Shi’ite clerics are recruiting young Iraqis to go to neighboring Iran for political indoctrination and militia training, said the uncle of one young man who recently returned from a one-month session.
Upon the return of the young man — whose name has been withheld from this article to protect his family — he was recruited into the armed wing of the pro-Iranian Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) political party, the uncle said.
The claim is consistent with remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, who has repeatedly warned about Iranian meddling in Iraq’s affairs.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) — an exiled opposition group — also charges that Tehran has been training Iraqi and other nationals in intelligence gathering and terrorist operations at garrisons across Iran.
The uncle, who agreed to be identified only as Muhammad, said the young man and a number of others were recruited from Husseiniya mosque, a large Shi’ite mosque in Baghdad. The young man told his father he was going to visit a religious site in Iran.
But, Muhammad said, “They took them to a camp and gave them a briefing on what is happening in Iraq, and what Iran is trying to do: Support the Shi’ites and help them retain power. …
“They trained them for militia purposes — to go out on patrol, to get people out of their houses, execute them and leave them on the street,” he said, adding that his nephew had boasted about his training to the family when he returned in early December.
“He was brainwashed; he was very proud when he was talking to us. He told us all the details in order to try and make us afraid. He had an AK-47. He didn’t say who arranged his passport, but he is getting his orders from one of the imams in the Badr office,” Muhammad said.
The Badr Brigade is a major Shi’ite militia affiliated with SCIRI.
Karim al-Musawi, SCIRI’s spokesman in Washington, dismissed the claims as “propaganda.”
Iraq’s eastern border with Iran “is guarded by the Iraqi military and coalition troops, so I don’t think it is easy for those young people to go there and come back. This is part of the propaganda against the United Iraqi Alliance, not just SCIRI,” said Mr. al-Musawi.
According to preliminary results, the United Iraqi Alliance — which includes SCIRI — won a plurality in the Dec. 15 elections and will control the largest bloc of seats in the new national assembly.
Mr. Khalilzad alluded to the training of Iraqis in Iran in December, when he told reporters the region included “predatory states … with aspirations of regional hegemony in the area, such as Iran.”
“We do not want Iran to interfere in Iraqi internal affairs,” the ambassador added. “We do not want weapons to come across from Iran into Iraq, or training of Iraqis to take place.”
The Badr Brigade was deployed in Iran even before the fall of Saddam Hussein. Now in Baghdad, the militia has been tied to the Ministry of Interior and its commando units. U.S. officials have voiced concern that these units are behind human rights abuses in secret prisons that have been discovered in the capital.
“Iran has had contacts with the Badr Brigade, and it is possible they are still doing training,” said Jim Dobbins, director of international security and defense policy at Rand Corporation.
“I find it plausible, but I could not confirm it. But it sounds consistent with what one has heard regarding Iranian support for militia and party militias,” said Mr. Dobbins.
Sunnis in Baghdad have repeatedly complained about Badr Brigade-led hit squads that target Sunni leaders and members of Saddam’s former military.
The NCRI, an umbrella organization of groups intent on overthrowing Iran’s religious rulers, claims that the al-Quds force, part of Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, “has dozens of garrisons across Iran in which it trains its non-Iranian operatives.”
Among those are the Khomeini Training Base on the Khavaran-Semman highway near Pakdasht, southeast of Tehran, “where a large number of foreign forces from Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine are being currently trained,” the group says
The NCRI is respected among some members of Congress for its inside information on Tehran, but is listed as a terrorist group by the State Department.
Muhammad, sitting in his Baghdad office drinking tea and chain-smoking cigarettes, said Iran’s Republican Guard had been in charge of his nephew’s training.
The young man was paid the equivalent of 75 cents a day for the one-month training, but he had just received $330 from the Badr Brigade for an upcoming four-month period in the militia.
“All the training he received was required training for the militia. They also had political classes, and classes in how to kidnap people if they are against the Islamic people of Iraq and Iran,” Muhammad said.