Mastermind of 2007 Karbala Attack Freed In Prisoner Swap

In a stunning turn of events that is going virtually unnoticed by the American media, Britain’s Peter Moore, apparently the only surviving hostage of a 2007 kidnapping in Iraq, has just been set free by his Iranian captors.  But there is a decided strangeness about the whole thing. 

Behind the scenes, British officials in Baghdad have been trying to reach contacts who might have links to the kidnappers. David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, hinted at this when he said yesterday that there had been no “substantive” concessions to the hostage-takers, suggesting that in return for Mr Moore a number of extremists held in prison may have been released.

Mr Moore had been working for US management consultancy Bearingpoint in Iraq, while the other men were security contractors employed to guard him.

The kidnappers were understood to belong to an obscure militia known as the Islamic Shia Resistance, which demanded the release of up to nine of their associates held in US military custody since early 2007.

Several had already been handed to the Iraqi government and some had since been freed under the reconciliation process.

Mr Miliband has insisted no “substantive concessions” were made to the hostage-takers by the UK.

Frank Gardner said a senior Whitehall official had confirmed Qais Al-Khazaali – the leader of the kidnap group – was released “very recently” by the US to the Iraqi authorities.

Mr Khazaali had been suspected of involvement in the kidnapping and eventual killing of five US soldiers, he added.

The events that led to the kidnappings began shortly after the US president, George Bush, ratcheted up the pressure on the Iranians with a televised address to the world warning Iran to stay out of Iraq and pull back their proxies.

Iran responded with an unprecedented attack on a US base in Karbala nine days later. The attack had the hallmarks of the al-Quds kidnap section of the Revolutionary Guard, according to the major who spoke to the Guardian.

The Guardian has also obtained documents released by the US military under the Freedom of Information act.

The documents reveal how the al-Quds operatives’ English was so perfect that the Iraqi guards at the checkpoints “were convinced the attackers were American”.

When the attackers entered the compound they shot dead Private Millican. Four other US soldiers were kidnapped and spirited away in US-style vehicles. They were tracked down by US helicopters but before evading capture they shot dead their handcuffed captives.

Tit-for-tat incidents continued with the arrest by the US of Khazali and his brother in Basra in March that year. Khazali is alleged to have been the mastermind behind the Karbala killings, and also the appointed head of all Iranian special groups in Iraq.

The next move – the kidnap of the Britons from the Ministry of Finance – by the Righteous League and the al-Quds force was to be decisive and was designed to achieve two aims.

The first was to halt the project Moore was working on. The sophisticated computer system being installed would have exposed any corrupt practices in the Ministry of Finance .

Judge Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, former commissioner of the Commission of Public Integrity in Iraq, testified to the US Congress on 4 October 2007: “The cost of corruption that my commission has uncovered so far across all ministries in Iraq has been estimated to be as high as $18bn.” He had fled to the US in August 2007 after his family’s home was targeted in a rocket attack.

Vance Jochim, who was the chief auditor and a US adviser for the Commission of Public Integrity based at the US embassy in Baghdad, has previously told the Guardian: “The new system would provide more transparency and accountability over the oil and other revenue handled by the finance ministry” – which he said had been resisting its implementation for nearly two years.

Eight months after the kidnappings, the only other location with a full record of the Iraqi government’s financial transactions and records of possible financial misconduct – Iraq’s Central Bank – was destroyed in a fire. The subsequent investigation found that it was arson.

The intelligence source said: “Many people don’t want a high level of corruption to be revealed. Remember this is the information technology centre, this is the place where all the money to do with Iraq and all Iraq’s financial matters are housed. The centre is linked to the Americans and all the money transfers. Everything, right down to the last penny, is in that centre.”

But if one aim was to avoid detection of corruption, the second aim was to bargain for the release of the Khazali brothers. In the end that was achieved, although not before the four bodyguards surrounding Peter Moore had been killed.

The US has released the leader of an Iranian-backed Shia terror group behind the kidnapping and murder of five US soldiers in Karbala in January 2007.

Qais Qazali, the leader of the Asaib al Haq or the League of the Righteous, was set free by the US military and transferred to Iraqi custody in exchange for the release of British hostage Peter Moore, US military officers and intelligence officials told The Long War Journal. The US military directly implicated Qais in the kidnapping and murder of five US soldiers in Karbala in January 2007.

“We let a very dangerous man go, a man whose hands are stained with US and Iraqi blood,” a military officer said. “We are going to pay for this in the future.”

The US military has maintained that the release of members and leaders of the League of the Righteous is related to a reconciliation agreement between the terror group and the Iraqi government, but some US military officers disagree.

“The official line is the release of Qazali is about reconciliation, but in reality this was a prisoner swap,” a military intelligence official said.

Moore and four members of his personal bodyguard were kidnapped at the Finance Ministry in Baghdad in May 2007 by a group that calls itself the Islamic Shia Resistance, which is in fact a front for the League of the Righteous. The group had always insisted that Qais, his brother Laith, and other members of the Asaib al Haq be released in exchange for Moore and the others. Three of Moore’s bodyguards were executed while in custody, and the fourth is thought to have been murdered as well.

“This was a deal signed and sealed in British and American blood,” a US military officer told The Long War Journal. “We freed all of their leaders and operatives; they [the League of the Righteous] executed their hostages and sent them back in body bags. And we’re supposed to be happy about it.”

I’m sure the administration is going to try to put their tired “it’s Bush’s fault” spin on this bowing down to Iran, however, what is clear that something is rotten not just in Denmark, or Copenhagen, and it is most assuredly going to come back and bite us in the ass either through the loss of more military lives, or more jihadists attacks on U.S. soil.

