Iraqi elections: Why one candidate says he faces a US death threat
Abu Mahdi al Mohandas is one of more than 6,000 candidates on the ballot in the Iraqi elections on March 7. But the Shiite politician, now hiding in Iran, says the US considers him a terrorist and a weapons supplier to Iraq militia groups.
Abu Mahdi al Mohandas is one of more than 6,000 candidates who are running in the Iraqi parliamentary elections next month, but he's probably the only contender who won't set foot on the campaign trail for fear of a U.S. assassination attempt.Skip to next paragraph
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"I was told, officially, by the speaker of parliament and a high-ranking Iraqi official that it's preferable I don't show up before the election because they couldn't assure I would be protected," Mohandas told McClatchy in a rare, two-hour telephone interview Wednesday from Tehran, Iran. "Since 2005, the Americans have conveyed a message through an Iraqi mediator that they'll kidnap or assassinate me."
Campaign posters around Baghdad depict Mohandas, 56, as a white-bearded elder statesman who belongs to the main Shiite Muslim ticket that's challenging Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's bloc. Mohandas' name also appears on a more dubious list: Last July, the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Mohandas, accusing him of helping to train Shiite militia members to attack U.S. forces in Iraq and of moving weapons from Iran into Iraq for that purpose.
Although he's a member of the Iraqi parliament, Mohandas lives in neighboring Iran, effectively exiled from his home country because of Washington's accusations that he's an Iranian proxy with a terrorism-related rap sheet that dates to a 1983 attack on Western embassies in Kuwait.
Close to Iran's Quds Force
Earlier this month, Gen. Ray Odierno, the top American commander in Iraq, described Mohandas as the right-hand man to Qassem Soleimani, the powerful head of the Quds Force, the covert arm of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
A Treasury Department statement said Mohandas had employed instructors from Lebanon-based Hezbollah to train Shiite militias, including members of radical cleric Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army, to attack U.S. and coalition troops. It alleged that Mohandas ran networks that moved munitions — including mortars, Katyusha rockets and sophisticated roadside bombs known as explosively formed penetrators — from Iran into Sadr City, a Shiite militant stronghold in Baghdad.
"He's in Iran for a very good reason, which is ... if he ever set foot in Iraq and we knew it, we would have grabbed him in a heartbeat," said a former senior U.S. official with knowledge of the case against Mohandas, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
"He was directly implicated in attacks on Americans. I found the evidence to be totally compelling," the official added.