dour and Al-Alam near the telecommunication tower. Whenever, I remember this it pains me every time. I have documented all these crimes with video footage. These families and people were buried in a deep hole more than 2.5 meters. The area that is under their control they burnt people and killed as much as they wanted.
Mahamad Al-Tabatabai was present there, he was ordering and supervising the operation. Haj Jawad was there to give information and orders, he was also from Iran. Simply, the operations in these areas were an Iranian idea, Iranian-led, and carried out by Iraqis. There were four Iranians or more coming with all information and details on the maps. They were opening the maps and then giving military orders to the Iraqis of Asaib.
Fighting in Syria
In 2013, Mahamoud Al-Irani took men who were under my command. He took them through Shalamja to Iran - the area is one hour from Shalamja in the south west of Iran. They had a special and tough training out there. We trained as Special Forces, so we are ready to attack anytime and anywhere. Then, I went to Syria from there.
I travelled from Iran to Syria by plane to Aleppo. I had been contacted by some friends that had issues with Asaib and they had withdrawn from Asaib and were invited to join Al-Nujaba and to meet Akram Al-Kaabi. The reason for withdrawing from Asaib was money. Akram al-Kaabi welcomed these friends. Within a short time they had their pistol, badge, car, and money - around $900 per month. Al-Nujaba was getting all its support from Iran – money and weapons. There were about 4000- 5000 fighters only in Iraq. Each one of them were getting at least $900 per month and all this was coming from Iran.
There were about 2000 fighters of Nujaba in Syria. They were paid the same as in Iraq. They sent me to a place called Tiba center ( Markaz Tiba) here in Baghdad in Muzafar Street. It's a headquarters, and it's still there now. Today, they called me again from there, by the way. They were asking me to go back to them. I said I will think about it.
This headquarters gathered young people from the Baghdad area to send them to Iran and then to Syria. The young people had no job, school or marriage. They took advantage also of young people who had committed crimes, who were drug dealers, homeless, and others.
They took them from here to Basra (Shalamcha) Iraq-Iran border crossing to Iran. There is a military training camp there based thirty minutes from the Shalamcha crossing inside of Iran. The airport is close to the base. After finishing their training there, they will send them by military plane to Syria to Sham airport ( Aleppo). There is another training base in Syria in Aleppo area called Sabura. It is a base of the 4th Division. It is still there. Maher - Bashar Asaad's brother is the chief commander and supervisor in this military base (Sabura). [this base was among the targets hit by Israeli aircraft in late June, 2020, according to Israel Defense magazine. The magazine described the Sabura facility as a ‘command center run by Iranian militias – ed].
Also there are more than 20 Iranian military experts inside this base. In Iraq when they were talking to us they were telling us we are going to Syria to defend the shrine of Zainab. In Syria, Mukhtar (Abo Ishaq) was chief of staff of Al-Nujaba forces, he is the second person after Qasim Sulaimani, and he is Iraqi from Ahwaz. People were looking at him as Mukhtar Al-Thaqafi for his personality. (Mukhtar al-Thaqafi, who led an early revolt against the Umayyad dynasty, is revered by Shias and regarded as an example of a hero – ed).
At that base, Iranian experts were giving training on self-defense, and how to kill your target with three bullets.
They separated me after they found out that I am a former Iraqi soldier, and well trained though from a long time ago. They gave me a luxury house (Villa) with eight others. There were a number of Iranian experts there, who specialized on artillery with one trainer.
The trainer consulted with two of my friends from the Special Forces, gathering information from them on American tactics, Russian, Serbian, and Iranian. There are different tactics on self-defense between them all, they were trying to combine them all together so they can produce excellent soldiers.
They gave me an administrative job. I was attached to a brigade called Saraya Shuhada al-Ahiya (the Live Martyrs’ Brigade). This brigade was specialized in assassinations and special operations.
The goal was to bring back Iranian domination to Syria, not Bashar’s regime. The ultimate goal was to complete the Shia crescent. The Iranians are the leaders of Nujaba forces in Syria. They give the order and the Iraqi soldier obeys it. I was in Shaikh Saaid, in the southern part of Aleppo. I wasn't participating in any of the military operations. I was only going with a car to the area that the operation took place and sitting in the car while they initiate the operation.
The people and the area we were operating in was Sunni and the people in this area were supporters of the opposition or revolutionary people against Bashar. I recently found out this information, I didn’t know anything about these areas before in Shaikh Najar (southern Aleppo city).
