Unreal: U.S. trades top Iranian-backed Iraqi terrorist for British hostage

So mind-bendingly insane is this that I thought Roggio might have been duped by his sources. Not so: Both the Guardian and now Jake Tapper have independently confirmed that it’s true. Remember Qais Khazali? We wrote about him a bunch in early 2007. He used to be an al-Sadr deputy, then broke away and hooked up with Iran to start his own little mini-Hezbollah. That group, the “League of the Righteous,” ended up pulling off one of the most notorious, sophisticated anti-American operations of the Iraq war in Karbala. The toll: Five Americans murdered, four of them after they were kidnapped, bound, and shot in the head like animals. U.S. troops caught up to Khazali two months later and captured him and his brother; the ID cards of several dead American soldiers were recovered at the scene. No less a figure than David Petraeus went on to blame the Karbala raid squarely on Khazali’s outfit and accused Iran’s Quds Force — the creme de la creme of the Revolutionary Guard, responsible for assisting Iranian proxy jihadis like Hezbollah in other countries — of bankrolling the whole thing.

And now, after three years in U.S. custody, he’s free.

“We let a very dangerous man go, a man whose hands are stained with US and Iraqi blood,” a military officer said. “We are going to pay for this in the future.”

The US military has maintained that the release of members and leaders of the League of the Righteous is related to a reconciliation agreement between the terror group and the Iraqi government, but some US military officers disagree.

“The official line is the release of Qazali is about reconciliation, but in reality this was a prisoner swap,” a military intelligence official said…

“This was a deal signed and sealed in British and American blood,” a US military officer told The Long War Journal. “We freed all of their leaders and operatives; they [the League of the Righteous] executed their hostages and sent them back in body bags. And we’re supposed to be happy about it.”

Tapper’s military source insists that this has nothing to do with a prisoner swap but merely the U.S. honoring its obligations under the U.S.-Iraqi Security Agreement, but it ain’t just Roggio’s sources who insist that’s a lie. According to the Guardian, not only is this a prisoner swap but the guy we’re getting in return — Peter Moore, a British computer consultant who’s been held hostage in Iran since May 2007 — was kidnapped by Khazali’s group precisely because they wanted a bargaining chip to negotiate for Khazali’s release.

Moore was seized two months later by the Righteous League, which aimed to swap him for members who had been detained during US military sweeps, then ultimately Khazali, who would emerge as the man who had seen his followers freed ahead of him. Moore was the group’s most valuable pawn…

Khazali’s stature within Shia circles has risen during his time in American custody and he is expected to assume a senior leadership role within the Righteous League, possibly replacing the group’s Iran-based leader, Akram al-Kabi. He is also expected to be offered a prominent role in Iraq’s Shia-dominated political landscape as the Righteous League gains political legitimacy.Khazali is now in the custody of Iraqi security forces. It wil be a short incarceration. He will face an Iraqi judge within days, who will almost certainly rule that he has commited no crime under Iraqi law. Khazali will then be freed and his latest role in public life will begin.

According to Roggio, it’s not just politics that the League of the Righteous is interested in: “Both the US military and the Iraqi military believe that the Special Groups are preparing to reinitiate fighting as their leaders and operatives are beginning to filter back into Iraq from Iran. On Feb. 4, Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin, the deputy commander of Multinational Forces Iraq, said that Iran continues to arm, fund, and train the Special Groups, and that munitions traced back to Iran continue to be uncovered in Iraq.”

In a new piece out today, the Guardian quotes a former Revolutionary Guardsman as saying that Moore’s kidnapping was masterminded by Iran and that he’s been held in Quds Force prisons inside the country ever since. Which brings us to the two obvious questions. One: If we did release Khazali at the Iraqi government’s behest, why on earth would Maliki et al. want a turd like this on the loose? A Shiite government shouldn’t need a Shiite terrorist released in the interests of “reconciliation.” They can do plenty of other political favors for their sect. Either Iran has more leverage over Baghdad than we thought (even at a moment when the regime in Tehran is under fire at home) or the Iraqi government is hoping to coopt Khazali and his connections towards god knows what end. And two: Security agreement or no security agreement, why is The One agreeing to spring a guy whom we know is guilty of murdering American soldiers? He’s a clear threat to troops in the field, and not just in Karbala: Tapper cites documents recovered during his capture that point to his responsibility for upwards of 20 attacks in various cities. Surely the Iraqis aren’t about to kick us out of the country if we politely decline their request to parole a terrorist mastermind. How many jihadis do we have to release before someone figures out that releasing jihadis is an exceedingly bad idea?

Exit question, again via Roggio: Is this even legal?

Update: Am I hallucinating? Qais Khazali, Iraqi political rock star?

Iraq’s Shia Islamic groups and political blocs are casting Qais al-Khazali as a resistance hero with a big political future, despite American insistence that the soon-to-be-freed cleric plays no direct role in politics…

The leader of prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s reconciliation committee, Mohammed Suleiman, said: “Qais al-Khazali has committed no crime under Iraqi law and is welcome to play a role in public life as we welcome all groups to be part of the political process.”…

The US military accused him of co-ordinating an ambush on behalf of al-Quds brigades that led to five US soldiers being killed in the holy Shia city of Karbala in January 2007. However, even if proven, such an action does not constitute a crime under Iraqi law.

Update: The left’s defense of this, I assume, will be that we’ve let Sadr run free for six years so what’s the big deal about Khazali? The answer: By that logic, why not repatriate those Yemeni Gitmo detainees pronto given that there’s already plenty of AQ in the field over there? If you’ve already neutralized someone, especially a fully funded Mughniyeh-esque proxy of Iran, for god’s sake, keep him neutralized.