Badr Groups Move From Troubled Past to Uncertain Future

With Muhammad Zaher

BAGHDAD – It could be instructive to recall that the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq and its armed wing, the Badr Corps, arose from a conference of Iraqi opposition parties called in Iran in 1982.

The Supreme of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) was a breakaway faction of the Da’wa movement that had been outlawed in Iraq.

The Badr Corps, estimated before the war to be approximately 10,000 to 15,000 strong was similarly outlawed, along with its parent organization, the SCIRI. The Badr Corps was considered a terrorist group by Saddam’s regime.

But in 2002 and 2003, the SCIRI and the Badr Corps, also known as the Badr militia, joined negotiations with United States officials, including now ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad over the liberation of Iraq.

During initial negotiations, it was proposed that the Badr Corps would participate in the invasion of Iraq alongside U.S. troops. That plan was abandoned in January 2003. It was decided at this time that the United States would temporarily administer Iraq, through what became the Coalition Provisional Authority.

At this January meeting, Ayatollah Bakir al-Hakim from the Badr Corps (who was killed in August 2003) told Zalmay Khalilzad that if the United States presence began to appear like an occupation, he would order his forces to attack Coalition troops.

Badr groups have emerged now from those controversial origins. Members of the Badr Corps, now known as the Badr Organization, reflected on the change, and how it came about, in the course of several conversations with IPS.

A Badr member who gave his name as Abu Haider told IPS that while the group did not participate in the initial invasion, the Badr Corps swiftly joined the coalition forces "to destroy Saddam’s regime."

Soon after the invasion two militant Shia groups became visible in Iraq – the Badr Corps and Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army. These groups have long been engaged in conflict with one another, each vying for control over Iraq’s Shia majority.

Although the Badr Organization initially paid homage to Ayatollah Bakir al-Hakim, after his death in August 2003 there was apparently a split in the organization, between direct allegiance to Hakim’s brother, Abd al-Aziz, who is also an ayatollah, and Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

"I follow al-Sistani, and I’m not with al-Sadr in his opposition to the occupation, because we need the U.S. troops help at this time, in order to kill the terrorists," Abu Haider said.

Moqtada al-Sadr’s vocal opposition to the occupation of Iraq by the U.S. and Britain has placed him at odds with some of the larger Shia parties in Iraq.

Abu Haider explained the position of his organization and the Shia parties that oppose Moqtada al-Sadr. "When we have a strong government and control of Iraq, our religious leaders will ask them to leave Iraq."

When the interim government of Iyad Allawi took power in 2004, Iraqis began to play a greater role in Iraq’s domestic security issues. A Ministry of the Interior was established to supervise Iraq’s police and nonmilitary security problems.

Iraq’s Sunnis accuse the Badr Corps of infiltrating the Iraqi police, largely made up of Shias. When Bayan Jabr Solagh became minister of the interior in 2005, their concern was greatly exacerbated.

Bayan Jabr was the head of the Badr Corps before he took up position as minister. Jabr has repeatedly denied accusations that the Badr Corps was controlling and directing the Iraqi police.

But under public pressure the Badr Corps was disbanded, and replaced by the Badr Organization, ostensibly with a new focus on domestic aid.

Because of Moqtada al-Sadr’s opposition to the United States and other coalition nations, members of the Mehdi Army did not play a large role in the new Iraqi police. The common assumption, therefore, has been that Badr’s ideology, if not its leaders directly, played a strong role in directing the actions of Iraq’s police.

The Mehdi Army aside, Abu Haider believes it is a misconception that there is a nationalist resistance in Iraq. "There is no real resistance in Iraq; they fight for personal reasons or for revenge. Also, some of them fight to return Saddam to power."

Sunni groups have called on Iraq’s Shia parties, particularly on new Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to disband and disarm the militias because of their role in sectarian violence, torture, and arbitrary arrests and killings of Iraqis.

Sunni parties have also alleged that the Badr Organization and certain Shia parties still owe allegiance to Iran. Through government or outside of it, Badr groups continue to play a significant role in shaping political life in Iraq.