By Wesam Bahrani 

Two old comrades

January 3, 2023 - 18:46

The relationship between the two martyrs’ stretches back a long way before the era of Daesh's occupation of Iraq. But it was during the era of the terror groups' occupation that more media attention and focus were put on these two legends. 

During the rule of the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis was an activist in his university years. 

He later became a member of the Dawa'a party, the sole opposition party inside Iraq. It was founded by the late scholar and martyr Ayatollah Mohamamd Baqir al-Sadr.

As Saddam tolerated no opposition to his rule, the Dawa'a party went underground and when Saddam began to murder opponents to his Ba'athist regime, many fled the country.

When the former butcher of Iraq started executing not only his opponents but the family members of any opposition member, more Dawa’a members fled Iraq with the exception of its founder. Ayatollah Baqir al-Sadr was put under house arrest.

One of those who left was Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis, who went to the Islamic Republic of Iran. Other popular figures that went to Tehran were Hadi al-Ameri and the martyr Ayatollah Mohamad Baqir al-Hakeem.

Many others fled to European countries as opposed to the Arab world to avoid Saddam's deadly crackdown. 

The reason they traveled to Europe and not the Arab world (with the exception of Syria) was that Saddam's intelligence network found it easy to target them in the Arab world and in some cases with the help and cooperation of spy agencies of some Arab states. 

In Iran, Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis enjoyed safety and found refuge, just like many ordinary Iraqis and other top Iraqi figures who fled to the Islamic Republic.

It was not just because Iran was a non-Arabic speaking country. Rather it was because Iran was a Shia-majority country similar to its neighbor Iraq.

It should be noted that Saddam cracked down on any form of dissent, regardless of their faith and background. He killed the Shia as well as Sunnis, Kurds, and others.

In Iran, Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis and Hadi al-Ameri joined the newly formed foreign Iran-based opposition party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), also known as the Majlis. It was led by Ayatollah Sayyed Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, who himself was imprisoned, tortured and saw many family members executed by Saddam in Iraq.

Never seen before footage published by Iranian media showed the last time? that General Soleimani visited his office compound, the walls of which were filled with leading martyrs. The footage shows General Soleimani kissing the tips of his fingers and placing it on the posters. One of the largest posters next to a portrait of the shrine of Imam Hussein was Ayatollah Sayyed Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim.

(Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim would later be martyred in the holy city of Najaf during a visit to the Holy Shrine of Imam Ali in 2003, after the fall of Saddam and following some two decades in exile.)

In Iran, Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis, together with Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, formed the Badr Brigade, the military arm of the SCIRI.

Badr began conducting resistance operations against the Ba'athist regime in Iraq with the aim of overthrowing the regime.

The largest operation General Soleimani supported was the 1991 uprising in southern Iraq that was initially successful but ultimately was crushed with the help of the United States, which allowed Iraqi helicopters to destroy the southern cities despite Washington saying it would prevent this and help the Iraqi uprising.

General Soleimani and Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis played a major role in the uprising, dispatching thousands of Badr Brigade members who were militarily trained by the two commanders.

Some of these soldiers returned to Iran, while others were arrested, imprisoned and tortured for many years in Iraq. The rest were martyred.

Ayatollah Mohamamd Baqir al-Sadr (not to be confused with Ayatollah Sayyed Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim) remained in Iraq all his life and later under house arrest until Saddam brutally killed him along with his sister Bint al-Huda after they both increased their activism and pledged allegiance to the founder of the Islamic Republic, Imam Khomeini.

In the lead up and following the execution of this highly revered scholar, the Badr Brigade led by one of its top commanders Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis with the help of General Soleimani stepped up its resistance against Saddam's forces. 

Likewise, Ayatollah Sayyed Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim expanded the political activities of the SCIRI to overthrow Saddam's regime. Again, this was also done with the help of Major General Soleimani. 

During these years, Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis and Lieutenant General Soleimani forged a special relationship. 

When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, Washington was under the illusion its forces would be met with flowers. The reality is that they were met with bullets for having killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, just from the sanctions America had imposed on Iraq.

Everyone, especially Iraqis, wanted to see the end of Saddam, but nobody wanted the U.S. to be involved let alone invade the country.

Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis went on to form one of the many resistance movements against the U.S. occupation: Kata'ib Hezbollah in Iraq. Not to be mistaken by Lebanon's Hezbollah. Nevertheless, Kata'ib Hezbollah, with the help of General Soleimani, was one of the biggest factions that waged resistance operations against the U.S. military.

Under the guidance of General Soleimani, it was the Iraqi resistance factions that forced the U.S. military to withdraw from Iraq in 2011.

In 2014, Daesh terrorists occupied and controlled two-thirds of Iraqi territory.

By the summer of 2014, the terrorists took over the northern city of Mosul following the collapse of the U.S.-trained Iraqi army. 

Tens of thousands of members of this Takfri group expanded their territorial presence to the outskirts of Baghdad. Roughly 30 kilometers away from the capital. Their aim was to reach the southern regions of Karbala and Najaf and destroy holy Islamic shrines in these cities.

Then Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked the U.S. to deliver weapons, including Hellfire missiles, that Baghdad had already paid. But the U.S. refused to dispatch them, citing multiple excuses, despite receiving the money. 

