The US drone attack that assassinated Maj Gen Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on Friday morning also killed the leader of an Iraqi militia who had long battled both the Americans and the terrorists of the Islamic State.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei mourned the death of this fighter on Twitter: “The Iranian nation will honor the memory of the noble Major-General Soleimani & the martyrs with him — particularly the great Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis — & I declare 3 days of mourning across the nation. I condole & congratulate his family.”
Explained: Who was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis?
He was a leader whose killing by the Americans would have been an event big enough to jolt the region even if he had not died along with Gen Soleimani.
He was the second-in-command of a coalition of militias that helped Iraq defeat ISIS. While this militia operated almost entirely independently, Al-Muhandis had, over 15 years ago, founded his own fighting force, and took his orders from bosses in Iran.
Al-Muhandis’s militia, the Kata’ib Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, was attacked by the US on December 29, and the airstrikes provoked the storming of the American embassy in Baghdad two days later.
Al-Muhandis, who was born Jamal Jaafar Ibrahimi, was revered by many in Iraq for building an effective fighting force against the IS out of the many militias that came to occupy the political vacuum in the country after the US toppled Saddam Hussein.
He also fought ceaselessly against the American occupation, and served as the spearhead of Gen Soleimani’s strategic ambitions in Iraq. Both Gen Soleimani and he operated largely clandestinely — yet both were well known, with huge reputations and great fame in Iran and many enemies among the Americans and their European allies.
Al-Muhandis was, in fact, active even before the US invasion of Iraq. Back in December 1983, he had been linked with the suicide bomb attacks on the embassies of France and the US in Kuwait, in which five people were killed.
Subsequently, in May 1985, Al-Muhandis was linked to a failed attempt by a suicide bomber to kill Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah, the Emir of Kuwait.
In 2007, a court in Kuwait sentenced Al-Muhandis to death in absentia.
According to the US, Al-Muhandis was around 66-67 years of age. He is believed to have been born in Basra in 1953, and escaped from Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athists launched a crackdown against the Shia Islamic Dawa party, of which Al-Muhandis was a member. He is thought to have spent many years thereafter in Iran, learnt Persian, and built close ties with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.
He returned to Iraq in 2003, after the US invasion, and set up the Kata’aib Hezbollah.
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