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Who is Qais al-Khazaali, godfather of Iranian-backed Shiite militias?

Published: Updated:

A video showing the leader of Iraq’s Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, Qais Khazaali, appearing at the Lebanese-Israeli border earlier this week has prompted widespread debate.

He was seen in the footage in military uniform, meeting with Hezbollah factions and announced: “The whole country together with Hezbollah is ready to fight and prelude to the Islamic state that is ruled by the Awaited Mahdi.”

This produced a wide discussion about the character of Khazaali who just a few months ago took over the task of announcing the Badr Organization, an Iraqi Shiite militia that is fully Iranian-backed.

Following the spread of a video of the visit that showed aKhazaali entering the country illegally, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri demanded to ban him from entering Lebanon. He also called on carrying out the “necessary measures and investigations to prevent any person from carrying out activities of a military nature on Lebanese territory,” according to a statement released by his office.

His appearance attracted further widespread condemnation among other Lebanese government officials.

But who is Khazaali?

Qais al-Khazaali was born in the city of al-Sadr, east of Baghdad in 1974. He completed his highschool education in the Iraqi capital where he also went on to study Geology at university.

He then began focusing on religious studies, and was taught under the mentorship of religious authority Muhammad Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr. He later worked at al-Sadr’s office.

After al-Sadr was killed in 1999, Khazaali remained close to al-Sadr’s fourth son, and helped him with propaganda, security and finances.

After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Khazaali created the special groups to fight alongside Akram al-Kaaby, the leader of the al-Nujba Iraqi Shiite militia. Both men later created the Asaib Ahl al-Haq in 2006.

British forces arrested and imprisoned Khazaali, his brother and a number of their followers in 2007 for two and a half years. At the end of 2009, the Asaib Ahl al-Haq group captured five British employees from inside the Ministry of Finance in Baghdad. They were then exchanged for Khazaali the following year.

As time went by, and American and British forces withdrew from Iraq, Khazaali began to get involved in politics and ran for parliament in 2014.

The Asaib Ahl al-Haq group receives training and finances from Iran, and is composed of a number of brigades geographically distributed into combat missions. They fight with about 4,000 of those brigades in Syria to save the Bashar al-Assad regime, under the leadership of the Iranian revolutionary guard.