The Badr Organization is a Shia political party and paramilitary force that acts as “Iran’s oldest proxy in Iraq,” according to Reuters. The group’s military wing is “perhaps the single most powerful Shi’ite paramilitary group” fighting in Iraq. One Iraqi official described the Badr Organization as “easily” the most powerful force in Iraq, even stronger than the Iraqi Prime Minister. Given the group’s deep ties to Iran and its political and military preeminence, analysts have compared the Badr Organization in Iraq to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
- Type of Organization: Militia, political party, religious, social services provider, terrorist, transnational, violent
- Ideologies and Affiliations: Iranian-sponsored, Islamist, jihadist, Khomeinist, Shia
- Place of Origin: Iraq
- Year of Origin: 1983
- Founder(s): Iraqi Shiites loyal to the al-Hakim Shia clerical dynasty, with the help of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)
- Places of Operation: Iraq, Syria
From Badr (Brigades) to Badr (Organization): the Oldest Iranian Proxy in Iraq
Since its founding, the Badr Organization has worked to import Iran’s Islamist revolution to Iraq. Formed in 1983 under the name “the Badr Brigades,” the Badr Organization originally served as the military wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), an Iraqi Shia political party that sought to expand Iran’s revolution into Iraq. During the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, SCIRI’s Badr Brigades fought alongside Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) against the Iraqi military. From 1983 to 2003, the Badr Brigades continued to operate out of Iran, carrying out intermediary attacks in southern Iraq.
In 2003, the Badr Brigades returned to Iraq to take advantage of the political vacuum following the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime. That year, the group formally rebranded, changing its name to “the Badr Organization of Reconstruction and Development” and publicly pledging to abstain from violent attacks. From 2004 to 2006, however, the Badr Organization launched a brutal sectarian war on Iraq’s Sunni population. During this period, Badr leader Hadi al-Amiri allegedly personally ordered attacks on up to 2,000 Sunnis. According to a leaked cable from the US State Department, “One of [al-Amiri’s] preferred methods of killing allegedly involved using a power drill to pierce the skulls of his adversaries.”
The Badr Organization and Shia militias have also “deployed alongside Iraqi military units as the main combat force,” according to Reuters. Reuters reported that in the March 2015 fight for Tikrit, Badr militiamen and the regular army drove identical tanks with only an army logo differentiating the two forces. Some units in Iraq’s army, including Iraq’s 20th Battalion, reportedly answer to Badr commander Hadi al-Amiri. Estimates for the membership of the Badr Organization range between 10,000-50,000 militants.
In analyzing the group, CBS News writes that the Badr Organization “was born out of Iraq’s bloody civil war and their notorious death squads are implicated in the torture and murder of thousands of Sunni Muslims.” According to General Michael Flynn, former director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, “Members of the Badr Corps are responsible for killing many American Soldiers [sic] and they will likely do it again if given the chance… [G]roups like the Badr Corps represent enemies of a stable, secure, and inclusive Iraq. As soon as we get done helping them with ISIS, they will very likely turn on us.” Indeed, in November 2017, following ISIS’ devastating defeats in Iraq, Hadi al-Amiri publicly called on US troops to leave Iraq and warned that the Badr Organization was prepared to “adopt a parliamentary decision” to force the United States to withdraw.
In October 2020, Iran-aligned armed factions of the PMF agreed to an “unofficial truce” with the US that resulted in a temporary cessation of hostilities between the two parties. The armistice was agreed to under pressure from the Trump administration, which threatened to close the US embassy in Baghdad and target Iranian assets inside and outside Iraq. The Iranian proxies demanded that the Iraqi government engage in dialogue with the US and establish a timetable for the withdrawal of all remaining US forces from Iraq.
In May 2021, the armed factions declared an end to the truce and threatened to target military convoys and army bases. The militias, including Badr, AAH, and Kataib Hezbollah, formed the Iraqi Resistance Coordination Commission (IRCC) and issued a statement censuring the Iraqi government for failing to reach an agreement on a complete withdrawal. “What resulted from the [Iraqi-American] round of talks was very bad and unfortunate,” the statement said. The proxy groups then intended to “force the occupation out.”
