This post was written by Connor Balough
Barack Obama has made a most wanted terrorist a general in Iraq in the fight against ISIS. A decade ago, the Iraqi known to U.S. officials as Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi was in a cat-and-mouse game with U.S. forces and on the run from a Kuwaiti death sentence for allegedly orchestrating bombings at the American and French embassies there in the 1980s. The U.S. Treasury lists him as a terrorist.
Today, the shadowy figure—known mostly by his nom de guerre, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes—is the most influential commander in the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF. The force of mostly Shiite Muslim recruits is Iraq’s parallel army, crucial in successes against Islamic State in the past two years, filling the gap after the regular army crumbled and the U.S. moved to help rebuild it.
These government-aligned militiamen have helped push the Islamic State out of key areas of the country but also have become a complication for the US-backed military coalition assembled to destroy the hard-line Sunni group. They filled an important void left by Iraq’s weakened armed forces, but their religiously motivated agenda has aggravated Iraq’s combustible sectarian divisions.
… The militias … have a reputation for brutal reprisals against Sunnis suspected of being loyal to the Islamic State. Iraqis and human rights groups have accused them of torture, forced disappearances and executions.
Although US officials have been warning against Iranian influence in Iraq, they haven’t been able to override Obama’s decision. Despite Ibrahimi’s terrorist status, Obama has allowed him to have a residence near the US embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone.
“He’s a designated terrorist,” Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for the US-led anti-ISIS coalition, told The Journal. “That’s how we think about him. But he’s there, so he’s got to be accounted for.”