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Head of the Badr Organisation Hadi al-Amiri (R) speaks with officers on the outskirts of Muqdadiyah in Diyala province, north of Baghdad in this January 23, 2015 file photo.

STRINGER/REUTERS

The Badr Organization, previously the Badr Brigade, is both a political party and a militia, rather like Hezbollah in Lebanon. Formed in Iran during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, the group trained exiled Iraqi Shiites and put them into battle against Iraq.

Badr Commander Hadi al-Amiri was one such Iraqi Shiite. Born in Diyala province in 1954, the stocky young man rebelled against Saddam Hussein in the 1970s, and then fled to Iran. He became a joint Iranian-Iraqi citizen and fought against his native countrymen in the eight-year-long war. In the 1990s, from a base in Iran, he led Shia guerrilla attacks against the Iraqi regime. He returned permanently to Iraq in 2003, following the U.S. conquest, to lead the Badr Brigade that waged a vicious sectarian war on Iraqi Sunnis.

After three decades of fighting, Mr. al-Amiri put down his rifle and fatigues in 2010 and donned the pinstriped suit of minister of transport under Shia prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.

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In the summer of 2014, when the jihadists of Islamic State swept across Iraq and large elements of the Iraqi regular army collapsed, it was the Badr Organization, led once again by Mr. al-Amiri, that answered the call from the Shia Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and stopped the IS fighters from capturing the religiously important city of Samarra and from entering Baghdad.

Since then, the militia, between 10,000 and 15,000 strong, has been chipping away at the areas claimed by Islamic State north and south of the capital and preparing to take the fight to occupied towns and cities to the west and further north.

Along the way, however, the Badr fighters have resorted to their sectarian ways and are cleansing many of the communities they capture – not only of the IS fighters, but of many of the regular Sunni residents as well.

Mr. al-Amiri enjoys a close personal relationship with Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's Quds Force, who is directing many of the operations against Islamic State in Iraq.

Mr. al-Amiri denies accusations of torture and execution of prisoners and of ethnic cleansing, though he admits there have been "mistakes." The perpetrators of such things, he told an interviewer recently, were volunteers who hadn't received proper training, not the Badr rank-and-file under his command.

He insists that innocent Sunnis will be free to return to their homes in liberated communities, but says he considers collaborators as worse than terrorists. "Their punishment will be more severe than [Islamic State's]," he said earlier this month.

Mr. al-Amiri is no longer an Iraqi cabinet minister, but his Badr Organization holds 22 seats in parliament and one of his subordinates serves as Minister of the Interior, in charge of the country's para-military forces and intelligence agencies.

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