However, later in 2021, the leader of the Badr organization, Hadi al-Amiri, shifted his position on the US-Iraq Strategic Dialogue. Soon after meeting with the head of the IRGC-Quds Force, Esmail Ghaani, in July, he “uncharacteristically” praised Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Khadimi for his role in the dialogue and described its outcome as a “national achievement,” which led some to believe that Amiri was reverting to the political realm to accomplish his military objectives.
Badr Organization Sectarian Violence
The PMF militias seek legitimacy in the fact that they played a key role in the defeat of ISIS. They justify their actions and existence on the grounds that they are needed to fight ISIS and other “terrorists.”
“We will maintain our presence to fight terrorism in Iraq as long as terrorist groups continue to operate and as long as the Iraqi government asks us for support,” said Amiri in 2021. This is one of the ways they pursue popular support and government funding, as they are officially under the command of civilian leadership. In reality, the situation is more complicated. The Badr Organization, perhaps more than AAH, exists to do Iran’s bidding—even to set up an Islamic government like the one in Iran. Their real reason for existing is to dominate the Iraqi state and act on Iran’s behalf.
After PMF forces defeated ISIS in Diyala province, which is located in northern Iraq on the border of Iran, in 2017, the Badr Organization, one of the most powerful militias in the PMF, consolidated control over the Sunni-majority area. The current governor of Diyala province, Muthanna al-Tamimi, is a member of the Badr Organization. The PMF Diyala Operations Command directs Badr Organization formations and operates out of Camp Ashraf. US CENTCOM noted that “the 5th Iraqi Army Division, which is responsible for Diyala, operates as an extension of the Badr Organization, making it more responsive to Iran than to the Iraqi Prime Minister and the formal Iraqi chain of command.”
Although the group no longer controls the territory, ISIS cells are still operational in the area. In November 2021, the terrorist group carried out an attack in the al-Muqdadiya district of Diyala, which left fifteen people dead. In response, Iran-backed militias, including Badr Organization, went on a “killing spree” in neighboring Sunni-majority towns. The Al-Rafidain International Centre for Justice and Human Rights called for an investigation and blamed Hadi al-Amiri, along with AAH leader, Qais Khazali, for the sectarian crimes.
The Afada Observatory produced a report on the sectarian violence in Diyala province based on eye-witness accounts. One of the sources in the report said that “They [the PMF militias] carried out field executions, burnt houses, a Healthcare center, vehicles and orchards…the security forces were pre-informed about the attack, but they failed to preclude it.” The report claims that the PMF militia responsible for the violence was the Badr Organization. Twelve Iraqis, including two children, were killed in Nahr al-Imam.
Sectarianism can also serve a political purpose for Amiri. Purporting to represent the Shia population, he said in January 2022, “We agree with the national majority government and we were the first to sign it, but for everyone to agree on the exclusion of a Shiite group is not the name of this national majority.” In reality, he is not so much opposed to a government that excludes Shia people, but one that excludes the Iran-backed militias represented by the Fatah Alliance, as described in the following section.
The Badr Organization in Iraqi Politics
In 2007, the Badr Organization’s political wing rebranded, changing its name from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) to the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) as part of an effort to de-emphasize the party’s ties to the Islamic Republic of Iran. In 2012, the Badr Organization branched off from ISCI, operating as a political party of its own in addition to its capacity as a militia. As ISIS gained control over large swaths of territory in 2013 and 2014, the Badr Organization overtly mobilized, recruited, and fought ISIS alongside other Shia militias and the Iraqi army.
The Badr Organization constitutes an active political force in Iraq in addition to operating as a militia. From 2011 to 2014, Badr leader Hadi al-Amiri served as Iraq’s transportation minister. Since October 2014, two Badr members, Mohammed Ghabban and Qasim al-Araji, have served consecutive terms as Iraq’s interior minister, and another, Mohammad Mahdi al-Bayati, served as minister of human rights until the position was abolished in 2015. In the 2014 parliamentary elections, the Badr Organization won 22 seats in parliament.
