Western Media

One of the first Western media references to Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) appeared in a September 2008 Long War Journal report. Author Bill Roggio introduced AAH as a “little-known Shia terror group,” reporting that AAH allegedly “receives funding, training, weapons and even direction from the [Iranian] Qods Force.”Bill Roggio, “US detains 7 League of the Righteous operatives in Iraq,” Long War Journal, September 1, 2008, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2008/09/us_detains_seven_lea.php. Soon after, a New York Times report from November 2008 referred to “armed militias that the Americans say are being trained by Iran,” specifically citing “Asa’ib ahl al-Haq, or Bands of Right,” but did not discuss the group’s violence towards U.S. troops.Campbell Robertson and Suadad al-Salhy, “Cleric Calls for Resistance to U.S. Presence in Iraq,” New York Times, November 14, 2008, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/15/world/middleeast/15iraq.html?_r=0.

Before 2008, Western media did not mention AAH by name, though they did reference AAH activity. In these cases, news outlets would often attribute AAH attacks solely to Iran and its external military branch, the IRGC Quds Force.Bill Roggio, “The Karbala attack and the IRGC,” Long War Journal, January 26, 2007, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2007/01/the_karbala_attack_a.php; James Glanz and Mark Mazzetti, “Iran May Have Trained Attackers That Killed 5 American Soldiers, U.S. and Iraqis Say,” New York Times, January 31, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/31/world/middleeast/31karbala.html?_r=0. A May 2007 New York Times report on Peter Moore’s kidnapping, for example, failed to implicate AAH.David S. Cloud, “Raids in Baghdad Follow Kidnappings,” New York Times, May 30, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/30/world/middleeast/30cnd-iraq.html?_r=0.

In early 2009, the Daily Telegraph and New York Times released reports that introduced AAH as the alleged suspect in the May 2007 kidnapping. The Telegraph wrote in March 2009 that “Coalition leaders believe the abduction was the work of a group known as Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, which is one of two major militias operating in Iraq that are believed to be backed by Iran.”“British hostage video sent to embassy,” Daily Telegraph (London), March 22, 2009, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/5033155/British-hostage-video-sent-to-embassy.html. Reports on Peter Moore and his body guards at this time tended to focus more on the kidnapped individuals and less on AAH.

Some Western media reports, however, failed to implicate AAH overtly in the kidnapping. A March 2009 New York Times piece reported AAH’s spokesman’s appearance in a video in which he mentioned Peter Moore and revealed details about a possible prisoner exchange. However, it made no explicit statement on AAH’s responsibility in the kidnapping. The article did implicate Qais al-Khazali and his brother Laith al-Khazali in the 2007 murder of five American soldiers in Karbala, Iraq, but did not mention their roles within AAH.Alissa J. Rubin, “Britons, Held for 2 Years, May Be Freed in Exchange,” New York Times, March 27, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/28/world/worldspecial/28iraq.html.

Even as Peter Moore’s bodyguards were reported murdered, Western media failed to catch on to AAH and the threat it posed. A Telegraph report in June 2009 on the death of two of Moore’s body guards carried no reference to AAH. The report simply hinted at the involvement of Shiite captors: “Within hours the kidnappers demanded the release of nine Shia militiamen held by coalition forces.”Sean Rayment and Damien McElroy, “British hostages in Iraq named after bodies found,” Daily Telegraph (London), June 21, 2009, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iraq/5594701/British-hostages-in-Iraq-named-after-bodies-found.html. However, a New York Times article on June 29, 2009 did report that “the Leagues of Righteousness” (another name for AAH) was responsible for the kidnapping. There was no analysis of the group.John F. Burns, “Britain Says It Fears 2 Hostages in Iraq Are Dead,” New York Times, July 29, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/30/world/europe/30britain.html.

During the last few months of the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Western media began to increase their coverage of AAH but did not blatantly condemn the group. A New York Times article in August 2009 highlighted the chance for resolution between the Iraqi government and AAH. Authors Rod Nordland and Sam Dagher quoted the American military commander in Iraq, General Odierno, as saying, “This is about reconciliation. We believe Asa’ib al-Haq has taken initial steps to reconcile with the government of Iraq.” Nordland and Dagher also reported that the American military would release AAH militants from U.S. custody, “even though the military still believed that they were responsible for attacks that killed Americans.”Rod Nordland and Sam Dagher, “U.S. Will Release More Members of an Iraqi Militia,” New York Times, August 17, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/18/world/middleeast/18iraq.html.

