Charities are a tool of Iranian encroachment in Iraq
Charities have been the major means for Islamists, Sunnis and Shias alike, to reach people and one of the most important tools of their political work. The associations are known to Shias as “Mabarrat” and are usually under the supervision of a cleric or a committee from the religious party.
However, the modus operandi of such charities in Iraq does not stop at meeting the personal or family needs of people; they require, in return, loyalty and gratitude to the party or state and, in the case of Iraq, it is the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Islamists love to call Iran the “Islamic Republic” because that covers a very large geographical area beyond Iran’s boundaries, including Beirut, Baghdad, Damascus and Sana’a, which the Iranian velayat-e faqih loved to boast about dominating.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah publicly declared that Lebanon’s future was tied to velayat-e faqih and specifically to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on whom Nasrallah has bestowed the highly honorific title of “al-Husseini.”
When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was alive, Nasrallah said the desired state in Lebanon was not the Islamic state of Lebanon but rather the state of velayat-e faqih represented and led by Khomeini.
The slogan that was repeated at Sayyida Zainab mausoleums was “O God, preserve Khomeini until the appearance of Imam al-Mahdi.”
Sectarian militias are not the only tool the velayat-e faqih uses to dominate Iraq. Many other economic and social institutions are at the service of Shias in central and southern Iraq.
That the Iranian regime uses names of revered imams for commercial or intelligence establishments is not that important. What is important is that the use of those names is cleverly chosen to strike obedience to those institutions in the hearts of Iraqis.
So, we have economic and social control in the form of institutions directly linked to a foreign power. We have military control through sectarian militias obedient to that foreign power and we have political control in the form of religious political parties and political and religious figures who lived in Iran for a long time.
Among the charitable institutions is the Imam al-Sajjad Charitable Foundation in Karbala. It is a charity but its real mission is to gather intelligence.
In Baghdad-Karrada, the name Imam al-Mahdi was given to an institution belonging to al-Quds Force and its very influential commander, Qassem Soleimani. This institution has armed functions. It is run by Badr Organisation leader Hadi al-Amiri, one of Iran’s most prominent proxies in Baghdad.
We also find Imam Jaafar al-Sadiq cultural institution, which has nothing to do with culture but is a front for political action. The name of Sayyida Fatima Al-Zahra was used for the Karbala-based Ansar Fatima Al-Zahra Foundation.
It isn’t just in the names of imams and holy figures in which Iranians are investing, they also took advantage of the Quran by opening the Dar al-Qur’an Foundation in Baghdad with branches elsewhere in Iraqi central and southern provinces.
All these institutions are charities but they are also fronts for economic and intelligence points that Iran uses to expand its influence inside Iraq. We find institutions using different names but they are also administered by clerics or individuals active in politics and intelligence with Iran.
Al-Hijja Foundation, for example, is in Kadhimiya in Baghdad. The word “al-Hijja” is another name for the expected Imam al-Mahdi. The mission of the foundation is to secure housing for Iranian intelligence agents in Baghdad.
There is the “Ruhollah” Foundation, “Ruhollah” being the first name of Khomeini. The foundation is based in Maysan province, with branches in Wasit and Dhi Qar provinces. It is a political institution operating under Shia cultural cover.
You have also the Al-Khatib Islamic Cultural Foundation, in Diyala district at Baquba, supervised by an Iraqi parliamentarian who deals directly with al-Quds.
On the financial side, Bank Sepah in Baghdad has branches in Najaf and Basra. Melli Banking Corporation, or Melli Bank, is also in Baghdad and provides financial facilities for Iranian activities in Iraq.
Financial institutions are much more important to Iran than other types of institutions because they monitor the local market and keep track of Iranian goods needed in Iraq, the dollar exchange rate and its movements and funnel US dollars to Iran to allow it to withstand sanctions imposed on Tehran.
There are also many religious seminaries and schools in Iraqi cities and villages founded by Iraqi clerics trained in the Iranian city of Qom.
The Shia cities of Karbala and Najaf, however, remain the two Iraqi cities that have been literally invaded by the Iranian charitable and commercial presence. Iranian Shia dogma and ideology completely dominate the religious scene and Iranian businesses dominate the hospitality and other vital sectors.
It would be a grave mistake to view Iranian presence and influence in Iraq as simply limited to armed militias or to exercising control over the mechanisms of the state through pro-Iranian religious and political parties.
One must consider the intelligence aspect of this influence embodied in the work of many front charity organisations. It is difficult to know the exact number of such charities and other front organisations.
Iran occupies Iraq socially and religiously by investing in emotional and religious control. Iran knows the parties it is working with in Iraq will not last much longer and they will soon be but a faint memory limited only to the role played by the Iraqi Islamic opposition in Iran against Iraq, so it began to create a new generation of Iraqis who will be the agents for expanding and ensuring its political and economic influence in Iraq.
However, the October demonstrations in Iraq took Iran by surprise. It turned out that the Shia youth of Iraq, before its Sunnis, are rejecting it. So Iran has started thinking about reorganising its priorities inside Iraq.
Losing Iraq would spell the end of the Iranian regime and the end of the political dogma of velayat-e faqih. Iran needs Iraqi money and human resources to fight on its behalf in Syria and Yemen and, if need be, to defend it on its own territory when that time comes.