Looming U.S.-Iraq Row Over Hezbollah

By Matthew Levitt

Last week, the Iraqi Central Criminal Court rejected Washington's formal request to extradite Hizballah commander Ali Musa Daqduq to the United States to face charges of murder, terrorism, spying, and other offenses filed by a U.S. military commission. Iraqi courts had dropped similar charges against him on May 29 and then again on June 25 when the decision was appealed, seemingly giving the central court cause to reject the extradition request and approve his release. "It is not possible to hand him over because the charges were dropped in the same case," the judges ruled. But the cases are not the same, and the ruling means Baghdad could soon release one of the most senior and dangerous Hizballah commanders ever apprehended. In the words of one former CIA officer, Daqduq is "the worst of the worst. He has American blood on his hands. If released, he'll go back to shedding more of it."

Background: Attack in Karballah

In the early evening of January 20, 2007, American and Iraqi military officers met at the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala, about thirty miles south of Baghdad, to discuss local security operations. A short time later, a convoy of five black SUVs was waved through three checkpoints and allowed to access the base; the trucks were carrying about a dozen English-speaking militants dressed in U.S. military fatigues and carrying American-type weapons and fake identity cards.

The assailants headed directly for the U.S. contingent, throwing grenades and opening fire with automatic rifles. After killing one American soldier and injuring three more, they grabbed four other U.S. personnel and fled the compound. Later, Iraqi police found their abandoned vehicles; inside were discarded uniforms, radios, a rifle, and the bodies of three of the abducted soldiers. The fourth died on the way to the hospital.

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Capturing Daqqdug

On March 20, 2007, British special forces raided a house in Basra and arrested two wanted militants, brothers Qais and Laith al-Khazali. Also at the home was Daqduq, who pretended to be deaf and mute. Although it would be several weeks before he disclosed his true identity to coalition forces, the treasure trove of materials confiscated at the time of his arrest quickly led analysts to Hizballah, the Qods Force (an elite branch of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), and a string of attacks targeting British and U.S. forces, including the January Karbala operation.

In July 2007, after piecing all of the evidence together, coalition forces held a press conference to announce the capture of the Khazali brothers and Daqduq. The military spokesman also explained the latter's importance. An elite commander who had "led Hizballah operations in large areas of Lebanon," Daqduq first joined the organization in 1983, making him one of the earliest members of a group founded in the wake of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon. By the time he was arrested in Iraq, Daqduq had already "served in numerous leadership positions" within the Hizballah hierarchy.

Hard Evidence Ignored

The Iraqi contention that terrorism and forgery charges against Daqduq had to be dropped for lack of evidence is spurious at face value. At the time of his capture, Daqduq claimed to be an Iraqi named Hamad Mohamed Jabarah Alami. He held multiple false identity cards featuring his photograph and depicting him as an employee of various Iraqi government agencies, including the Council of Ministers and the Ministry of Agriculture. In reality, however, he "was in Iraq working as a surrogate for...Qods Force operatives involved with special groups." The hard evidence underpinning the forgery charge was seized at the time of his arrest and speaks for itself.

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Matthew Levitt is director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at The Washington Institute.

This was originally published as Policy Watch 1970 and is republished here with permission.

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