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 2004-2006, 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 U.S. State Department, “One of [al-Amiri’s] preferred methods of killing allegedly involved using a power drill to pierce the skulls of his adversaries.”
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 and Shia militias have also “deployed alongside Iraqi military units as the main combat force,” according to Reuters. The Badr Organization is the most powerful militia within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the alliance of predominantly Shi’a militia forces in Iraq formed to fight ISIS. 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.
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.”
In January and February 2015, the Sunni governor of Iraq’s Diyala province and other officials accused Shiite militants and security forces in Diyala under the control of Hadi al-Amiri of executing at least 72 unarmed civilians in Diyala’s eastern province in January. Amiri denied these claims. However, the Badr Organization refused to take journalists to the village of Barwana, where the Sunni men were found shot dead “execution-style,” according to the Washington Post. In January 2016 the Badr Organization engaged in a series of abductions and killings targeting Sunnis throughout the month, which Human Rights Watch characterized as “serious violations of international humanitarian law.”
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 U.S. 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 U.S. troops to leave Iraq and warned that the Badr Organization was prepared to “adopt a parliamentary decision” to force the United States to withdraw.
Forays into Politics:
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. From October 2014 until October 2018, two Badr members, Mohammed Ghabban and Qasim al-Araji, 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. Badr’s infiltration of the interior ministry was especially important, as it allowed the group to embed its members and loyalists in the Federal Police and in other security roles. 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 May 2018 parliamentary elections, 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. On June 12, 2018, the Fatah Alliance formed a coalition government with the Sairoon Alliance. The coalition placed Amiri and Fatah in a position to obtain high level government positions.
On June 1, 2020, Amiri resigned from parliament and as leader of the Fatah Alliance. He gave no reason for his resignation, but Iraqi sources suspected he was vying for the leadership of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Amiri was replaced in the parliament by his deputy, Abdulkarim Younis Elan.
In July 2020, former Badr commander Qasim Al-Araji, who served as Iraq’s Minister of Interior from January 2017-October 2018, was appointed by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi as Iraq’s National Security Advisor. Araji, a former member of the Quds Force, was twice arrested by U.S. forces for working with the anti-American insurgency during the U.S. war in Iraq. Prior to joining the Badr parliamentary bloc, Araji had been involved in smuggling and distributing explosives that were intended for use against U.S. forces, according to leaked documents.
Al-Kadhimi was designated Prime Minister in May 2020 on an incremental reform agenda following months of protests over corruption, high unemployment, ineffective governance by Iraq’s political elites, and dissatisfaction with Iran’s explicitly sectarian meddling. The Badr Organization and other Iran-backed militias played an active role in suppressing the ongoing protests which emerged in October 2020, including reports that Badr has abducted and opened fire on protestors. Numerous offices of the Badr Organization have been attacked or set on fire by protestors over the course of the demonstrations. While Al-Kadhimi has taken some steps to rein in Iraq’s Iran-backed militias, including a raid on a Kataib Hezbollah base in June 2020, his appointment of Al-Araji to the sensitive National Security Advisor post demonstrates that he cannot completely curb Tehran’s influence or that of its militias such as the Badr Organization.
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.”
After ISIS was expelled from Iraq, Badr reportedly took control of the Safra border crossing between the Baghdad-controlled parts of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government. Local sources claim that the Badr Organization receives between $12 and $15 million each month in customs tariffs and taxes on the goods traded through Safra.
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 U.S. 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 (PMF), 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 comes to planning and executing paramilitary attacks.
Although al-Amiri appeared to act without much Iraqi government oversight, reports suggest he may have previously answered to the former 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.
The Badr Organization has frequently acted in the interest of Iranian foreign policy objectives. In his tenure as Iraq’s transportation minister, Badr leader Hadi al-Amiri “allegedly allowed Iranian overflights to supply [Assad] with weapons during the regime’s brutal crackdown” on dissidents, according to journalist Susannah George. The group has reportedly also sent thousands of Shiite fighters to Syria to fight on behalf of upholding the Assad regime. In November 2013, analyst Phillip Smyth testified before Congress that the Badr Organization is “the main contributors of Shia fighters through Syria.”
On December 31, 2019, protesters, many of whom were members of Iran-backed militias, attempted to storm the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Demonstrators threw stones and torched a security post, prompting embassy guards to respond with stun grenades and tear gas. Badr leader Hadi Al-Amiri was seen outside the U.S. embassy along with other militia commanders from Kata’ib Hezbollah and Asa’ib ahl Al-Haq on December 31, prompting suspicions that he was encouraging the violence. On January 2, 2020, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alleged that al-Amiri was one of the leaders of the embassy attack, labeling him an Iranian proxy in Iraq. Following the January 3rd drone strike that killed Qassem Soleimani and Katai’b Hezbollah leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, al-Amiri pledged to exact revenge on the United States.