This was at a time when Iraq was in desperate need of arms and assistance as Daesh not only took control of land, but it also took control of Iraqi weapons.

During those moments of hardship and during one of Iraq's darkest hours, Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani, in a matter of hours, travelled to Iraq, along with a small team of military advisors that later followed him to study the situation with Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis. 

At this moment of pain for Iraqis, it was General Soleimani who arrived at the scene and held many meetings with Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis and other security officials to combat Daesh.

In the absence of an Iraqi security apparatus, they designed a plan to bring back the resistance factions and with the blessing of a Fatwa from Iraq's highest religious authority, Ayatollah Sayyed Ali al-Sistani, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) was formed. 

The Fatwa called on volunteers who are capable of carrying arms to assist a now very weakened Iraqi army. Hundreds of thousands answered the call to arms, but many lacked military experience. These were teachers, students, engineers, farmers, doctors, and so on. 

Here, Hajj Qassem and Hajj Abu Mehdi as they are referred to in Iraq and the wider region, took control. 

The PMF comprised of 40 units, with Shia, Sunni, Christian, and Yazidi factions. 

The two anti-terror icons devised a plan to train them militarily and also with the assistance of the Imam Hussein shrine, the volunteers participated in classes on the rules of law under Jihad from an Islamic and humanitarian point of view.

Clips on social media show PMF members being advised by scholars how it is forbidden to destroy a small tree when they go to battle.  

This is while Daesh was decapitating hundreds of prisoners of war a day and executing others, using very graphic and shocking methods. 

The military exercises were organized by the two commanders who were now gaining popularity and international media attention.

Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis participated in or played a role in all the battles against Daesh.

And these were not easy battles. The volunteer forces required a lot of training, faith, and guidance in the face of thousands of Daesh suicide car bombs. 

The morale these two commanders offered to the PMF was crucial and significantly boosted the confidence of the volunteer forces. Unlike the commanders of the U.S.-trained Iraqi army that sat in the barracks and told the soldiers to go and fight. 

The two-anti terror heroes were always seen on the frontlines, and the PMF followed them. This was very inspirational for all the forces fighting Daesh in Iraq, when they saw these two figures among them on the battlefield.

The speeches the two commanders delivered on the battlefields, gave the PMF the motivation they needed during those difficult times to carry on fighting; and they achieved this.

One of the most popular and most difficult battles that Qassem Soleimani, Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis and his then deputy, the man that has now replaced Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis (Abu Fadek) along with other military commanders participated in was the battle of Amerli. 

The battle symbolically drew comparisons with Karbala. Daesh had put the town’s 20,000 Shia population under siege, and they lacked access to food, electricity and water.

Despite being under an all-out Daesh siege, the town’s residents put up a strong resistance despite having very light arms. 

Soleimani and al-Muhandis drew up a very sophisticated plan to break the siege. Helicopters flew over Amerli with Kata'ib Hezbollah forces parachuting down inside the town itself. 

The PMF forces were able to attack Daesh from inside the town with PMF cooperation outside Amerli targeting the terrorists from several directions. 

With Daesh taken by surprise and now trapped themselves, the two commanders oversaw every step of the operation and the siege of Amerli was broken. 

With the town now liberated, one of the most popular footages in the fight against Daesh in Iraq shows military commanders and PMF forces erupting in celebration.

Hajj Qassem can be seen hugging Abu Fadek who could not hold back his tears from the happiness and joy of this achievement and he could barely stand when General Soleimani embraced him.

That same day Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis, Hajj Qassem and others quickly went to perform prayers together in a sign of their faith in God. They also celebrated in typical Iraqi fashion by raising their rifles up and down in the air.

There are many scenes that have emerged during those difficult months. 

Photos showing Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis, during battles, sleeping on the floor at night next to a military vehicle or taking a rest by sitting on the floor eating simple food without wearing any shoes. He was not your average military commander. He was fearless, just like his comrade General Soleimani.

They both were dressed in casual military clothes. No military helmets, bullet proof vests or any other type of military body armor.

U.S. military commanders had said it would take ten years to liberate Iraq from Daesh. Many accuse the U.S. and other Western countries of creating and backing Daesh and that such kinds of statements were an attempt to prolong their own military presence in the country. The U.S. military returned in 2014 under the pretext of fighting Daesh.

It didn’t take ten years as U.S. military generals claimed. These two special commanders oversaw the liberation of Iraq in just three years.  

It was all about confidence and faith in God that whatever Takfiri ideology Daesh had created with such extremism and tens of thousands of terrorists (if not hundreds of thousands) among their ranks, the two commanders fought in a true Islamic and humane way.

“In Iraq’s hour of need it was Iran that opened its weapons depots to Iraq and General Soleimani that was the first on the scene. This is something that will never be ripped out of the history books,” Al-Muhandis said.

Lieutenant General Qassem Soleimani and the deputy commander of the PMF Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis saved Iraq, West Asia, and the world from the expansion of Daesh and the terror that came with it. Not just in West Asia, Daesh staged multiple terror attacks in European countries, killing hundreds of civilians.

May they both rest with the angles. 

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