Mohammed al-Kawtharani is the U.S.-designated Hezbollah representative in Iraq and a member of Hezbollah’s political council.“Treasury Sanctions Hizballah Leadership,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, August 22, 2013, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl2147.aspx. Since the death of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander Qasem Soleimani in January 2020, Kawtharani has overseen the Iran-backed Shiite militias operating in Iraq.“Tehran-backed Hezbollah steps in to guide Iraqi militias in Soleimani's wake,” Reuters, February 11, 2020, https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-iran-iraq-hezbollah-insight-idUKKBN205204. In April 2020, the U.S. government offered a reward of up to $10 million for information on Kawtharani’s activities, networks, or associates.“Reward Offer for Information on Hizballah’s Financial Networks Muhammad Kawtharani,” U.S. Department of State, April 10, 2020, https://www.state.gov/reward-offer-for-information-on-hizballahs-financial-networks-muhammad-kawtharani/.
Kawtharani’s primary responsibility is to promote Hezbollah’s interests in the country. In this regard Kawtharani acts as a conduit for training, funding, and other forms of Hezbollah support to Iraqi Shiite militias. According to the U.S. government Kawtharani assisted in the transport of fighters from Iraq to Syria to support the Assad regime. Kawtharani also helped secure the release of senior Hezbollah commander Ali Mussa Daqduq from Iraqi custody in 2012. The U.S.-designated Duqduq planned multiple attacks against coalition forces in Iraq, including a January 20, 2007, attack that killed five U.S. soldiers. The United States opposed Daqduq’s release.“Treasury Sanctions Hizballah Leadership,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, August 22, 2013, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl2147.aspx; Michael R. Gordon, “Against U.S. Wishes, Iraq Releases Man Accused of Killing American Soldiers,” New York Times, November 16, 2012, https://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/17/world/middleeast/iraq-said-to-release-hezbollah-operative.html. An Iraqi Shiite leader told Reuters Soleimani trusted Kawtharani and relied on him in times of crisis.“Tehran-backed Hezbollah steps in to guide Iraqi militias in Soleimani's wake,” Reuters, February 11, 2020, https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-iran-iraq-hezbollah-insight-idUKKBN205204.
Kawtharani has been involved in Iranian-sponsored negotiations to sway Iraqi leaders to support Iran’s preferred candidates for prime minister. In 2010, Kawtharani traveled to Qom, Iran, to meet with Soleimani, Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and representatives of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Sadr endorsed the pro-Iran Maliki that October to remain Iraq’s prime minister. Other Shiite political leaders followed soon after.Martin Chulov, “How Iran brokered a secret deal to put its ally in power in Iraq,” Guardian (London), October 17, 2010, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/oct/17/iran-secret-deal-political-power-iraq; Martin Chulov, “Iran brokers behind-the-scenes deal for pro-Tehran government in Iraq,” Guardian (London), October 17, 2010, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/oct/17/iraq-government-iran-tehran-deal. In December 2019, Kawtharani again joined Soleimani in discussions with Iraqi leaders on selecting a new prime minister after the resignation of Adel Abul Mahdi that November.Tzvi Joffre, “Hezbollah helping Iran’s Soleimani find new Iraqi PM – report,” Jerusalem Post, December 5, 2019, https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Hezbollah-helping-Irans-Soleimani-find-new-Iraqi-PM-report-609935. Kawtharani also reportedly persuaded Sadr to support Tawfiq Allawi, who was designated as Iraq’s new prime minister in February 2020.“Tehran-backed Hezbollah steps in to guide Iraqi militias in Soleimani’s wake,” Reuters, February 11, 2020, https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-iran-iraq-hezbollah-insight-idUKKBN205204.
Previously, the IRGC’s Quds Force was Iran’s primary liaison to its Iraqi proxies. After the death of Quds Force leader Soleimani in a U.S. airstrike on January 3, 2020, Hezbollah has taken responsibility for liaising between Iran and the Iraqi militias. As Hezbollah’s representative in Iraq and a trusted colleague of Soleimani’s, Kawtharani has taken on the role himself. His oversight of the Iranian-sponsored militias is reportedly temporary until Iran determines its strategy in the wake of Soleimani’s death.“Tehran-backed Hezbollah steps in to guide Iraqi militias in Soleimani’s wake,” Reuters, February 11, 2020, https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-iran-iraq-hezbollah-insight-idUKKBN205204.
On April 10, 2020, the U.S. State Department’s Reward for Justice program offered a reward of up to $10 million for information on Kawtharani’s activities, networks, and associates, stating that he has “taken over some of the political coordination of Iran-allied paramilitary groups” in Iraq. The listing further alleges that he “facilitates the actions of groups outside the control of the Government of Iraq that have violently suppressed protests, attacked foreign diplomatic missions, and engaged in wide-spread organized criminal activity.”“U.S. Offers $10 Million for Information on Hezbollah Commander in Iraq,” Reuters, April 10, 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-iraq-hezbollah-idUSKCN21S233; “Reward Offer for Information on Hizballah’s Financial Networks Muhammad Kawtharani,” U.S. Department of State, April 10, 2020, https://2017-2021.state.gov/reward-offer-for-information-on-hizballahs-financial-networks-muhammad-kawtharani//index.html.
- Extremist entity
- Type(s) of Organization:
- Militia, political party, social-service provider, terrorist, transnational, violent
- Ideologies and Affiliations:
- Iranian-sponsored, Islamist, jihadist, Khomeinist, Shiite
- Representative in Iraq
Hezbollah is an Iranian-sponsored, internationally sanctioned terrorist group with an anti-Israel and anti-U.S. agenda. Hezbollah is primarily based in Lebanon, but has carried out terrorist and criminal operations around the world.
The U.S. Department of the Treasury designated Mohammad Kawatharani pursuant to Executive Order 13224 on August 22, 2013.“Treasury Sanctions Hizballah Leadership,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, August 22, 2013, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl2147.aspx.
Saudi Arabia added Mohammad Kawtharani to its terrorism sanction list in November 2015.“Saudi Arabia places Hizballah leaders under sanctions for ‘terrorism,’” The New Arab, November 26, 2015, https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2015/11/26/saudi-arabia-places-hizballah-leaders-under-sanctions-for-terrorism.