A 2010 piece in the Washington Post openly criticized the U.S., asserting that the U.S. military had “failed” in its effort to neutralize AAH. Authors Ernesto Londono and Leila Fadel overtly blamed the U.S. military for its “failure” to “wean Asaib Ahl al-Haq from militancy.”Ernesto Londono and Leila Fadel, “U.S. failure to neutralize Shiite militia in Iraq threatens to snarl pullout,” Washington Post, March 4, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/03/AR2010030303674.html. The criticism was followed by an objective history of AAH and a discussion of Shiite candidates in the upcoming Iraqi elections. The article sought to both introduce AAH and criticize the U.S military’s strategies.Ernesto Londono and Leila Fadel, “U.S. failure to neutralize Shiite militia in Iraq threatens to snarl pullout,” Washington Post, March 4, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/03/AR2010030303674.html.

As the U.S. withdrew its remaining troops from Iraq in December 2011, AAH began to rebrand itself as a political entity, vowing to lay down its weapons. A January 5, 2012 New York Times report slammed both AAH and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, calling AAH “one of the deadliest insurgent groups in Iraq in recent years,” and declared that al-Maliki’s welcoming of the group into Iraqi politics had “opened new sectarian fault lines in Iraq’s political crisis while potentially empowering Iran at a moment of rising military and economic tensions between Tehran and Washington.” Authors Jack Healy and Michael Schmidt warned that with al-Maliki accepting AAH, Iraq’s government might “embolden a militia with an almost nonexistent track record of peace while potentially handing Tehran greater influence.”“Jack Healy and Michael S. Schmidt, “Political Role for Militants Worsens Fault Lines in Iraq,” New York Times, January 5, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/06/world/middleeast/iraqi-moves-to-embrace-militia-opens-new-fault-lines.html?_r=0.

One day later, the Huffington Post carried an Associated Press (AP) piece that condemned AAH as one of the Iran-backed Shiite groups that “carried out lethal attacks against U.S. bases in June, the deadliest month in two years for American forces in Iraq.” The report warned of similar consequences: emergence of AAH as a political group could “complicate Iraq’s political crisis,” “strengthen Iran’s clout,” “alienate the Sunni minority,” and “increase tensions between competing Shiite groups.”Adam Schreck and Wassim Abdul-Zahra, “Asaib Ahl Al-Haq, Iraq Shiite Militia, Will Reportedly Lay Down Arms,” Huffington Post, January 6, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/06/asaib-ahl-al-haq-lay-down-arms_n_1189600.html.

With the U.S. withdrawal complete and relations between the Iraqi government and AAH underway, the New York Times and Huffington Post articles overtly condemned not only AAH but the fledgling partnership between the government and Iranian proxies, clearly concerned by the implications for Washington.

As AAH continued its campaign into politics, Western media upped their criticism of AAH, underlined AAH’s relationship with Iran, and reiterated the group’s violent history against U.S. troops. A February 2013 Washington Post article warned against the imminent danger of AAH’s possible entry into politics, blaming Iran for the group’s political momentum. Author Liz Sly described AAH as an “Iranian-backed Shiite group…busily reinventing itself as a political organization,” and highlighted the group’s attempt to emerge as a social services-provider, comparing AAH to “one of its close allies,” Hezbollah. She wrote that AAH’s political success would empower a group that “boasts about its role in killing Americans.”Liz Sly, “Iranian-backed militant group in Iraq is recasting itself as a political player,” Washington Post, February 18, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iranian-backed-militant-group-in-iraq-is-recasting-itself-as-a-political-player/2013/02/18/b0154204-77bb-11e2-b102-948929030e64_story.html.

Sly echoed the sentiment of a former U.S. official who said that “Asaib Ahl al-Haq’s resurgence looks a lot like a renewed attempt to create an alternative vehicle for projecting Iranian influence.” She quoted a U.S. official as saying that AAH’s entry into the Iraqi political landscape would be “deeply problematic,” backing it up with a recap of AAH’s attacks on Americans.Liz Sly, “Iranian-backed militant group in Iraq is recasting itself as a political player,” Washington Post, February 18, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/iranian-backed-militant-group-in-iraq-is-recasting-itself-as-a-political-player/2013/02/18/b0154204-77bb-11e2-b102-948929030e64_story.html.

