On the evening of August 21st an article headlined “Iraq paramilitary force blames US and Israel for mystery blasts” was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page. Its opening lines told BBC audiences that:
“A powerful Iran-backed paramilitary force in Iraq has said it holds the US responsible for a series of blasts at its bases in recent weeks.
The deputy head of the Popular Mobilisation, which is dominated by Shia militias, alleged that US forces had brought four Israeli drones into the country to target its positions.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis said the force would use “all means at its disposal” to prevent and deter future attacks.”
The BBC did not subsequently provide any evidence to support the allegation that it chose to amplify but it did take make sure to inform readers that:
“Last year, Israel’s then defence minister suggested that it might attack suspected Iranian military assets in Iraq, as it has done repeatedly in Syria since the start of the country’s civil war.
When asked by reporters on Monday about the explosions in Iraq, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Iran has no immunity, anywhere.”
“We will act – and currently are acting – against them, wherever it is necessary.””
BBC audiences had to read down to the article’s closing paragraphs in order to find any information which might help them judge the reliability – and possible motives – of the source of the unevidenced claim it elected to amplify.
“The Popular Mobilisation’s fighters played a key role in the war against IS.
With the help of Iranian military advisers, weapons and funding, they prevented IS militants reaching Baghdad in 2014 and later helped Iraqi security forces regain control of the country.
The US, which also supported Iraqi security forces against IS, has said several of the Shia militias in the Popular Mobilisation are directly controlled by Iran. It has accused the militias of targeting US diplomatic facilities in Iraq and warned that they may have been given Iranian ballistic missiles.”
As Jonathan Spyer noted in July when the Iraqi prime minister announced that the Shia militias of the Popular Mobilisation Units were to be integrated into the Iraqi security forces: [emphasis added]
“The Shia militias are the main instrument of Iranian policy on Iraqi soil. Not all groups involved in the 150,000 strong PMU are Iran-linked, but the largest and most consequential groupings are. These include the Badr organization, led by Hadi al-Ameri, Ktaeb Hizballah, headed by Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, Asaib ahl-al Haq, and Hizballah al-Nujaba.
All the above mentioned groupings are franchises of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). All were established by and are controlled by Iran, answering directly to the IRGC’s Qods Force and its leader, General Qassem Soleimani.”
The BBC failed to inform readers that, in addition to being “the deputy head of the Popular Mobilisation”, its quoted source is – as documented by the FDD – also a senior commander in Ktaeb Hizballah.
“Kataib Hezbollah is a relatively small Iraqi Shiite militia that serves as a vehicle through which the IRGC-Quds Force projects power in Iraq. […] its chief, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, is currently Iraq’s deputy national security adviser as well as an operational leader of the PMF. Born in Basra in 1953, Muhandis has worked for decades with the IRGC, including his participation in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait that killed six and injured 90 others.
Muhandis is the de-facto deputy of Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani in Iraq; the Iranian general has called Muhandis a “living martyr.” Kataib Hezbollah was among the earliest Iraqi groups to dispatch fighters to Syria, where it helped organize groups including Liwa Abu-Fadl al-Abbas, a militia composed of Iraqi Shiites. In 2015, a Kataib Hezbollah official told the Washington Post that Kataib Hezbollah had sent 1,000 fighters to Aleppo in response to a direct request by Soleimani. Along with other Iranian-backed militias, Kataib Hezbollah has begun to fill the power vacuum created by the fall of the Islamic State caliphate.”
The BBC closed its article with references to Muhandis (who was indeed designated by the US a decade ago) and his militia but failed to inform readers of the connection between them.
“The US has designated one of the militias in the Popular Mobilisation, Kataiib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades), as a terrorist organisation.
It has also listed Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis as a “specially designated global terrorist”. It alleges that he advises Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and that he has been involved in the bombings of Western embassies and attempted assassinations in the region.”
In other words, the BBC chose to unquestioningly amplify unproven allegations concerning explosions at arms depots in Iraq made by one of Iran’s senior operatives in that country.