Before the 2018 parliamentary election cycle began, Hadi al-Amiri segregated the military and political wings of the Badr Organization in order to run for parliament—he even ordered his fellow militiamen to take orders from the Iraqi military.
In the run up to Iraq’s May 2018 elections, the Badr Organization, along with other powerful PMF units, joined together to form the Fatah Alliance, a political bloc to be headed by Amiri. In 2018, the political bloc was, compared to the more recent October 2021 parliamentary elections, relatively successful, trailing the Sadrist movement by only a few seats. Hadi al-Amiri's Iran-backed Fatah coalition came in second place nationally—earning 47 seats, of which 22 went to Badr—after Muqtada al-Sadr's nationalist Sairoon movement won first place. Amiri, therefore, played a central role in the selection of Prime Minister and his cabinet. In last years’ election, though, the bloc lost many of its seats, and the Sadrist movement gained seats. Amiri’s Fatah Alliance won 17 seats, and the Sadrist bloc won 73.
On October 12, 2021, after the election results came in, the Fatah Alliance and Amiri cried foul. They rejected the outcome of the election, claiming technical and legal violations. In early November of that year, street protests erupted outside the Green Zone, and clashes with security personnel ensued, despite Amiri’s assurance that the alliance would not resort to escalation through protests. Amiri subsequently expressed “extreme anger at the ugly repression of peaceful protesters by government forces.” The Fatah alliance then made an appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court rejected the appeal and ratified the votes on December 27th. A day later, the Fatah Alliance accepted the decision. The parliament is now caught in gridlock, with the so-called “Tripartite Alliance” between Sadr, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and the Sunni Sovereignty Alliance unable to come to an agreement with the Fatah Alliance, who joined forces with former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the Coordination Framework to represent the primarily-Shia PMF. Amiri rejected Sadr’s offer to coordinate votes with the Coordination Framework on the condition that former Prime Minister Maliki not be included in the discussions. On March 30, 2022, parliament attempted to select the president but failed, as the Coordination Framework, along with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party of the incumbent president, continued to boycott the vote.
Amiri and Sadr have differing opinions on what the country’s security apparatus should look like. In September 2021, a month before parliamentary elections, Amiri said, “There are plots seeking either the merger or dissolution of Hashd al-Sha’abi. We will not allow these schemes to be carried out. The Popular Mobilization Units will stay on, and their main mission will be persevering Iraq’s sovereignty, and supporting the country’s security forces.” This statement contrasts with Sadr’s view. In November 2021, Sadr said, “I call for the liquidation of the PMU's undisciplined elements… All armed factions must be dissolved and disarmed at once — their arms to be handed over to the PMF supervised by the commander in chief [Prime Minister Khadimi].” A day after he said this, he claimed to be dissolving the armed faction loyal to him.
While Sadr was once on the receiving end of Iranian largess, especially during the US occupation and subsequent civil war, when he commanded the violent militia known as the Mahdi Army (JAM), he has since embraced a nationalist position that seeks to reduce Iran’s influence in Iraqi politics. In that sense, Amiri can be viewed as the more loyal beneficiary, as he represents the interests of the Iran-backed militias.
But Iran not only extends its influence through Amiri. Some believe that the IRGC itself has directly tried to intimidate political opposition parties. These analysts explain Iran’s ballistic missile strike in Erbil in March 2022 in this context. Michael Knights at the Washington Institute, for example, explained that the attack was an attempt to pressure Sadr and the KDP to make concessions to Iran-backed groups. The Iranians, on the other hand, claimed to be targeting an Israeli intelligence station. It should also be noted that the US Consolute is located nearby.
Although the Badr Organization’s political arm portrays itself as welcoming and conciliatory to Sunnis, the areas where the group fights ISIS have seen “some of the most high-profile Sunni-Shiite violence of the current conflict,” according to the Washington Post. This is particularly true in Iraq’s Diyala province, where al-Amiri led military operations. According to one Human Rights Watch employee, “We’ve documented widespread burning and destruction of homes. That’s something we’ve recorded in literally every place where militias are leading the fight against ISIS. In some instances, we have documented them carrying out summary executions of people… the [militias] that we’ve documented the most abuses by are definitely Badr Organization.”
