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Iraqi Shia militia leader busted in drug, sex trafficking swoop

Hajji Hamza al-Shammari was busted on Tuesday [Twiter]

Date of publication: 7 August, 2019

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Hamza al-Shammari, a prominent figure among Shia militia leaders in Iraq was stabbed in the back by militia group Hashd al-Shaabi and caught in a drug bust.
Iraqi militia group Hashd al-Shaabi say they have carried out "the biggest campaign in the history of Iraq" against drug corruption after they arrested a prominent mafia-like leader who is dubbed the "king of gambling and prostitution".

Hajji Hamza al-Shammari is accused of heading one of Iraq's largest underground gambling and forced prostitution rings and was arrested by the Shia paramilitary group on Tuesday following raids on several exclusive Iraqi hotels.

Hashd al-Shaabi say this is the first such operation the group has carried out. Gambling equipment and drugs were confiscated in the process.

Twenty-five of al-Shammari's allies were also arrested in "Operation Meridian" - named after the hotel al-Shammari was supposedly caught in.

Little is known about al-Shammari, apart from a number of photos showing him with high-profile Iraqi politicians and leading Shia clerics.

He is also thought to have links with high-ranking Lebanese and Iraqi officials, including members of the Hashd al-Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Forces) movement. 

Although al-Shammari is known for his philanthropy - especially the construction of Shia mosques - he is accused of leading a double-life, running illicit gambling and drug networks and trafficking girls into Europe.

The Iraq Report: US interests face attack in Iraq as tensions with Iran heighten 

"Although 'Hajji Hamza' is closely connected to the various militias that now operate under the PMF, he was probably targeted for arrest because he was not sharing the spoils of his misdeeds with the rest of the security services racket," Tallha Abdulrazaq, security researcher at the University of Exeter, told The New Arab.

"After all, we have seen in several reports by reputable outlets, including The Guardian, that the security services themselves have been infiltrated by these same militias who run all sorts of illicit activities with impunity, including facilitating the smuggling of crystal meth from Iran into Iraq," he added.

According to Abdulrazaq, al-Shammari's case is not unique.

"We know according to the US Drug Enforcement Agency, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps are involved in money laundering and drug trafficking using proxies such as the Lebanese Hizballah movement. This behaviour is therefore not unusual, despite their so-called Islamic credentials."

Iraq's Hashd al-Shaabiwhich arrested al-Shammari, is a collection of mostly Shia militias that fought the Islamic State group and were incorporated into the Iraqi armed forces in 2016.

Iraq's government moved in July to control the powerful militias, placing them under the full command of the Iraqi armed forces.

But dozens of its members refused to hand over its positions in the Nineveh region to the Iraq army on Monday, which could suggest the Iraq government is facing a push back against its government order.

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