Just before ISIS’s rise in Western media, the London-based Guardian released an in-depth exposé on AAH. In March 2014, author Martin Chulov referred to AAH as a “deadly militia” and the “most potent new Shia Islamic political force” in the Middle East. Chulov wrote that AAH has been operating in Iraq and Syria through “strategic diplomacy, aggressive military operations and intimidation,” and is run by Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. Chulov quoted an Iraqi minister who described AAH’s “tentacles” controlling the “security apparatus,” apparently distressed by the group’s “rise to prominence.”Martin Chulov, “Controlled by Iran, the deadly militia recruiting Iraq's men to die in Syria,” Guardian (London), March 12, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/12/iraq-battle-dead-valley-peace-syria.

Chulov’s report described the group’s “stealth tactics and the denial of responsibility for [attacks],” strategies that the author categorized as directly influenced by Qasem Soleimani. Chulov also described various AAH attacks on western targets and discussed the group’s attempt to participate in the April 2014 Iraqi elections. The article highlighted grievances of Iraq’s local Shiite population, which Chulov essentially blamed on AAH leader Qais al-Khazali’s call to defeat the U.S. and the ensuing galvanization of Iraqi Shiites. AAH’s violent insurgency has, in Chulov’s words, “worried many communities across the Shia heartland.”Martin Chulov, “Controlled by Iran, the deadly militia recruiting Iraq's men to die in Syria,” Guardian (London), March 12, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/12/iraq-battle-dead-valley-peace-syria. The Guardian’s report painted AAH as bad for the U.S., but worse for the local Iraqi population.

On April 25, 2014, the New York Times reported on ISIS’s bombing of a campaign rally held by AAH. The report referred to AAH as a “Shiite militant group that is trying to transform into a political force,” but made absolutely no mention of AAH’s past violence against U.S. troops.Tim Arango and Duraid Adnan, “Iraqi Militants Stage Political Rally, Then Bombs Go Off,” New York Times, April 25, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/26/world/middleeast/militant-rally-in-iraq-ends-in-deadly-sectarian-bombing.html?_r=1.

Coverage of AAH plummeted as ISIS flooded western media in the spring and summer of 2014. The few reports on AAH rebranded the group as a leader in the fight against ISIS, and not necessarily as an enemy of the west.

In July 2014, the BBC released an exposé on AAH, describing it as a “fearsome Iraqi militia.” Reporter Jeremy Bowen provided little criticism of the group, introducing AAH as a legitimate political party and militia that had gained experience from fighting western troops in the early 2000s. Bowen met AAH leader Qais al-Khazali, who reportedly “emphasised that the group was now a political movement as well as a military force. He claimed…that it was not sectarian, and would protect all Iraqis against foreign invaders.” Bowen noted, “[AAH is] one of the few Iraqi formations that might just scare Isis as much as Isis scares everyone else.”Jeremy Bowen, “The fearsome Iraqi militia vowing to vanquish Isis,” BBC News, July 7, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-28199741.

A September 2014 New York Times piece introduced AAH’s side of the story, quoting multiple members of the group and carrying relatively little criticism of its actions. Author David Kirkpatrick painted AAH with a heroic stroke, writing, “Once a leading killer of American troops, the militia is spearheading the fight against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State,” implying that the group had a change of heart. Kirkpatrick quoted one AAH fighter as saying, “the most dangerous areas in Iraq were assigned to Asaib Ahl al-Haq to lead the battle, because of the capability and professionalism of our fighters.”

Kirkpatrick also noted the AAH spokesman’s intention to “protect all Iraqis, Sunnis as well as Shiites.” These unopposed sentiments were only followed by a brief description of AAH’s past attacks on U.S. troops. Kirkpatrick ended with a quote by AAH’s spokesman: “America has been intervening in most of the Arab countries of the region…and it never brings stability.”David D. Kirkpatrick, “Shiite Militias Pose Challenge for U.S. in Iraq,” New York Times, September 16, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/17/world/middleeast/shiite-militias-pose-challenge-for-us-in-iraq.html?_r=0.

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

On June 24, 2017, Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan (TTP) launched back-to-back explosions at a market in Kurram Agency of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in northwest Pakistan. The attack killed 67 people who were shopping in preparation for a religious holiday and wounded 200 others. 

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