Pro-Iran psywar in Iraq aims to shake confidence in Kadhimi

Pro-Iranian Shia parties and militias in Iraq have mobilised their significant resources to fill social media sites up with false information and forged documents about ongoing developments on the ground.
Wednesday 27/01/2021
Iranian demonstrators hold up mobile phones showing the picture of the late Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad. (Reuters)
Iranian demonstrators hold up mobile phones showing the picture of the late Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad. (REUTERS)

BAGHDAD--Pro-Iranian Shia parties and militias in Iraq are waging a psychological war aimed at shaking the public’s confidence in the government by circulating false information and sharing forged documents about the country’s security situation and alleged appointments and dismissals of individuals holding sensitive government positions.

These parties and militias have mobilised their significant resources to fill social media sites up with false information and forged documents about ongoing developments on the ground.

The deceitful manoeuvres have been used to spread false news about supposed sleeper suicide cells in Baghdad, bombings that hit a popular market in the centre of the capital, the dismissal of a prominent interior ministry official and the alleged appointment of an assistant to direct the prime minister’s office.

In each case, the Shia parties and militias have mobilised electronic armies to circulate false information and forged documents on Facebook and Twitter.

A forged document published in pro-Iranian Shia media claiming that dozens of suicide bombers had entered Baghdad to carry out attacks on mosques, markets and government departments wreaked terror among city residents.

The electronic armies supported this forged document by sharing a video showing a person wearing an explosive belt surrendering himself to security forces in Baghdad.

The electronic armies associated with the Shia groups claimed the video documented an operation that took place at dawn on Tuesday in Baghdad, prompting the country’s Security Media Cell to issue an urgent clarification.

Cyber armies at work

The Security Media Cell issued a statement saying the “news are completely untrue and false, and that the video clips and pictures circulating on social media are of a suicide terrorist who surrendered himself in 2014 to the security forces.”

The Security Media Cell called on “bloggers and the media that circulated these news to be careful when sharing information by relying on official sources exclusively.”

The electronic armies linked to the Shia groups are also apparently trying to twist the truth about the dismissal of Abu Ali al-Basri, a counterterrorism intelligence official in the interior ministry.

Iraqi protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks gather during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square on November 6, 2019. (AFP)
Iraqi protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks gather during an anti-government demonstration in the capital Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square on November 6, 2019. (AFP)

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi removed Basri from his position after the Falcons cell he headed failed to prevent an attack on Tayaran Square last Thursday in which dozens of people were killed and wounded.

The electronic armies published dozens of reports on social network platforms claiming Basri had not actually been dismissed and was continuing his work, despite the fact that his successor, Hamid al-Shatri, had already begun his job.

In another attempt to disseminate misinformation, the electronic armies created a forged document stating that a relative of Judge Raed Juhi, who is the director of the prime minister’s office, had been appointed to a senior position within the office.

Kadhimi’s office later confirmed that the document was forged and called on the media to be careful when reporting on such issues.

Although the electronic armies relied on false and unfounded information, they managed to spread terror and raise doubts about Kadhimi’s leadership capabilities.

Intelligence officials say that Iran has recruited hundreds of members of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), who are mainly members of well-known militias such as Kata’ib Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and Harakat al-Nujaba, to work within electronic armies that target Tehran’s opponents on social media.

Information documented by intelligence officials with conclusive evidence indicate that Iran used the PMF’s financial budget to train hundreds within the PMF in Baghdad and Beirut to engage in electronic psychological warfare, spreading false information and sharing forged documents in order to destabilise the country’s security situation and stir political unrest.

As soon as the false reports are spread by Iran’s electronic armies, leaders of Shia parties and militias rush to engage with the rumours, until the truth emerges and becomes difficult to deny.

This pattern was followed with when Saudi Arabia announced investment plans in the Iraqi desert. Qais Khazali, leader of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, and Nuri al-Maliki, leader of the Dawa Party, spread fake reports about Riyadh allegedly intending to steal Iraq’s groundwater.

Intelligence officials say that elements of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement are working from Baghdad to run organised operations to spread rumours, false information and forged documents on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp groups, supported by analysts via satellite channels affiliated with an Iranian TV association based in Tehran.

Iran’s cyber armies monitor Twitter’s top graphics trends on a daily basis, and publish thousands of tweets as part of coordinated campaigns throughout the day that take advantage of those susceptible to fake news in Iraq that has largely lost confidence in the political class.