Badr Organization Penetration of Iraqi State Institutions
The Badr Organization’s penetration of government institutions was most apparent in 2011, when Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appointed Amiri to be minister of the Department of Transportation. In that position, which he held until 2014, Amiri made sure that Iraq’s airspace would be open to Iranian transport planes flying to Syria with supplies to support Assad’s war effort. He resisted pressure from the US to close down the airspace to Iranian planes.
Moreover, in 2014, Haider al-Abadi became prime minister and appointed Badr-member Mohammed Ghabban to head the Ministry of Interior (MOI), a powerful ministry that oversees key elements of Iraq’s security apparatus, including the federal police and the Emergency Response Division. This appointment gave Amiri control over the institution.
Prime Minister Maliki, with US support, sought to integrate militias into the MOI, ostensibly as a way of bringing the militias under the control of the Iraqi state. As a result, “pro-Khamenei” actors in the MOI have gained substantial influence over the country’s security operations. Tehran exerts its influence over the institution through the nearly seventy percent of MOI personnel loyal to Khamenei.
A December 2021 Inspector General report on Operation Inherent Resolve reported that the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) found that “while the MoI’s Federal Police and Emergency Response Division, and the Iraqi Army’s 5th and 8th Divisions are the units thought to have the greatest Iranian influence, officers sympathetic to Iranian or militia interests are scattered throughout the security services.”
A recent report by The Institute for the Study of War shows that the Badr Organization continues to wield power over the MOI, even though the ministry is now run by former army chief of staff, Othman al-Ghanmi. According to the report, the Badr Organization is engaged in a campaign to increase its presence in urban areas, while weakening the formal Iraqi security apparatus. They have leveraged their influence in the MOI to “push the Iraqi Army away from the capital and other major cities.”
The report notes that the Iraqi Joint Operations Command spokesperson confirmed that the army would withdraw from cities and be replaced by forces under the command of the Interior Ministry. Diyala province is mentioned as one of the areas where MOI forces will take over control of security. Furthermore, militiamen allegedly conducted high-profile attacks on Iraqi security personnel in Shula and al-Mansour. In June 2021, senior Iraqi intelligence officer Nebras Abu Ali was killed by gunmen to the east of the capital, Baghdad.
Partly as a result of the above-mentioned DoD report, members of the US Congress are increasing pressure on the Biden administration to halt the provision of US taxpayer dollars to the MOI, given the “high-ranking presence of the Badr [Organization] in Iraq’s security forces.” For example, Representative Joe Wilson told the Free Bacon, “The Biden administration should re-evaluate funding to Iraq’s Ministry of Interior as long as it includes Iran-backed militias, such as the Badr Corps, which were responsible for the terrorist attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad.” The Pentagon alleges that these militias are taking advantage of US taxpayer dollars by penetrating the Iraqi security apparatus. The well-documented connection between the IRGC and Badr Organization has also led to calls on the Biden Administration to designate the group as a terrorist organization. Under the Trump administration, the National Security Council ran up against resistance from the Pentagon when it tried to reduce the MOI’s funding.
Badr: Financed by Iran
Iran backs the Badr Organization, according to reports by Reuters and other news outlets, and Badr leader Hadi al-Amiri has confirmed that his group receives support from Iran. Senior Badr official Muen al-Kadhimi has said that Iran “helped the group with everything from tactics” to “drone and signals capabilities, including electronic surveillance and radio communications.”
The IRGC transferred short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) to militias in Iraq in 2018, according to a Reuters report. The Zelzal, Fateh-110, and Zolfaqar missiles, which have ranges between 200 km and 700 km, were among the weapons shipped to the proxies. With that range, the proxies could strike the capitals of its sworn rivals, Israel and Saudi Arabia. More recently, the IRGC aided the Badr Organization in the construction of its own rockets, which resemble the Naze’at and Zelzal. So not only does the IRGC transfer arms, but it provides know-how.
