US Justice Department seizes website linked to high-profile Iraqi politician

Washington launched a campaign to increase pressure on Iran's media influence

Iraqi Hadi al-Amiri (C), head of the Iranian-backed Badr Organization, attends a condolences meeting following the killings of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi paramilitary commander Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis, on January 6, 2020 in Karrada in central Baghdad. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

The US Justice Department has seized control of the website of Al Ghadeer TV channel run by one of Iraq’s most powerful political parties, the Badr Organisation.

The Iran-linked Badr Organisation leads the Fatah Coalition, which has around 50 seats in Parliament’s highly fractured 329-member Council of Representatives.

A screenshot of alghadeer.tv website of Alghadeer TV  Iraqi satellite television channel based in Baghdad, Iraq.

Badr Organisation has co-existed uneasily with the US in Iraq since 2003, but the US Justice Department’s move could represent a symbolic parting of ways between the US and the Iran-backed group.

Arguably the first Iraqi militia organisation to receive Iranian support, Badr Organisation had previously tried to accommodate the US presence in Iraq, while covertly facilitating arms and money transfers to other Iraqi militia organisations that were attacking US forces.

“The targeting of the Al Ghadeer website, among others, is the first time the United States has recognised the expansion of Iran-backed media activities in the region,” says Hamdi Malik, a London-based expert on Shiite militancy.

Badr Organisation and its head, Hadi Al Amiri, a veteran politician and former militia commander during the Iran-Iraq war – who fought for Tehran – have not been designated by US sanctions.

During what was arguably the peak of US-Iraq relations, Mr Al Amiri visited the White House during the administration of president Barack Obama.

As US-Iran relations deteriorated sharply under President Donald Trump, Washington’s dragnet of sanctions has encroached on the group’s allies, many of whom are militia groups which have attached themselves to Iraq’s official armed forces. These militias, including Badr Organisation allies, are known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces and most are backed by Iran.

Following the November 4 seizure of 29 websites by the US Justice Department – all of them linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – the blocking of Al Ghadeer website represents a tacit US acknowledgement that Badr Organisation is directly linked to the Iranian regime.

For years, Badr Organisation gained increasing control over many Iraqi government ministries, allegedly skimming funds from reconstruction projects and filling police units with loyalists. The latter have been accused of many human rights violations, originally kidnapping, torturing and killing Sunnis suspected of ties to the Baath party of former dictator Saddam Hussein, and later targeting Shiite protesters.

Despite this, their influence over the Iraqi police and the chaos in Iraq after 2003 forced the US-led Coalition into an uneasy alliance with the organisation, which continued during the war against ISIS.

According to Mr Malik, the seizure of Al Ghadeer website may represent one of the final moves of Mr Trump’s campaign against Iran in the region.

“Sanctioning the Badr Organisation is something other administrations have contemplated, but never followed through with,” said Mr Malik.

“Whether the Biden administration wants to escalate against Badr or see it as a more moderate group which could mitigate more radical groups, remains to be seen.”

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