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Iran Honors Iraqi Shiite Paramilitary Group That US Labels Terrorists

FILE - Iraqi Shiite fighters from the Nujaba armed group march during a military parade marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) International Day in Baghdad, May 31, 2019.
FILE - Iraqi Shiite fighters from the Nujaba armed group march during a military parade marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) International Day in Baghdad, May 31, 2019.

In an apparent effort to sway Iran’s public opinion in favor of the regime’s involvement in Middle East conflicts, the Iranian government’s television channels are airing a video that glorifies a key anti-American Iraqi Shiite group.

The music video, titled “The Noble Ones," has been shown several times on state TV channels. It praises Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, an Iraqi Shiite paramilitary group that was designated as a terrorist organization by the United States earlier this year.

The video, over five minutes with Persian and Arabic lyrics, depicts a fighter of the Iraqi Shiite group who joins the fight against the Islamic State and loses his life in the battle. It shows the man’s lone young son vowing to continue the group’s path.

The song ends with lyrics describing how the next mission of Iraqi Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba after the defeat of IS will be targeting Israel.

Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, or the Movement of the Noble Ones, is a radical Shiite militia group of nearly 10,000 fighters known for its anti-American and pro-Iranian rhetoric. The Shiite militia group is mainly active in Iraq, but it has also sent hundreds of members to fight in Syria since its establishment in 2013.

In 2017, the group announced the formation of the Golan Liberation Brigade, which aims to remove Israel from the Golan Heights.

The U.S. State Department designated the group as a global terrorist organization in March.

Some analysts say by using emotional footage of war and victory, Iran’s authorities are trying to mobilize the Iranian populace in favor of the regime’s involvement in the Middle East conflicts. They say the Iranian TV channels have increased their nationalistic rhetoric, particularly after the U.S. withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018.

According to Rasool Nafisi, an Iran analyst with Strayer University in Virginia, the Iranian government is trying to use its media to convey to its rivals that its proxy militias in the Middle East are united behind its strategies.

“Iran wants to send a message to its rival regional contenders that it could pursue its global and regional goals through its proxies,” Nafisi told VOA, adding Iran has used its proxies in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon to challenge the U.S. and its regional allies -- Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“There is no doubt that Tehran has clearly increased using proxies as a leverage against its adversaries and blatantly pointed to them as a winning card in the regional equations,” Nafisi said.

By showing in the music video that its proxy, Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, will turn its focus to southern Syria’s border with Israel, Iran also wants to show it has plans to stay in Syria long after the defeat of Islamic State, said Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer of Iranian politics at the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya, Israel.

“Tel Aviv is receiving delegations from U.S. and Russia for policy coordination on Syria and the role of Iran is one of the major topics on their agenda. This video also carries a message to Russians that Tehran wants to insist on its presence in Syria despite all pressures and threats,” Javedanfar told VOA.

Fereshteh Sadeghi, a Tehran-based political analyst, said the release date of the video also marked Quds Day, echoing Iran’s position on Israel.

"Quds (Jerusalem) Day" is an annual march initiated by Iran and held on the last Friday of Ramadan to reiterate support for the Palestinians and oppose Zionism and Israel. Participants in Iran and Iraq this year reportedly burned U.S. and Israeli flags and chanted slogans such as “Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine,” “Death to America" and “Death to Israel.”

“The timing of this video clip emphasizes on the long-held promise of the Islamic Revolution of liberating Quds,” said Sadeghi, using the Arabic name for Jerusalem.

“This move was to show that Iran will pursue its ideological goals and use the help of its allies pragmatically, helping them as long as they stay loyal to those ideological goals, while warning its adversaries that they will receive the more immense damage if they decide to try Iran,” Sadeghi added.