Crimes Against Humanity in Iraq: The Case Against Iran

Author:Gabriel Lajeunesse
Position:Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University, 1316 36th St NW, Washington DC 20007, USA
8 The Open Law Journal, 2009, 2, 8-15
1874-950X/09 2009 Bentham Open
Open Access
Crimes Against Humanity in Iraq: The Case Against Iran
Gabriel Lajeunesse*
Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University, 1316 36th St NW, Washington DC 20007, USA
Abstract: Sectarian violence in Iraq has decreased significantly, but a lack of justice for the victims could rekindle pas-
sions. Particularly grave are those violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by Shia militias sponsored
by Iran. This paper finds that there is significant evidence supporting Iranian culpability as an accessory for facilitating,
aiding and assisting Shia death squads in their commission of crimes against humanity in Iraq. However, there is insuffi-
cient data to determine if Iran exercised the level of control necessary to demonstrate st ate liability. These are facts that
should be determined. To increase the chances of justice and long-term reconciliation, the United Nations Security Coun-
cil should act now and refer Iran to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for investigation of these alleged
From February 2006-May 2007, thousands of non-
combatants were killed in Iraq in a wave of sectarian vio-
lence that placed Iraq on the brink of civil war. Reports sug-
gest that these were not random and uncoordinated actions
but rather were orchestrated by Sunni’s from al-Qa’ida in
Iraq on one hand, and Shi’a death squads on the other. Evi-
dence strongly suggests that the government of Iran provided
significant material support to Shi’a death squads which
killed thousands of Sunni civilians in Baghdad and its envi-
rons from 2006-2007.
If true, Iran and its surrogates committed crimes against
humanity and war crimes in Iraq. Victims, and survivors, and
Iraqi Sunnis as a whole need justice, healing, and reconcilia-
tion—Iran must be held accountable to hasten these goals.
International and geopolitical pressures suggest an interna-
tional tribunal, such as the International Criminal Court, may
be the most appropriate forum.
This article reviews the historical context of Iranian sup-
port of the Shi’a militias and briefly discusses evidence of
Iran’s material support to Shi’a death squads. It then outlines
the violations of international law—crimes against humanity
and war crimes—that this evidence suggest have been com-
mitted, and discusses the value of an international over a
domestic forum for hearing these cases. This article recom-
mends that an international tribunal, the ICC, begin investi-
gation of the crimes, and then discusses a few of the legal
issues the court would face in attributing the crimes to Iran:
modes of participation and accessorial responsibility, the
doctrine of command responsibility, state responsibility, and
the issue of international versus non-international armed
Evidence suggests the government of Iran provided mate-
rial support to Shi’a Death Squads that killed thousands of
Sunni civilians in Baghdad and its environs from 2006-2007.
*Address corresp ondence to this author at the Ins titute for the Study of
Diplomacy, Georgetown University, 1316 36th St NW, Washington DC
20007, USA; E-mail:
On 22 February 2006, Al-Qa’ida Iraq (AQI) terrorists at-
tacked one the holiest sites in Shi’a Islam, the al-Askari
Golden Mosque in Samarra, Iraq (Knight, 2006). The plan to
destabilize Iraq through a Shi’a-Sunni civil war, master-
minded by AQI leader Abu-Mu’sab al-Zarqawi, was very
much on its way (Stewart, 2004; Howard, 2004). Within
days, Shi’a militias began carrying out retaliatory attacks on
Sunni civilians, and before long hundreds of bodies were
found littered among the streets of Baghdad (Worth, 2006).
AQI and these Shi’a death squads increasingly began target-
ing civilian populations along sectarian lines. By Dec 06/Jan
07 over 2000 civilian deaths per month were reported in
Baghdad alone (Petraeus, 2007).
The spike in c ivilian deaths was not simply a result of the
battle between Iraq confessional groups, but rather was fi-
nanced, staffed, and sponsored by external actors—al-Qa’ida
and its foreign fighters and financiers driving AQI behaviors
on the one hand and Iran and the Shi’a death squads on the
other (Kagan, 2006). Iran’s support to Shia death squads
contributed to the acceleration of this internecine conflict
which placed Iraq on the brink of civil war by early 2007
(Annan, 2006). Iran has historically faced an existential
threat from the Arab world in general and Iraq specifically.
The thousands of years of human history that pitted Persia
against the rulers of Mesopotamian remain a part of the Ira-
nian identity. This cultural propensity for wariness of their
Arab neighbors was nothing but strengthened by the experi-
ence of the Iran-Iraq War, in which over 200,000 Iranians
lost their lives (Iran Chamber, 2008). Iraq’s large army and
expansionist vision under Saddam Hussein presented the
most clear and presen t danger to the Iranian state prior to the
US invasion of Iraq in 2003 (Abedin, 2002).
Additionally, the revo lutionary ideology of the Islamic
Republic has heightened tensions between Iran and its Sunni
Arab neighbors, and has paved the way for interference in
the internal affairs of Iraq and countries throughout the re-
gion (Holmes, 1993; Philips, 1996). When the Ayatollah
Khomeini was swept into power in 1978, it was in response

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