Another way the Badr organization acquires funding is through extortion. After ISIS was defeated and Badr took control of Diyala province, it inherited the Mandali border crossing between Iran and Iraq and began to extort money from truckers and others crossing the border. Renad Mansour, an expert at the Chatham House, explained that this source of revenue is the organizations’ “lifeblood.” Payments for permission to cross can yield up to 120,000 dollars per day, he said. This income compensated for the loss of government funding, which was reduced after ISIS was defeated.
In July 2020, Prime Minister Al-Khadimi deployed the Iraqi Rapid Response Forces to regain control of border crossings with Iran and Kuwait, as well as the port in Basra. These efforts recovered over 100 million dollars in new revenue, however, none of that came from Diyala province. It appears, then, that the Badr Organization’s extortion at the border went untouched, indicating the influence that the organization continues to have within the Iraqi government. According to an extensive report on the security situation in Iraq by The European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA), Badr and AAH “work with” the Iraqi army’s operations command and the province’s governor to collect money from people commuting across the border.
The EUAA report describes Diyala as a strategic location. It points out that key roadways pass through the province, including the Baghdad-Tehran highway. The DoD Inspector General for Operation Inherent Resolve stated in his report that the Iranian militias in Diyala “are mainly concerned with using Diyala’s strategic location to smuggle arms and other assistance from Iran.” Furthermore, in April 2021, the Chinese company Sinopec was awarded a contract to develop the al-Mansouriya natural gas field in Diyala.
Badr Ideology: Importing Iran & Emulating Iranian Leaders
For years, the Badr Organization served as the military wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), a political party committed to bringing Iran’s revolutionary brand of Shia Islamism to Iraq. However, when SCIRI reemerged in Iraq in March 2003, the group insisted that it was not pushing for an Iranian-style government, despite the group’s name and ongoing ties to Tehran.
Since 2003, Shiism and Iranian-influenced Islamism have remained central elements of the Badr Organization’s identity. In 2011, Badr members celebrated the end of the US military presence in Iraq by plastering the walls of government buildings with posters of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In early 2015, al-Amiri reaffirmed his support for Iran’s Supreme Leader, saying that Khamenei “has all the qualifications as an Islamic leader. He is the leader not only for Iranians but the Islamic nation. I believe so and I take pride in it.”
Badr’s Organizational Structure: Answering to Iran, Casting Iranian Influence
Hadi al-Amiri leads the Badr Organization, but his influence extends beyond the group’s confines. For example, Al-Amiri commanded Iraq’s army and police in Diyala province. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi also reportedly entrusted al-Amiri with control over the Iraqi Army’s 20th Battalion, according to the battalion’s commander, General Ali al-Wazir. One Human Rights Watch employee said that al-Amiri “is an extremely powerful figure and he’s essentially acting with total impunity now. It’s not really the government leading the militias; it’s the other way around.”
In his capacity as leader of the Badr Organization’s militia, al-Amiri claimed in February 2015 that he presented the group’s military plans to the Prime Minister for approval. However, in April 2015, then Prime Minister Abadi ordered that all popular mobilization forces, including the Badr Organization, be placed under his office’s direct command. As al-Amiri served at the time as the leader of Iraq’s collective popular mobilization, Abadi’s order seems to suggest that al-Amiri had, until then, retained significant autonomy when it came to planning and executing paramilitary attacks.
Although al-Amiri appeared to act without much Iraqi government oversight, reports suggest he may answer to the leader of Iran’s IRGC-Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani. In the fight to retake Tikrit from ISIS militants, Soleimani “was directing operations on the eastern flank from a village about 55km (35 miles) from Tikrit,” according to a Reuters report. Another Reuters report noted that “Soleimani also directed Iranian-trained Shi’ite militias—including the Badr Brigade.” Former RAND Corporation analyst Alireza Nader has written that the Badr Organization “appear[s] to be taking direct orders from Tehran.” Al-Amiri himself has been photographed with Soleimani as the two discuss battle strategy and celebrate victories.