After that, we went in the mosque in the area called Al-Niarab. it’s a Palestinian settlement. It contains more than 100,000 Palestinians. There was a Palestinian unit there, known as the Quds Brigade (Liwa Al-Quds). The Quds brigade was founded during the Hafiz Al-Asad era. They are against anyone opposing the regime of Bashar Al-Assad.
We had a person once who came to our meeting, wearing a green scarf, he couldn’t speak Arabic very well and I wasn’t sure if he was Arab, Iranian, or Kurdish, or Turkish. He was mentioning that we are here fighting for the shrine of Zainab. After the meeting, I went back to my place I asked one of the guys who that was. I was told – it was Haj Qasim.
This was the first time I had seen him face to face. In Iraq I heard he was close to us but didn't see him. He said regarding IS in his speech: "as they are unbeliever and we are here to fight for the shrine of Zainab and the holy house of the Shia. IS is not making differentiation between Sunni and Shia , IS is blowing up our holy places in Syria. Islamic state has been founded by Israel".
He didn’t prove to us anything of what he was saying - it was just a speech.
Qarasi ,Shaikh Saaid, and Tel Al-Aamara - so-called Tel Al-Snauwbar, Aghsan Al-Zaitoun, Bals, Khanat, Nairab , and the circle of the airport- I participated in all these areas, and these areas witnessed massacres and rape.
In Bals, they would accuse the husband of something, so the women remained at home alone. Then they would go and rape them. If the woman didn't accept having sex with them, they would go and come back with military uniform on and rape her. I have witnessed this type of crime twice.
The second area was in Shaikh saaid where the rape crime happened. Mostly, Iraqis were raping and doing such crimes. I couldn't record all these crimes because I was not holding any device to record. I have recorded a family from Shaikh Saaid getting arrested and taken to an unknown place. Also, I have a video record of the massacre in Al-Dour and Abo Aajeel. The rest is already posted. These two footages I didn’t post it because if I post them I will be killed with two bullets in my head.
Later, I joined the Ktaeb Imam Ali (Imam Ali Brigade), in Syria under the command of Mohammed al-Bawi. We were securing our defense frontline without any operation. After two months, they brought me back to Iraq. Mohammedd Al-Bawi was from Zafarinia he was a chief of staff of Imam Ali forces in Syria. Imam Ali Brigade was transferring wheat, sheep, trucks and alcoholic drinks from Damascus manufacturers to Iraq. This transportation is still on going until now from the Deir el Zur area.
Looting at Baiji refinery, destruction of Mosques
I was stationed at the Baiji refinery for one month. We were taking machinery from the refinery, by car. There was huge machinery inside the refinery and we broke it down and removed it. Abu Zainab Al-Lami, chief of staff of Hashd Al-shaabi intelligence was with direct contact with one person with us. They were supervising all operations in Baiji. They took all the expensive equipment that the refinery had. They brought it to Baghdad, and it all disappeared and no one dared to talk about it. Abu Zainab Al-Lami is above all and no one can stop him. After that, I was injured and I went home. I didn’t go back to them anymore after they didn't give me my compensation.
Another crime they did was blowing up mosques in Al-Zafrania, Slikh, and Al-Qahaira. There were police officers in Zaafrania who helped and facilitated these operations, such as Ahmed Hussein Serheed. He was a lieutenant at a police station at that time. The destruction of the mosque in Zaafarania by the Mahdi Army – the police station in Al-Mayeen was involved in this operation. Blowing up the Slikh mosque - Thanir Zarzur, a Clerical commander of the Mahdi army was involved in that operation. Alaa al Aribi, who is a very important guy at the Sadr Bloc now, he was involved in the destruction of the mosque.
Today, they came to me asking me to go back to them again to Baghdad to join an operation to work and then go to Syria. I didn’t say yes or no. They were from Hashd Al-shaabi intelligence. But I won't go back to them again. I won't work that work again. I am very happy that I told you this because they did too many crimes against people. Even if I died you have all I know and you can share with the world to know their crimes. I will give you my real name to keep it with you. When they kill me - you can share my name as well.
I came to the Iraq demonstrations from 1st of October and until now I am here. The militia are here too. Just next to my tent were people from Hashd al Shaabi intelligence.
Finally, I would ask for forgiveness to all people who died or were tortured because of me.