Well-known Iranian activist and journalist Roohollah Zam was captured Oct. 14 in Iraq and deported to Iran. The details surrounding his arrest and deportation have raised questions about the magnitude of Iran’s influence in Iraq.
BBC Persian, Saudi-funded Alarabiya and many other Persian and Arabic media outlets reported that Zam had been captured by the Iraqi National Intelligence Service on an arriving flight from France at the Baghdad airport and immediately handed to Iranian agents, who sent him to Tehran the same day. Both the Iranian and Iraqi governments have remained silent about the reports, neither confirming or denying them.
Despite having a good relationship with Iran, the Iraqi National Intelligence Service has been widely known for being independent from Tehran’s influence in Iraq. Pro-Iranian social media have accused the Iraqi service of being behind the recent protests in Iraq, accusing its head of supporting the organizers of the anti-corruption protests that erupted in Baghdad and other Iraqi southern cities Oct. 1.
Al-Monitor has learned from a senior adviser for the Iraqi National Security Council that Zam was actually arrested by Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, a pro-Iranian Shiite military faction in the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) and handed to the Iranians at the Baghdad airport. The source said the Iraqi National Security Council had been in contact with Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and the Iranians about the arrest and had facilitated the operation for Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq. Zam, who has been critical of Iran in his journalistic works, was kept in the airplane until all the passengers had disembarked and then transferred to another airplane for transport to Tehran. It would appear that Persian and Arabic media were incorrect in attributing the Zam operation to the Iraqi National Intelligence Service instead of the Iraqi National Security Council.