One of Iraq's most influential militia leaders recently made a public declaration of support for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
In an April 24th statement, made within weeks of the US designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group, Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) deputy head Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis affirmed his support, saying "we are proud to be terrorists".
A native of Basra, al-Muhandis, whose real name is Jamal Jaafar Ibrahim, was born to an Iranian mother and an Iraqi father in 1954.
He also appears on the US list of designated terrorists.
Al-Muhandis settled in Iran in 1979, and became a military advisor of the IRGC's Quds Force (IRGC-QF). He was sentenced to death in absentia by a Kuwaiti court for his involvement in the 1983 bombings of six foreign and Kuwaiti facilities.
He is widely considered "Iran’s top guy in Iraq, and one of its most loyal and faithful commanders", said political affairs researcher Abdul Qader al-Nayel.
During the same speech in which he declared his support for the IRGC, al-Muhandis said Iraq can serve as an outlet for Iran to ease the recently imposed sanctions.
As the PMF's second in command, al-Muhandis has worked towards "involving his country in regional and international conflicts to protect Iranian interests", al-Nayel said.
He said he does not expect al-Muhandis and the Iran-backed militias he commands "to stand idle in the event Iran is attacked".
Al-Muhandis also has been involved in smuggling weapons to Iran, he noted, and is "currently overseeing the transport of missiles and Iranian weapons to [Salaheddine province's] Jarf al-Sakhr district".
A large base is under construction for the purpose of training and arming militias that would defend Iran if it comes under attack, he added.
Iran behind al-Muhandis' rise
"Al-Muhandis is one of the most influential Iran-backed Iraqi figures," said political analyst Adel al-Ashram Bin Ammar, chairman of al-Shimmar Syndicate of Tribal Intellectuals.
He pointed to the PMF leader's close relationship with IRGC-QF commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani and his long-standing ties with the IRGC.
The Iranians are behind al-Muhandis' rising influence and the inroads he is making to grab more power and interfere in every aspect of the Iraqi government to serve Iranian interests, Bin Ammar told Diyaruna.
Al-Muhandis is now acting like he is "above the law and the constitution and at the top of [Iraq's] alternative authority -- which is the hidden force that runs the country and makes major decisions", he said.
"He is quite influential at multiple levels in the political sphere to the extent that he is the ultimate decision maker when it comes to filling ministerial positions and replacing one candidate with another," said Bin Ammar.
"Al-Muhandis has been a key instigator of the complications and instability on the Iraqi scene at the political, security and economic levels and is considered to be a dangerous element in the country and the region," he added.
Al-Muhandis has clear ties to Iran and openly speaks of his support for the IRGC, describing himself as "a soldier of Soleimani", said Thaer al-Bayati, secretary-general of the Salaheddine Arab Tribal Council.
Al-Muhandis' inflammatory pro-Iran rhetoric is not surprising, he told Diyaruna.
"Iran has embraced al-Muhandis and provided support and weapons to most armed factions that are currently under the banner of the PMF," he told Diyaruna.
These militias harm Iraq "through their hostile activities that are designed to spread chaos and rip apart the social fabric", he said.