UPDATE

The Pentagon is now denying any “quid pro quo” prisoner swap.  It’s all about “reconciliation” and the security of Iraq, despite evidence about post-“rehab” terrorist activities by these jihadists to the contrary.

This release of the Khazali brothers has apparently been in the works for some time, however, no response was ever received to the following inquiry made directly to the President by Senators Jeff Sessions and John Kyl back on July 1, 2009:

On January 20, 1986, President Ronald Reagan issued Nation Security Decision Directive Number 207, which prohibits negotiations with terrorist organizations regarding the release of hostages.  The Directive sets forth in unequivocal terms the United States’ “firm opposition to terrorism in all its forms” and makes clear the government’s “conviction that to accede to terrorist demands places more Americans at risk.  This no-concessions policy is the best way of protecting the greatest number of people and their safety.”  The Directive continues to say:  “The [United States government] will pay no ransoms, nor permit releases of prisoners or agree to other conditions that could serve to encourage additional terrorism.  We will make no changes in our policy because of terrorist threats or acts.”  This policy is further articulated in Department of State Publication 10217, which makes clear the United States “will not support the freeing of prisoners from incarceration in response to terrorist demands.”

We would like to know if it remains the policy and practice of the United States not to negotiate with or make concessions to terrorists, especially as it relates to the release of detainees or hostages.  This question is prompted by news reports from a wide range of outlets that show your administration may have violated this longstanding policy by releasing a dangerous terrorist in Iraq in response to the demands of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, a terrorist group that is holding British hostages.

Last month, a United States official whose identity remains unknown ordered the release of terrorist detainee, Laith al Khazali, whom the New York Times labeled “a senior Shiite insurgent said to be backed by Iran who was accused of playing a leading role in a group that killed five American soldiers in Karbala [, Iraq,] in a sophisticated attack in 2007….”  Press reports suggest that al Khazali’s release was the first phase of a detainee-for-hostages swap involving five British civilian hostages who were kidnapped by Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq in 2007.  In its June 9, 2009 story on this remarkable release, the New York Times reported that the release of al Khazali “appears to involve the release of British hostages who are being held by the [terrorist] organization.”

A United States military spokesman has reportedly confirmed that the release of al Khazali was tied to negotiations with the Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq terror group, allegedly for some “reconciliation effort.”  This “reconciliation” concept appears to be a new label for terrorist negotiations.  According to the New York Times, a spokesman for the Iraqi government conceded that the release of British hostages had been part of the negotiations for the release of al Khazali.  The spokesman, Sami al-Askari, suggested that the “reconciliation” notion was adopted as the public face of any detainee-for-hostages negotiations:

This is a very sensitive topic because you know the position that the Iraqi government, the U.S. and British governments, and all the governments do not accept the idea of exchanging hostages for prisoners….So we put it in another format, and we told them that if they want to participate in the political process they cannot do so while they are holding hostages.  And we mentioned to the American side that they cannot join in the political process and release their hostages while their leaders are behind bars or imprisoned.

According to a June 9, 2009 New York Post article, “secret negotiations have been under way for months” with Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq – also known as the League of Righteousness -0 for the release of British hostages.  Iraqi lawmakers reportedly told the Post “the kidnappers had agreed to free the hostages in exchange for the phased release of League members, starting with Laith al-Khazali.”

Within days of Khazali’s release, British press outlets began reporting that the release of at least one British hostage was imminent.  Tragically, on June 21, 2009, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq sent the dead bodies of two of the five British hostages to the British embassy in Baghdad.  Before the terrorist group handed over the two dead Britons, a source close to the group made clear that the release of Laith al Qazali was not enough to gain the release of the five British hostages.  This person told the British paper The Times, “[n]one of the original conditions have changes…It has always been the five men in exchange for the prisoners including Qais and this remains the same to this date.”

The foregoing events have been reported by numerous outlets in the United States and Europe.  If these reports are accurate, they confirm that your administration released a major terrorist detainee in connection with hostage negotiations with a terrorist group.  Aside from the fact that a terrorist and war criminal was released without charges, the negotiations surrounding the release suggest a major shift in the United States’ approach to hostage negotiations and terrorist demands which, as we have learned, will only lead to more kidnappings, extortion, and hostage release demands.

Due to the very serious nature of this matter, we ask that you answer the following questions to clarify the policy your administration will follow in dealing with terrorist organizations’ demands:

(1)  Has your administration negotiated directly or indirectly with any terrorist organization for the release of detainees held by the United States government?

(2)  Was the release of Laith al Khazali related in any way to obtaining the release of one or more of the British hostages held by Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, and what is the name of the highest ranking United States official who approved the release?

(3)  Prior to approving the release of Laith al Khazali, did your administration evaluate whether a criminal indictment or military commission charges could be brought against him, including for violating the federal war crimes statute?  If so, what was done?

(4)  While reconciliation has been floated as a basis for al Khazali’s release, please state to what extent the leaders of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq have seriously discussed giving up their efforts and history of attacking United States and Iraqi interests?

(5)  Did your administration make any effort to consult the family members of the give slain servicemen who were killed in the January 2007 Karbala attack before the release of Laith al Khazali?  According to a New York Post article, the father of one of the slain soldiers was surprised by the release.

(6)  Does your administration adhere to the “no-concessions” policy described in National Security Decision Directive Number 207, including its statement that the United States does not “permit releases of prisoners or agree to other conditions that could serve to encourage additional terrorism[?]”

 

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