Hadi al-Amiri (centered) with Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis (R). Photo: AP
Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi known as Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis seems to be a new rising star in the ranks of the Iraqi Shiite militia much like the character of Iran’s Quds forces leader Qasim Soleimani . Al-Muhandis has been in the limelight in recent days thanks to an ongoing intense battle in Fallujah, but he has been in the fight since the start.
When the Islamic State (ISIS) attacked Mosul and other parts of Iraq in 2014, Al-Muhandis was one of the first Shiite figures to call for arms against the group and invited veteran militiamen and jihadis to visit his office in Baghdad to form a front.
Al-Muhandis who is known as a radical and pro-Iranian figure now serves as the second man in the Shiite popular mobilization forces (PMF). He has been trained in Iran and is married to an Iranian. According to a Wall Street Journal article last week, Al-Muhandis dreams of building the an Islamic Republic in Iraq and form the Iraqi version of the Iranian Al-Quds forces, “From the beginning the Islamic revolution was his motivation” WSJ quoted Iraq’s former national security advisor Mofaq Al-Rubaiyee, about Al-Muhandis.
Al-Muhandis is on the US terror list and has a death sentence from a Kuwaiti court for his involvement in attacks on the US and French embassies in the 1980s in Kuwait and other terrorist activities. The Americans are believed to have attempted his capture but he had escaped to Iran.
Al-Muhandis has been in the Daawa party from early 1970s and has occupied different political and military positions. He became an MP in the Iraqi parliament in 2005. In recent years he has risen in the ranks of Shiite militia groups especially after the collapse of Iraqi army in 2014 and the shifting role to volunteer fighters called up by Grand cleric Ayatollah Sistani.
Al-Muhandis is known as part of Iran’s agenda in Iraq and an envoy of Qasim Soleimani to Iraq, “Soleimani appointed him as his deputy of operations of the militias in Iraq and set up an operation room in Baghdad for coordination between militias and organize activities to face the developments and challenges” said Hussein Abdini member of the foreign relations at national council of resistance of Iran.
Iraq’s Sunnis leaders also see him as an Iranian agent trying to copy the Islamic republic model in Iraq “he want to build the Iranian model Islamic republic and he consider himself as representative of the Iranian supreme leader Ali Khaminayee” said Mashaan Jburi, a Sunni MP as quoted by WSJ.
Officially he is second leader of the Shiite militia (PMF) under Hadi al-Amiri, but is seen to be practically number one and the right hand man of Soleimani. Al-Muhandis himself does not deny his loyalty to Iran and their backing for his group. “The popular mobilization could not do such as big operations without big support from the Islamic republic of Iran, above all Ali Khamenei who instructed the Al-Quds forces to back PMF and he is backing us by providing weapons, ammunitions, consultations and planning,” Al-Muhandis said in an interview with Al-Mustaqbal shortly after the liberation of Tikrit.
Al-Muhandis is also said to be popular among his Shiite fighters because of his lobbying for their salaries and a special budget from the Iraqi government. He carries out the planning, organization and administration himself.
The Americans still see him as a terrorist but they also take into account his part in the war against ISIS.
Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said to the WSJ: “He’s a designated terrorist. That’s how we think about him. But he’s there, so he’s got to be accounted for.”
Al-Muhandis has boasted his role in training militia groups to fight the former Iraqi regime and the American army in Iraq during their occupation.
“The PMF forces include those groups that fought against previous the Iraqi regimes and resisted the American occupation,” he said last year.
Since the start of the war on ISIS the Americans have pushed Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to remove Al-Muhandis as leader of the militia operations but their request has not been accepted yet.
There have been serious concerns among human rights groups, the UN and local Sunni tribes about the involvement of Shiite militia in the battle for Fallujah and human rights violations.
Former US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad echoed this concern about Shiite militias to WSJ, saying, “they remain a basis for continuing conflict and for conditions that lead to the rise of terror, maybe in a different name after ISIS.”